Wednesday, December 28, 2016

How and Why We Must Remember 2016

I love my gym for many reasons—am I allowed to say that? I love my gym? To be honest, it's an athletic club and that's a necessary qualifier from, well, a lot of things. Though non-members often think of the Olympic Club as a country club, ask any member about that. It's not. Established on May 6, 1860, the Olympic Club is the oldest athletic club in the country. Joining in 2013 was one of the best decisions I have made (this one I know I'm allowed to say). I've met wonderful people, many whom are tremendous athletes committed to physical fitness and all it takes to improve. I've met even more talented golfers who love the game and have made me the golfer I am today. With two campuses—a downtown facility and the historic and world renown Lakeside venue, the Olympic Club has meaningful and interesting traditions. In a city that just isn't that old and in a place that changes by the minute, to share in traditions that are over one hundred fifty years old means something to me. 
One of those traditions, however, might seem a little macabre. At both entrances of the downtown facility is a humble marquee; its sole function is to post the death notices of recent members. Honestly, it's hard not to look and nearly impossible to miss. I would not go so far as to say it's "death on display" for the spirit is respectful—a 5" x 7" card features the name of the deceased, their photo and the year they became a member. This tradition reminds me that life is a gift and suggests that these folks are more than people who pay dues; they are Olympians. To see that a man became a member in 1932 is inspiring or when you read the name of a friend, it's helpful to know that others carry the loss with you. In my short tenure, a few notices have been heartbreaking to see—one was the father of five boys and one was a famous actor who took his life: Robin Williams. 

I write of this Olympic Club tradition because not only was 2016 a tough year, but we said farewell to many wonderful Olympians, musicians, actors and athletes. The final Sports Illustrated issue of the year runs tributes to athletes and coaches, announcers and sports personalities who are no longer with us. 
  • In 2016 we said goodbye to the GOAT of all GOATs, Muhammad Ali. Because my students need to get a sense of who he was and why he's so important to sports history, we watched "When We Were Kings." 
  • The King, Arnold Palmer died on the same day as Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez. I remember the weight of losing two wonderful men on a Sunday in October. Arnie lived life to the full and Hernandez's life of freedom, excellence and domination had only begun. I will forever cherish knowing that I played golf on the Lakeside course at the Olympic Club—the very same course that Palmer walked—on the day he entered into eternal life.
  • For her incredible success and remarkable legacy, it frustrates me that Pat Summit's passing did not get more attention. Maybe she would have wanted it that way. Regardless, women's basketball wouldn't be what it is today without her leadership and her genius.
  • Other notables include
  • Buddy Ryan football coach and NFL defensive genius. Father of the now fired Bills coaches Rex and Rob Ryan
  • Gordie Howe, NHL Legend
  • Craig Sager, 65, TV sportscaster known for his flamboyant clothes and warm spirit. He died of leukemia on December 15

But to me the tribute had one glaring oversight, the loss of 19 Chapecoense soccer players and the entire coaching staff who were traveling to Colombia for what was to be the biggest game in the club's 44-year history. Avi Creditor of SI writes, that the mangled Arvo RJ85 crashed because of a fuel shortage killing 71 of 77 people on board. The story illuminates the fragility of life as three players were not on the flight. Pictures reveal their stunned faces in their empty locker room at Arena Conda overcome with grief. The 42-year old goalkeeper Nivald stayed at home so he could play his 300th and final game with the club in Chapeco on December 7. 

This tragic story does not end in despair. Over 130,000 fans showed up at Atletico Nacional stadium in Medellin, where 
Chapecoense was scheduled to play, to pay tribute with a heartfelt vigil. Atletico Nacional "implored the South American confederation to award the Copa title to Chapecoense. Brazilian clubs have offered to loan players to the rebuilding team at no charge and have asked that Chapecoense be immune from relegation for three seasons. Nothing will eras the tragedy that rocked a club and a nation. But the soccer wold has shown an example that is as beautiful as the game itself."
Honoring the athletes who have died in any given year be it at the entry way of the Olympic Club or in the last issue of the year for Sports Illustrated is an important tradition to me. The game, competition, the climb—they are important...but only because of the people who make it so. Every athlete brings his or her own style, personality, hustle and insight to sport. And when they leave us....we aren't the same. We can't be—so let's remember, celebrate and believe.

Photo Credits

Great Athletes
Sager and Jordan
Honoring the fallen

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