I took the opportunity to travel back to some of my deep dark roots over the weekend and came away with some very interesting thoughts. I started the trip by flying to Seattle and spending the night with Paulette. My sister and I talked late into the night and had a great time and as we toured around her yard the next day I started getting nostalgic for the Pacific Northwest. Here were all these incredibly beautiful massive evergreen trees, lush green foliage, bright flowers, driftwood from the salt water, and the views of the sound. I asked Paulette why didn’t I live here anymore – it is gorgeous. She asked me to point out the sun and I looked up and couldn’t see anything but a cloudy grey sky and realized that was why we lived in Colorado. I do like the sun.
I drove up to an old party town from high school days called Chilliwack, BC and met up with Elder Sallenbach who was a missionary who recently had lived in our basement and finished his mission. He hadn’t wasted any time moving on with his life as he was engaged within three months of his return and scheduled to marry in two weeks. I met his fiancée Katie and she is a kick and will keep Bach Bach in line. We had time to even visit Cultus Lake, a site of a few high school hi jinks better left forgotten. I enjoyed meeting the parents and was able to remember enough embarrassing stories and give some spicy newlywed advice that I’m sure Brandon was happy to see me leave the next day.
I had the day to explore Vancouver and headed straight for the aquarium. I wanted to see whales and dolphins and really enjoyed visiting another aquarium. Plus I had enough time to swing by Simon Fraser University.
This visit really hit me hard. Since the time I was in the 8th grade until my senior year in high school I used to practice with the SFU swim team and became great friends with the coach Paul Savage. He was an American like myself and promised me a juicy scholarship when I was ready to go to college. I dreamed of swimming for SFU for several years and that bubble burst mid summer after my senior year of high school. Paul Savage said he wanted to recruit a breaststroker out of Montreal and needed the housing portion of my scholarship money. He said I could live at home since I lived so close. I owed Savage a lot since he let me swim there for free and get excellent coaching, but I couldn’t stand the thought of living one more day than I had to with my dad. I needed that money to move out. Savage and my dad were good friends and I always wondered if my dad had arranged for me to lose that part of the scholarship money so I would be forced to live at home.
I was pretty dejected that summer and told many of my friends of my frustration. One of my swimming buddies, Karen James, listened and remembered my anguish and changed my life. She was traveling in Scotland and while there ran into, Bob Stoddart, another swimmer from Canada who swam for BYU. During their conversation my name came up as someone who wanted to consider other schools. Bob told her that BYU was looking for a backstroker and if I could swim backstroke BYU might be interested. Karen knew that backstroke was my best stroke and so something possessed her to write me a postcard and tell me to check into BYU.
That postcard arrived in August 1970 and school started in less than a month. The timing would be razor thin but I called the coach at BYU and he said if we moved fast then I could start school in the fall and have a scholarship including housing.
The rest of the story is for another time, but here were my thoughts as I revisited the swimming pool at SFU. The pool is now called the Margaret and Paul Savage Memorial Pool. The trophy case went into great detail of Coach Savage’s great record at SFU earning his first national championship in 1972. Had I gone to SFU, my times would have been star quality, and I would have been on a national championship team. But as a senior in high school I was definitely headed in the wrong direction. I had earned a police record, was drinking heavily, taking drugs, and partying. I had no moral compass and was completely sucked into worldly and wicked ways. Going to SFU would only have accelerated my downward spiral, but for a simple postcard my life would have crashed.
I stood in the natatorium and reflected on the thin chance that came together that brought me to BYU instead of SFU. One swimming buddy of mine at the time put the choice to me this way – “Go to SFU and find drugs and sex – Go to BYU and find God; your choice.” It hit me so hard at how close I came to missing the opportunity to attend BYU and find the life I’m now able to live. I’m so grateful that I was given the chance to make that choice and how stunning it would have been if I had messed up and remained in BC. I’m so blessed.
I attended the reunion and met with old friends, swapped stories, missed those that weren’t there, saw an old girl friend that looked 67, and generally had a good time. One girl told me that I had the most hair and smallest stomach of any other guy there. That, made the trip all worthwhile. I looked around and saw for the most part happy people, but so many were missing because of their injured lives and they were a tad embarrassed about multiple divorces, alcohol addictions, wayward kids, or crappy jobs. How easy it would have been to end up with a tangled life, but because of a simple postcard followed by a few good decisions I have been blessed with a full and rich life beyond measure. The trip really helped me appreciate good opportunities and better decisions.