My Oldest Friend Steps Up in a Big Way

Kurt and I met in kindergarten.  We were practically neighbors, though the houses were spread out enough that we probably lived half a mile apart.  We went through grade school, middle school, and high school together.  We went through the University of Illinois together, too, though I was too busy being a swimmer to be much of a friend during that period.

Kurt was one of those guys who has always been just good at everything.  He was the kind of outstanding student who just “got it” the first time, and didn’t have to sweat the tests.  He was named Phi Beta Kappa on the first ballot as a college junior.  As a musician, Kurt was every mother’s dream in that he excelled at the violin, the piano and the guitar.  He still composes and records his own music.

When we were kids walking to and from school, we would often talk about what we wanted to do when we grew up.  We were going to be lawyers together and bring Perry Mason-style courtroom dramas to life.  We both were the youngest of three sibling, and spent time imagining how we would ever eclipse their shadows.

Only Kurt kept up his end of our little bargain, and was named to Law Review at Michigan.  He practiced in a big firm environment for a while, and ended up going in-house with a big industrial company where for 25 years he has become expert at everything from environmental law to mergers.  A couple of years ago, he was rewarded with a plum assignment with his company’s European operation, and he and his always-smiling wife, Sue, have taken every advantage of living in England while traveling around the continent.

As an athlete, though, Kurt was an absolute natural.  In basketball, baseball and football he had the gift of strength, coordination and smarts that made him both unstoppable and always the first one to be picked when choosing up sides.  The only sport he found that really challenged him was golf, and he has spent a lifetime perfecting his considerable skills.  I did my best to keep up with him in these sports, and he would abide my attempts with a patient and friendly smirk.  Even then, swimming was my thing, though for years Kurt lectured me about how it was an insignificant “minor sport.”

Our families were always close, in part because we were always hanging around each other’s houses.  I was very friendly with his folks, his brother and sister, and he was as fond of my parents and sisters as they were of him.  As the years passed, my relationship with Kurt became one of Christmas cards and an occasional beer if he was coming through town.  When Kurt’s mother passed away a few months ago, it was the first time I had seen him in a couple of years.

At his mother’s memorial gathering, everyone wanted to pay their respects to Kurt and his sibling, the result of which was that real meaningful conversation was hard to find.  We got to visit for a few minutes as we arranged food on a table (I was flattered to be considered a close enough friend to be put to work) and we talked about the Channel swim.  I told him about the ALS tie-in with my family and how we were working with the Les Turner Foundation, and we both had a laugh when he told a story about my father that I had long forgotten.  He said something like, “Your dad was a great guy, but this swim is crazy.  Come summertime, if it still looks like you’re going to swim the Channel, I’ll throw in some money.”  As we trudged through the snow as we left that evening, August seemed like a long way off.

So, imagine my surprise when I received a card from Kurt and Sue the other day, and in it was the largest single donation that A Long Swim has ever received.  Generous is not the word; to borrow a bit of slang from their adopted England, I was gob-smacked.  The card read:

“Dear Doug and Susan,

We have pulled up your blog and website and relived your past year.  Our backs and our arms ache in empathy for all you’ve been through in prep for your ‘blighty long swim.’  Susan is a very talented photojournalist with a lovely sense of family.  What a wonderful documentary of the selfless journey in honor of your family, whom we’ve been privileged to know.  Please accept our donation on behalf of our extended families, along with our admiration. 

Cheers and much love, Kurt and Sue”

This is heavy stuff.  It is thrilling, daunting, awesome, and overwhelming all at once.  Their donation adds to the 130 other donations that have been made so far and, including Medtronic’s match, total up to almost $60,000.

I will do my best to be worthy, old friend; join me on the beach in Dover and all I’ll have to do is swim to France.

See you at the pier.  I will report back.