Here are the words Kelly Harrington wrote for Pat. Kelly is a good friend of ours, and she was a part of Pat’s paddling group that trained together, spending hundreds of hours on the water together.
Between Pat and Nancy I have saved almost 400 email messages. I read through all of them this past week. Some were very short one-liners like “Shut up and stretch your shoulder” and “You’re a freak.” Others were very long. From both of them, their messages are filled with humor, intelligence, warmth, sarcasm, frustration, doubt, sometimes anger, but above all, love and support.
On August 2nd, 2004 Pat sent me an email that ended with “I am still waiting for the light at the end of your stubbornness tunnel.” I could have said the same to him. He yelled at me. A lot. “Get your head up.” “Reach.” “Get your arms up.” “Plant the blade.” “Twist your torso.” “Stop leaning to the right.” “Straighten your arms.” “Timing.” “Slow it down.” “Pick it up.” “Watch me.” “Why are you in the water?” “Just paddle Harrington.” One of my favorites, said with a very irritated tone, “Are you even trying to steer straight?”
He called me a lot of names too……Slacker, Vertically Challenged, many varieties of Wimp, Red when he was frustrated with me or I was frustrated with myself, Girlie which always got him in a lot of trouble.
I grew up in a neighborhood of all boys and wasn’t into dolls or anything what I used to call foo-foo. Instead I played rough and just ran with the boys. My closest friends in college were guys, mostly from the rowing team who were always making me prove I could keep up. So I responded to Pat’s pushing me…..I expected him to yell at me, to tease me, to make me work hard and he knew it. It was what I was used to in my male friendships and my own marriage.
Pat reminded me so much of my husband as did his marriage with Nancy which seemed so much like my own with Tom. Not perfect, but very open, honest and full of love, trust and respect. I think, because of those similarities, Pat knew how to keep me motivated when I didn’t think I could do something. Not just in paddling, but work and school, with our kids and the everyday experiences of life. He knew when to yell, knew when to make fun of me, when to talk, when to argue with me and when to just shut up and listen.
That day Tom and I met Pat years ago on the river proved to be an enduring relationship that brought 4 families together. In one long email exchange…..banter usually went back and forth for several emails between Pat, Ted, Matt and myself……..I told them all I was afraid they would leave South Bend; that Ted would take a teaching position at another college and move his family, that Matt and Danielle would move up to Michigan or even Europe and that Pat, Nancy and the kids would move south to warmer weather and smoother waters. I was assured no one was going anywhere, anytime soon.
Pat, Ted, Matt and I all have a magnet I designed that shows us holding Pat up in his Destroyer, to show our support of his first Marathon Team Trials in 2005. We wanted Pat to know we were there for him in his endeavors as much as he had always been there for us.
I recently told Matt in an email that paddling to me IS Pat. It’s Ted. And it’s Matt. My relationship to the river and the sport of marathon paddling are forever intertwined with them. It seems only natural to me that these men, my boys as Tom started calling them, are so important in my personal life and even more so now, my family life.
With my husband, they are tremendous role models, each in their own ways, for the 10 children between us. And because of meeting Pat and then Ted, my children, Conor and Dorre have Danny, Joey, Tommy, Laura, Joe, Matt, Kel and Lia in their lives, who we love like family. We have Michelle, Danielle and of course Nancy whom I love dearly. These incredibly smart, beautiful women have given me such a gift, the opportunity to be friends with their husbands, to spend time with them paddling, running, talking. My life and my family’s life have been forever enriched not only by these relationships, but the entire paddling community, everyone we have met through that one chance meeting on the river.
I now feel so incredibly lucky that Pat and I were close enough that he could really yell at me. That I could yell back. That we could call each other names and know that it would not damage our friendship, but only continue to make it stronger. Beneath all the teasing, there was a true bond in which the love and support for each other and our families was unbreakable and will continue to be as we move forward with Nancy and the kids.
I cannot express how heartbroken I am, how much I will miss him……..his emails, his phone calls, being on the river with him, going to races and racing together in the K2, having a beer with him and Nancy while the kids played, celebrating birthdays and other milestones in our lives, his constant belief in me no matter how stubborn I was. I don’t know if he and I would have ever reached that light at the end of the tunnel he wrote of in 2004; I think he secretly liked my stubbornness as it was a challenge for him. He once told me he had never coached anyone so difficult. Pat never backed away from a challenge and I know in my heart that he expected and will continue to expect the same from all of us.
Thank you, Kelly! Kelly has been one of my true lifesavers in the past few weeks.