While buying and setting-up a house in New Orleans this week, something has been on my mind.
A fellow who swam at my alma mater passed away recently. He graduated in the spring of ’93, with a cohort of fellows who were the stuff of legend among the upper class Mary Washington College Eagles I joined my freshman year in Fredericksburg, VA the fall of the same year. His name was Josh Lontz. I met him though never had cause to know him well.
Yet, the emotion I’ve seen upon his passing from my fellow Eagles on a Facebook group for Mary Washington swim alums struck me. Our college days were from the pre-cell phone era, so old photos are now being posted in the group to commemorate Josh. The posts are emotional, amplified for me by the photos being from the pool deck and other scenes around Mary Washington and its swim team that I know and love.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on why this was all sticking with me. Then this morning, one of that cohort of fellows, Adam Owings, posted the below text on Facebook as a tribute to his friend Josh and some thoughts on why swimming still matters to him.
Many of themes will be familiar if you’ve been reading this blog. The power of being part of things you love. The fact there are no coincidences. The ability of a higher power in the universe to deliver, often at just the right time (and especially when you let it happen!). The powerful, formative, and emotional impact of being part of a team you love.
What Adam wrote resonated so much with me I asked if I could share it more broadly. He said yes. Here are Adam’s beautiful words:
Some things happened this week to remind me how much swimming has meant to me, and how much it still does.
It started with somber news: a college teammate and friend, Josh Lontz, died last Tuesday after a long battle with brain cancer.
At 6’8″, Josh stuck out in just about any crowd. And his height wasn’t the only reason: he was one of the most affable people I’ve ever known – in or out of the pool; an extroverted introvert. A gentle giant with a kind heart, open ear, and ready hand. I don’t know that I ever heard Josh speak an unkind word about anyone, and I don’t think I ever heard him curse.
He was as tall as he was goofy, and insisted there was one sure-fire way to make any movie better: more explosions.
He lived in Atlanta, with his wife, Alison. Josh was an urban planner and helped design the town (the town, people!) of Sandy Springs. I always thought that was so cool.
I wasn’t as connected with Josh during his last few years as I wish I’d been. He was never far in my thoughts. He was a good man. I should have told him.
I was thinking about Josh during my Saturday morning swim. How it’d be great to joke with him on the wall again between sets. The universe seemed to hear me. The guy in the next lane at Claude Moore asked if I was swimming Colonies Zone Masters this weekend at George Mason. (I’m not; it’s the third year in a row I’ve wanted to, but missed it due to family or personal obligations.)
We started talking. Turns out Bob swam at U.T. Austin in the 70s. We’d both gotten back into the pool following long hiatuses. He’d been a breaststroker and IM’er, like me. His team’s sports psychologist was Dr. Keith Bell; my coach and team used Dr. Bell’s swimming-specific psychology book, “Winning Isn’t Normal,” to turn off our brains and let our bodies do what we’d trained them to do: swim fast.
Bob and I agreed there was nothing quite like the contented exhaustion (and lingering smell of chlorine) that follows a good swim.
Like me, some of Bob’s closest friends today are his college teammates. And we talked about the remarkable positive influence the sport – and swimmers – can have, from childhood on. The first person I met when I moved to Pennsylvania in 1985 as a shameless-sack-of-bones teen was a kid on the swim team. Three decades later, we’re still friends.
I was flabbergasted by my connections and commonalities with Bob, nearly overwhelmed in the moment by a flood of emotions. The universe is a funny place. I kept swimming.
Friendship, camaraderie, and coincidence swam through my head during my daughters’ Saturday afternoon swim meet. While I would love for my kids to love swimming as much as I did and as much as I do – for the friendships and fitness and competition – they need to love it. I can’t love it for them.
They seem like they might be on that path: between the two of them, they dropped 21 seconds across three events; snagged two heat-winner ribbons; and won one event overall. They also smiled and giggled and joked and jabbered with friends, old and brand-new. And it struck me: they might know some of these kids for the rest of their lives.
Josh’s mom died last year. Reflecting on her remarkable life, he likened her to a water droplet. It was an apt comparison. She had taught hundreds (thousands?) of kids and adults to swim. If she were a droplet, and Josh were a ripple, then surely each of us is both a droplet and a ripple in the lives of others.
Josh’s words about his mom apply equally to himself:
“[He] lived and loved doing it. I was so very lucky to be part of this droplet put here into the water.
I am still part of this drop of water. It quenched so many and the ripples from it will be reverberating for many, many years.”
My thanks to Adam for letting me post this. He’s one of those people that you meet over social media and wish you had had the chance to be friends in person. He’s a good man.
I think Adam would also join me in recommending those books by Dr. Keith Bell to anyone looking to get out of their own head and increase their performance. Swimmers in particular will like them, but the lessons apply in many ways. Adam’s post reminded me I need to load them on my Kindle. Great lessons, and great memories from those days on the Mary Washington College swim team. A team for which I’d still run through brick walls, for all the reasons Adam captured.
Those books are a drop that becomes a ripple. Josh was too. Adam’s post has now accomplished the same thing. I hope you find a way today, this week, or sometime soon to be the drop that becomes a ripple too.