Saturday, January 10, 2009

Our Friend Tom

My name is Brad Kampschroeder. Tom knew me as “Kampy”. He must have made it up because he is the only person who has ever called me that. Like many of you here, I came to know Tom through running and cycling. There is a bond among runners and cyclists that is tempered by long hours of training together, on countless miles of asphalt and trails. We talked about everything from our training regimen, to work, to politics, to our love lives, to the latest techno-gadgets for our bikes. I have long maintained that endurance athletes lose their sense of shame around each other. In fact, there is no bodily function that isn’t fair game for conversation during a run or ride.

It was in these long conversations that it became abundantly clear how much Tom loved his family. He always had a place in his heart for Joanne. He beamed with pride when he talked about what his kids Brad, Stevey, and Corey were up to. He was proud of their accomplishments, and stood by their side in the face of adversity. We rode the roller coaster of their growing up through Tom’s stories. By the way, I’ve got a lot of dirt on Stevey . . . something about a car.

It would sound like an exaggeration for me to say that Tom Swatek is the most generous person I have ever known. But it’s true. He would give you delicious baked goods that he made himself. Quick story: Tom always toted all his stuff around in a bag. And somewhere in that bag was sure to be an old banana. Not a banana that you or I would eat, but an over-ripened banana. He gobbled those old bananas up like candy. We said, “Dude- those bananas are barely fit to use for banana bread.” A week later Tom shows up with banana bread. The early batches were just “okay”, but they got better, and he kept bringing them. His most recent batches of banana bread were some of the best I've ever had. Then there were the “gems” he pulled from the garbage - he always had one picked out just for you. “Kampy- I thought of you when I found this,” wearing his trademark grin as he held up a bike part. “Can you believe people throw this stuff away?” Tom would give you the shirt off his back, but most of all he was generous with his time. Whether it was moving furniture, a fix-it project, or just a little moral support during a difficult time; Tom was there. When our good friend Marta Bush died, Tom would go over to play with Spencer during the weeks and months that followed. He set up an obstacle course in the basement, American Gladiator style, much to Spencer’s delight. He was even generous to his dog. When Merlot was dying, Tom sensed that she became distressed if he came home from work and left again for a long workout. Tom changed his workout schedule to a shortened run right after work so he could be at home with her, uninterrupted.

Tom was a garbage man, but he was also a renaissance man. He enjoyed music, cooking, current events, art, and science, to name a few. He was always curious, always learning, always eager to try something new. Most recently he aspired to become proficient at a European form of bicycle racing called cyclocross, which is basically racing a road bike on an off-road course with obstacles. It requires a lot of special technique and he was ready to learn.

My favorite quality of Tom’s was his acceptance of people, regardless of who they were. I honestly never heard him utter a bad word about anyone. Even when a group of us would start laying into someone who wasn’t there to defend himself . . .Tom’s contribution to the conversation? A smile and, “C’mon he isn’t that bad- he’s got some redeeming qualities.” And so it went, for the entire 14 years I knew Tom. He could find the best in a person, a reason to like everyone.

So as we gather here trying to make sense of how tragedy can take down that strong body you see in the pictures and the larger-than-life personality that went with it, I ask you to join me in resolving to be a little more like Tom. Take care of your body, take time for someone who needs you, accept people for who they are, grab hold of every day with the smile and vigor that is Tom Swatek. With a little of him in each of us, the world will surely be a better place.

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