January 2nd, 2018 started out like so many other January 2nd’s of my 57 years – its a pretty scary number actually! Not sure I’ve ever had the whole pool to myself to start a new year before today but it might have made me a just a bit sadder to be the one and only swimmer. One of the lifeguards was looking sad too.  Just a few days ago we both would have learned of the passing of a young man from our community – he was an amazing young man with a kind heart, huge intellect, the son and grandson of friends, and a long time competitive swimmer. I last saw Jeremy about a month ago as he came on deck to speak with his varsity teammates.  He loved swimming and there he was, as I often saw him throughout his life…. at the pool. Word was that the rare cancer he had so valiantly battled for years was taking charge and there he was saying goodbye.

It seems not so long ago I was registrar of the Tritons Swim Club and he was a little guy with big bright eyes and a happy disposition trying out a sport his mother happened to excel at. I knew his grandmother long before moving to the area through running and had heard the stories of the family’s active athletic endeavours, including informal off-road triathlons quite ahead of the curve before triathlons were a highly organized sport.

I wasn’t thinking of Jeremy when I first started to swim this morning but 100m in and I started to feel panicky. I stopped for a bit, considered how the space felt different today-  empty and still.  For a second I wanted to bail from the workout, and from being there. I left the wall again, this time on my back, breathing easier and relaxing into a rhythm that felt neither forced nor enthusiastic.  I tried to focus on the workout I had planned to do then wondered why I was committing to it. Hmmmm, a good question for a 57 year old who has yet to have clarity on any performance goals for 2018, other than to be strong, healthy and energized.

I determined that the most important thing about this particular swim was to focus on how I wanted to feel and that any metrics from the heart rate monitor Garmin would only be mildly interesting. I was able to convince myself that looking at the clock to see how the 70% effort, then the 80% effort compared to the 90% effort reps were all about control and feel, not so much about the time. There was comfort in this and permission to be grateful that I have this choice to be here and do this.

Between sets, I couldn’t help but look around and think about how one space can hold so many memories, with shifting players and each season having a slightly different character. From season to season the changes can be so subtle. To think that small gestures and kind hellos can hold such a big place in your heart – my mind drifted once again to remembering Jeremy as a youngster always smiling and saying “hello” when passing through the halls on the way to and from the pool.  Swimming moms and swimmers pass each other daily, maybe even twice daily – the sport has its way of creating a strong community and ties that reach beyond the swim club time.

For several years many of the swim kids would participate in a fun family triathlon I started in our community. Jeremy and his best friend Brendan were among those kids and their families were active supporters…especially his grandmother, Mary.  My daughter was older than the boys but living in a small community with one school and few facilities these become the faces and names we see daily.

Staying home for university both Jeremy and Brendan landed on the varsity swim team and they agreed to be key players in an after-school swimming program I launched through my work with the Town.  I could not have asked for better leaders and role models! Honestly, they were the dream team!

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Later that summer Jeremy and Brendan joined our local multisport club for some open water swimming and bike riding at the very same lake where local multisport history was made with Jeremy’s family creating their own triathlon adventures. I loved when Mary recounted the antics. Jeremy and Brendan wowed the Blomidon Multisport Club with their amazing swimming skills and won everyone’s heart with their fun-loving approach to cycling. Jeremy was optimistic about getting in cycling shape and positive energy through and through!

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It’s never easy to hear that our fellow teammates or work out buddies face life-threatening illnesses, especially when so young.  We share time enjoying living in the moment, breathing hard, sweating, laughing and only wish good health for all. Cancer is a formidable opponent we all fear. It was heartbreaking news to hear from Mary that Jeremy’s cancer had returned earlier this year.

Reading about all that Jeremy accomplished academically, and of his contributions to future research during these last few years with such difficult health challenges is truly awe-inspiring.  Also remarkable is how someone so young can leave such an indelible impression from consistent but limited interactions. His pleasant and upbeat greetings and presence will be remembered and missed.

Swimming joyfully, consistently and fearlessly may be the best tribute and all the motivation I need.