It seems to me that a lot of my friends and acquaintances have died over the past 5 years, almost all untimely. I think of George and Barbara Wright, Jim McCann, and of Barbara Warren.
In every case, I'm struck by the extraordinary nature of the individual, quite apart from athletic prowess. I wonder—during this moment when the light shines on each of their histories, and we find things out about them that we didn't know before—do we absorb the lessons available to us?
When I heard last night the news of Steve Larsen's passing, I found myself contemplating the notion that maybe there is only a finite quantity of heartbeats allotted to a man. I lay there doing the math in my head, 100,000 a day, 36 million a year, 3 billion over a lifetime. Of course this was an absurd notion. Still, it remains true that Steve's flame burned hot; his heart was kept quite busy; and I do not fault him one iota. Rather I honor him, for a sporting life, a business life, and a family life in which all of his heart's beats were used to good end. While only 39 years old at his passing, men twice his age can aspire to a life this well lived.
It is singular to find a professional athlete who exhibits the qualities found in Steve. There is a moment when the younger athlete is confronted with mature themes such as: treatment of family; treatment of others; business ethics. Regrettably, not all professional athletes rise to the occasion, absorb the lessons, and embrace these qualities. Larsen was one who did.
And that is my take-away: He seemed almost desperate to provide for and protect his family over the time I knew him. He was in a hurry to be as successful in business as he was in sport, but not for himself; rather, for those to whom he was responsible. If anyone has earned the right to be the archetypal narcissistic athlete, it was this man of great talent. But if Larsen ever was the typical athlete, he stopped being that sometime before I met him in 2001.
Did he have a natural gift for humility, ethics, and empathy? I doubt it, because few do. And, I like to think he was born without a natural talent for graceful living, because I honor so much more the person who must strive to make himself the man he wants to be. It is my sense, and my guess, that Steve worked hard not only at his sport, and his businesses, but on his character.
Those in industry who've contacted me so far this morning—not yet 24 hours since Steve's passing—have been uniform in their praise of him as a man. I think we each choose how it is we'll be remembered. While Steve Larsen compiled enviable palmares during his sporting life, he's remembered for the man he was more than the athlete he was.
A man may train like Steve Larsen, and, rarely, he may become a professional athlete. Steve Larsen was a professional athlete who trained himself to become a man. And that is rarer still.