As my sister and I waded through the sea of black this morning, the air was tired and sad as the sounds of sniffles softly surrounded the sanctuary. We found our seats and looked around at many familiar faces both young and old. I looked down at the memorial program handed to me by a boy I had once taught to swim, and as I fought hard to maintain my composure, tears filled my eyes and my heart felt heavier than it’s supposed to feel. Memories flooded my mind… memories of growing moments and formative words…. the time Todd, just to irritate me, played connect the dots on my arm with a Sharpie marker… the many times he picked me up for practice blasting Van Halen or some other classic rock band…
Today, hundreds of people gathered to remember and mourn the death of a dear friend, coach, husband, new father, and mentor, Todd Larsen. It’s been a long journey for him being diagnosed with Leukemia a little over a year ago. It was sudden and unwelcome, and it cut his life shorter than anyone wished.
I hate death. I hate death when it happens sooner than it’s supposed to. I hate that it rips people out of our lives without warning. Death makes me want to call everyone I know and tell them how much they mean to me and how they’ve helped mold who I am today. It makes me want to hug the people closest to me and never let go.
I had to let go of Todd today. And even though I hadn’t seen or spoken with him in a while, remembering his impact on my life is enough to make his death devastating for me. There are countless memories, lessons, words, and laughs to be remembered. Just to name just a few…
– I owe everything I know about teaching kids to swim to Todd. He was one of my first swim coaches, one of my first bosses, and the single most impactful athletic coach I’ve ever had.
– I owe most of my love for classic rock to Todd… especially Van Halen.
– Todd taught me the importance of hard work, and that consistently holding myself to a higher standard, no matter the exhaustion I feel, is the only way to be excellent. The only person to get in the way of my success is me… and this has carried over from the swimming pool to real life. Swimming is more a race against your best time, not as much a race against others. Only I know if I’m giving my all, and the integrity of giving my all every time can’t be yelled into swimmers…. it has to be grown through building confidence and self-esteem.
– Todd taught me how important it is to take complete joy in something as small as a 3 year old learning what it feels like to float for the first time. Teaching something so small to a small child is huge in their world…. and watching their face go from fear to pure joy is what life is about.
– Life is not half as serious as I think it’s supposed to be.
Circa 2003, Coach Todd, Coach Sarah, and me.
Circa 2004, Photo Credit to North Park Riptide.
The last time we spoke, I was asking you to be a reference for a job I was applying to. You told me you would tell them anything I wanted you to because you thought I was awesome. Looking back on working with you, you gave me responsibility most people wouldn’t have given a 16 year old high school girl, and you let me learn and grow into that responsibility on my own terms. When I was recovering from knee surgery, you didn’t make me get back in the pool and push through the pain, but you wanted me to. You let me realize that the only person keeping me from recovering my speed and endurance in the pool… was myself. You pushed me, and taught me, corrected me, and cheered me on. And even though you probably thought I was an irritating and sometimes lazy high schooler, you never let me settle for being that. My high school years were formed, greatly, by you…. I’m sorry I never took the time to tell you all of this in person. You were one in a million…. and the world is not the same without you in it. Thank you for all you are and all you gave. Your legacy will live on in me.