During the Spring of my junior year at Penn State, the world taught me a harsh lesson about life, relationships and faith. Eric Dare was one of my first friends in college. We had very similar values. Our families always came first, we were respected by our peers for our work ethic and we developed meaningful relationships with our teammates.
Our football team was ranked #1 in Sports Illustrated’s preseason poll and we won our first eight games of the season. Minnesota derailed our plans for a national championship with a Hail Mary pass and a last second field goal. It was like having the wind knocked out of us. I personally feel that our team was so intent on winning the BCS title that once it became out of reach, nothing else mattered. There was no talk about winning the Big Ten or the Rose Bowl. Both of which were still possible until we lost to Michigan and Michigan State in subsequent weeks…resulting in an invitation to the Alamo Bowl.
Eric thought it would be a idea for a group of us freshman to drive his family’s RV 26 hours from State College, PA, to San Antonio, TX. This was a great opportunity for us to regroup and bond with each other. We ended up beating Texas A&M in their back yard, but the memory that I’ve held onto is the friendship I developed with Eric’s younger brother Kevin.
That summer, I moved in with Eric and Kevin. We worked together, worked out together and spent quality time with his parents and grandparents. Kevin started school at Penn State the following year and competed in the pole vault on the track team. He was a natural athlete and one of the best at his craft.
His life ended tragically at the Big Ten indoor championship meet when he landed head first in “the box.” I called Eric immediately and to my surprise, he answered. From that day on, I’ve never hesitated — or regretted — reaching out to someone at a time of need.
This was really my first experience with death. I learned that you will never feel guilty going to a funeral (even if you ONLY knew the deceased) and that the grieving process usually begins after everyone else is gone…so make sure to offer your support in the weeks following the wake.
But it was reading the hundreds, if not thousands, of fond memories from people who dearly loved Kevin that it struck me: Wouldn’t it have been nice for Kevin to hear these things?
Now, this question opens up an entirely different spiritual debate (which I have not completely resolved for myself yet), but why did everyone wait until it was too late? Every day of this conscious life is a gift, even if it’s only but a moment of our eternity. I decided then to make the most of it and I started by letting my loved ones how much I cared about them. (It doesn’t hurt to look a stranger in the eyes and smile either.)
Since then I’ve adopted a personal philosophy to share “random TXTs of kindness.” Every time I have a thought about a friend that brings a smile to my face…I let them know. It’s as simple as “thinking about you” or a funny story that usually starts with “remember when…” Either way, it rarely takes more than 140 characters to make someone else’s day a little brighter. It’s also a nice reminder of my friendship with Kevin. Who knows, it might just be his way of letting me know he’s thinking about me, too.
Eric and I are still good friends. He helps with my effort to eradicate rare diseases through Uplifting Athletes and I have helped his family’s mission to improve safety in the sport of pole vaulting. To learn more, please visit www.kevindare.com.