Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Layer after layer

Yesterday was Laird's memorial service and it was a powerful reminder once again what an amazing person he was. Many have told me that they have found this blog to be a helpful resource in the past week, especially for those who are out of town looking for infomation. I decided to print my eulogy to Laird for those of you.
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In the past week I have been thinking about Laird and managing to balance my grief with the joy of all the memories I have of him. In the time I’ve been around Laird since I first got to know him 18 years ago there have been so many experiences we shared. Recovering those experiences have been like peeling an onion with each memory peeled back revealing another and another.
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Each layer has brought me back to something I recall about him. Just last night as I was trying to piece together something for today I hit on something I hadn’t remembered for maybe 10 years. Laird and I were running with some other coaches while he has in high school out on the military base on a cold winter day. I wasn’t in great shape and eventually the other guys pulled Laird ahead and I got dropped halfway out. It wasn’t a big deal, but the group got further and further ahead until I couldn’t see them. So I’m out there all by myself feeling pathetic and slow and a couple of miles from the end I see something coming towards me in the distance and in a bit I see Laird has doubled back by himself to help his feeble, old coach in. And that was just the kind of guy he was.

Laird was a team guy. He understood that he was going to be better if those around him were better too. Laird was going to be a great runner without anyone’s help but everyone was going to be better and have more fun if they worked together. Our XC team hadn’t gone to state as a team for 2 straight years before Laird joined the team. We won 3 straight state titles Laird’s first 3 years. His senior year Laird won the individual title but he was asking how the team did after he won.

One week before Laird’s memorable dual with David Dyer in the state meet. Laird, Jerry Ross and Joe Anderson placed 1-2-3 in the region meet. As Laird and Jerry came down the final meters Jerry led by a foot. But rather than both of them sprinting to beat the other they kept the same pace and Jerry won the race. Perhaps Laird could have thrown in a final surge to take the win but he was more thrilled to see a teammate and friend like Jerry get the victory.

In “To An Athlete Dying Young” A.E. Housman writes about the young runner who won the race for the town. The consolation in his death, Housman says, is that he never got old to see another break his records. But that wouldn’t be the case for Laird. Laird would celebrate his records being broken and he would likely be the first to congratulate them. Laird never looked at his opponents as competition but rather as partners in achieving their best. He valued them pushing him to run faster and he wanted to help pull them to their bests. He appreciated his competition and respected their efforts. When the race was done Laird would likely be running warm-down laps with the opponents he had beaten while laughing and talking positively about the race.

I wish Laird’s life with us had been a marathon instead of a mile. But that’s what Laird was - a miler. He loved the simple beauty of the distance. He had a limited print of Roger Bannister, the first man to break four minutes for the mile.

The mile requires a perfect combination of all elements. You need endurance, strength and speed. If you can combine all the elements you can achieve the perfect race of consistent pace, strength over fatigue and finally speed in the final straight. Laird managed to combine all the elements with his relationships with others. Laird had generosity of spirit, humility of self and unshakable loyalty to his friends.

For those of us who saw him run the last meters of a races his finishing kick was powerful, blazing fast and decisive. Just like the vortex Laird created when he blazed away from the competition, all of us have been pulled along in many different swirls of memories and relationships. Seeing so many people here and talking with many of you, it’s obvious that Laird’s life was unfairly short, but it was also so powerful to affect us all and so many. Like all of you I am so sad that he isn’t here to continue having that affect. But I’m more comforted by the knowledge that I was lucky to be close enough to that vortex and allowed to be pulled along.

As I was running this morning I was talking to a friend about Laird and about how I was glad I had the opportunity to give him a photo a few weeks ago of the last race he ran and that I was glad we had the chance to do it together. But at the same time I felt bad I hadn’t talked to him one more time in the past weeks. She told me that I need to focus more on all the times we spent together rather than that one time I didn’t call. I know many of you feel the same way. Let’s continue to focus on those times we spent with Laird. If there’s one thing Laird didn’t do is live in regret. We owe it to him to not regret that missed opportunity at the expense of the great experiences we all share.

Laird, I love you. I miss you. You have affected my life and inspired me in more ways than you will ever know. Thank you.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

this was beautiful, and so was he. thanks again for everything.

Nick said...

John,
That was a wonderful tribute to Laird. I was so shocked and saddened to read that he had passed. I'm crushed. In twenty years of teaching and coaching, there were not too many as special as Laird. Back to when he was a Mighty Mite(at Alyeska), through middle school, high school, and beyond - a quality kid. I will miss him.
Nick

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