This has been a year of great loss. I have had 3 friends pass away and each has left a huge hole in my heart. In the beginning of June, I got word from a mutual friend that my old coaching partner had passed. Apparently it was a heart attack and it came quite suddenly. He was only 42, a former UW gymnast and one hell of a coach. Marty and I could coach our separate events and it seems that our lessons always overlapped or converged at the right time. We were younger and never planned to do that but it always worked out. “I talked to the team about goals today” I would say and he would follow with “so did I”. Marty was an Army brat who lived all over the world and he was one of the most loving and caring people I ever met. We gave each other endless ribbing but underneath it all I know he loved me as much as I loved him. Marty moved to Virginia and open his own gym which he ran for over 15 years. I learned a lot from working with Marty and he is one of a few people who I can thank for making me into the person I am, personal and professional, today.
It was back in the beginning of April, I had a rough couple of weeks. My old college room-mate passed away after a brief battle with a brain tumor. Chris was a great guy, always happy and always very giving of himself. He and I shared an attic in a house of 6 guys. The attic was huge and he had his half and I had mine. It was great except for the winter when icicles would form on the exposed roofing nails coming through the ceiling from the moisture in our breath that froze to the exposed metal. It was also rough in the summer. Usually our “room” was about 110 degrees and very little cross draft. We used to joke about how the heat would let us lose the layers of whale blubber we put on when we were attempting to stay warm in the winter. Chris was a great guy. We lost touch a little after college other than an occasional camping trip with our families. After each trip one of us would always say how we got to stay in touch more, but then life would hit and our complicated schedules would make staying in touch very difficult.
Oddly enough, I was on my way to Chris’s funeral when I got a text from another friend informing me that another friend in California had passed away. Years ago I started an e-mail circle of coaches where we could e-mail a question or concern we were having to the circle and someone would respond with advice, guidance, or support making us all better coaches. That idea morphed into coaching websites, Facebook, and LinkedIn types of social media that accomplished the same goals. But back then it was just a group of coaches I knew; I knew them all but one. Her name was Lee and through correspondence I realized that she was the female, California version of me; a person invested in their career and their team kids and families. We stayed in touch for a while but when the circle fell apart I didn’t hear from her for many years. Then came Facebook. I got “friend requested” from her a few years back and we had “liked” each other’s pages and commented on each other’s posts all the time. I had known Lee for almost 20 years and yet we had never met. In fact, she finally posted a picture of herself the week before she passed, it was with her team kids and I showed it to my wife, “This is my friend Lee, I always wondered what she looked like”. Lee was also a big advocate for children’s protection and justice. Her and I often collaborated on ideas for making gymnastics safer and fighting the idiocy of the laws protecting pedophiles instead of children. When I pushed Wisconsin legislators to eliminate the statute of limitations for crimes involving children, Lee posted that I was her “Hero” and she urged other gym owners and coaches to follow my lead. Lee died quite suddenly and all I could do was post on her page (her daughter was administering) that I was sorry for the loss and saddened to know that I could never meet her now.
Every time someone passes we all think how we need to be better about telling our loved ones how we feel about them. We vow, like I did, to be closer, talk more, or stay in touch, but time shows us that we may change for a while then we revert back to the same ol’ way it was. So I stopped fooling myself. I know how I am, I am nothing if not very introspective, and I can honestly say that I am horrible about “staying in touch.” But this I also know: I will tell my friends and family, when they are near, how I feel and how important they are to me. I will do it when I can, when they are standing right next to me. Maybe I won’t see them for months or years afterward and maybe I will lose touch all together, but when I am in touch I will not hold back. I will say “I love you”, “you mean a lot to me” or sadly, the one we most often skip saying out loud “thank you.”
With that said, please tell your children tonight that you love them one extra time, have them sit on your lap like they did when they were younger, even for just a second. Tell your boss how you like working with them, or tell your employees how they are what makes you a success. Tell the cashier to have a nice day and mean it. When the waitress asks “how are you” ask her back about how she is doing and listen to her. Be genuine, and never let an opportunity to say “thank you” get wasted.
When I started writing this blog I never thought people would read it. I never thought I had a lot to say, or that what I did say would be important enough to share. I learned that there were people in New Mexico reading it, there are gyms asking to reprint posts for their own staff and parents to read and there were comments made over the last 2 years by 2 Olympians from two different countries. Olympians. Olympians were reading me. So to them, and you I just want to say, while we are near, “thank you.”