An Open Letter to Al
Loss hits us all in different ways. Many among us have written expressing grief over Al's passing. Maybe I'm wired differently, but so far--after the initial shock--I have felt only anger.
Some of it may have been simmering since the 50K. Of course I didn't tell him, but I was pretty ticked off that his impatience blew what could have been the race of his life.
Al was so ready to make the Olympic team after coming so close in 2000. He was so completely focused on the task at hand that he was willing to do anything to get that ticket to Athens: Joining the Army, giving up women, even swallowing his pride and asking me for technique help before the 30K last month. He was in the best shape of his life on Sunday, but his Achiles' heel had always been the legality of his technique. We played around with his trailing leg a little bit and it seemed to really help. He had superb race at the 30K, and even better than his time and place in the race was the fact that he didn't receive a single red card. After years of DQ's it looked like he had turned a corner and he was set up for a great one at the 50K.
On the starting line right before the 50K Trials, I told Al he had done all the work, he was ready, and he shouldn't "make it happen," he should just "let it happen."
Crazy, impetuous kid, he didn't do it. He saw a chink in Curt's armor early on and he went for it. It wasn't the smartest move, but it was gutsy.
Afterwards, like everybody else, I told Al to hold it together until May when he would assuredly crack 4 hours at the World Cup in Germany. He seemed focused on that task. But who knew what demons were lurking beneath the surface?
Al was always a study in contrasts. He was shy, but at the same time, outgoing. He always dressed well, but he wasn't the least bit self-conscious (as those who have seen the infamous video tape of his high school dance number can attest!) After a national championship a few years back we went shopping in a package store for some adult beverages that were suffiently "manly" for a pack of national team racewalkers: beer, tequila, vodka... Al came out with a bottle of peach schnapps. He wore the nickname "Durasno" (Spanish for "peach") the rest of the weekend but he didn't mind a bit as he nursed his bottle without even a hint of embarrassment.
I've lost friends to accidents and violence; family members to heart disease and cancer. They were all victims of random events. And at their passing I felt immediate sadness and grief. Al, at your passing I feel nothing but anger. How could you do this to us, your friends who loved you? You were so young, so full of potential; the epitome of a work in progress.
You trusted me to help you with your walking technique--and come to think of it, even with your romantic technique! You trusted Enrique and Curt, and Tim, and John, and Sean, and Double D, and Mike DeWitt and your parents. What could have possibly been so bad, so irreversibly horrible that it came to this?
Al, you had the biggest heart, but this end was the most heartless, selfish of acts. We were here for you, buddy. Why couldn't you trust us with your feelings after the 50K? Why did you turn your back on us, choosing insteasd to go to Pine Valley alone to "solve" your problems?--leaving us to struggle with thoughts of what else we could have said or done.
It's been 24 hours and I still feel like punching a hole in the wall. Al, before you left that bridge, you left your friends. And for that, forgiveness does not come easy.
Now the tears have finally come. Whatever pain you felt is a tenth of the pain you left behind.
World Class Racewalking
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