Sunday, January 4, 2015

In Memory of Scott Boliver

I wrote this not long after Scott Boliver passed away before his time. This is being presented to you readers a year after his untimely death.

Scott Boliver was a great person on top of being a superb marathon coach. During the 2012 Los Angeles Marathon he made sure we had what we needed to cross the finish line, and he always greeted us with a big smile and a warm demeanor. The past year or two had him dealing with two different types of cancer which threatened to get the best of him physically and financially (thanks to our still deeply flawed American health care system), but he fought against that indiscriminate disease long and hard and eventually beat it. We all got wristbands which had Scott’s nickname for his cancer fight written on them: “slay the dragon.” As a result, he became one of the most inspirational people we had ever hoped to meet in our lifetime.

So it was an enormous shock when we learned that Scott died on January 3, 2013. I had last seen him only a few days earlier while training for the 2013 Los Angeles Marathon and he appeared to be in good spirits and still had that great smile of his for all to see. While had been to the hospital a few days earlier due to some swelling in his leg, one of the runners in my pace group had been in contact with him and said he was feeling fine. Even as we ran 12 miles in the rain and freezing wind, Scott was with us and keeping an eye on what we needed work on. At the end of the run he made sure we didn’t stay outdoors long because we were all soaking wet and didn’t have much of an excuse to deal with hypothermia or pneumonia. 

The word of Scott’s death spread like a wildfire on Facebook, and I remember staring at the screen in sheer disbelief and saying, “No, no, no, no, no!” Two other people who played a big part in my life, Jim Kirkwood and Grant Martin, had also died from cancer, but their deaths were not a surprise. They had fought their own fights against this indiscriminate disease, but it eventually took a huge toll on their bodies to where the damage was irreversible. When the end came for them it was very sad but also kind of a relief. Although we missed them, we took comfort in that they were at peace and no longer suffering. 

While I wanted to weep for Jim and Grant, I never shed tears when they passed away. I wanted to, but the tears never came for some odd reason. But the news of Scott’s death reduced me to a total wreck and I was crying like never before. How could this man who had inspired so many with his constant slaying of the dragon that was cancer leave us so suddenly? Scott seemed to be in such great shape even after all he had been through, and yet fate proved to be unforgivably cruel in taking him away from us. Leonard Cohen said it best: “Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye.”

I cannot even begin to imagine what Scott’s family is going through right now, and they have my deepest sympathies. He leaves behind a loving wife, wonderful children and his parents who have just endured one of the worst things any parent can ever experience which is outliving their child. 

Those who have trained with Team to End AIDS have had the opportunity to meet Scott’s family, and his parents have been especially wonderful to hang out with these past few months. They have spent so much time preparing snacks for us to consume during our training and always have plenty of water and Gatorade for us to refill our water bottles with. Remember, these are the same people who introduced us to the delicious peanut butter and pickle covered Ritz crackers, and we all live for those now.

I read a blog by Sara Catania entitled “Week 34: The Scott Boliver Experience,” and she shared some things about Scott that I didn’t know about until now. He worked as a prison psychologist and lived in the city of Brea out in Orange County. The marathon training for Team to End AIDS takes place at Griffith Park in Burbank which means he has to make a round trip of 80 miles by car. Regardless of the distance, he still made it out to Griffith Park and typically got there before anyone else did (and we started running at 6 a.m. on certain mornings). I used to make a 70 mile round trip to and from Disneyland when I worked there, but I got nothing on this guy!

I also remember him putting together games and contests for the longer runs that had us guessing which songs came from which musicals or what foreign country a certain kind of chocolate came from. This made our training all the more entertaining, and that was especially the case if you had those people in your pace group that could actually answer those questions without a doubt (I’m at a loss when it comes to musicals and chocolate). The winner of these games got a breakfast or some other special meal courtesy of Scott who paid for these wonderful prizes out of his own pocket.

Looking at that kind of dedication makes me admire Scott all the more because it seemed like he spent all his free time outside of his day job doing things for other people. Nothing seemed to bring him down even as the cancer diagnosis caused him a number of headaches that would have driven anyone else to insanity. Catania said it best:

“Coach Scott exudes empathy. When runners would ask him about every little pinch and blister he'd take it all as seriously as the questioner required. He never talked about his own aches and woes. When the wildfires last fall came within a few feet of his home, he didn't mention it to the group and didn't miss a training.”

One of my favorite memories of Coach Scott came during the 2012 Los Angeles Marathon as I ran up San Vicente Boulevard. Now those familiar with this particular marathon will know that San Vicente is the part of the run which lasts far longer than it has any right to. You are running up a nice street filled with beautiful houses you couldn’t possibly afford, and it feels like you will never reach the end of it. Just when you think you’ve reached the corner that will lead you towards the finish line, you haven’t. That darn boulevard goes on forever, and it feels like it is designed to torture you psychologically.

But eventually I did see Coach Scott on the side of the road, and that was a huge relief as I was seriously on the verge of going completely mental. He was waiting for us all with that wide smile of his, and he picked the perfect place to meet up with us. It didn’t matter how many hours it took for us to finish the marathon because he was always there to make sure we had everything we needed. Seeing him there to greet me and give me a hug was exactly what I needed to cross that seemingly elusive finish line.

Now he’s gone and I just don’t get it. Perhaps his body was irreparably weakened from all the surgeries and chemotherapy treatments he was forced to undergo. His death feels so unfair, so unwarranted, and if there is a God I want to verify with him (or her) if they got the right person because I feel that he (or she) made a serious mistake.

In his passing, however, we have come to see how far the love for Scott goes, and it goes a really long way. His friend Larry Jacobson set up a memorial fund on to help out his family that has suffered financially in the wake of Scott’s cancer fight and various medical bills which are far more than any family should ever have to pay off. Before Scott’s death, his family had to move out of their house and into an apartment, and now his wife children found themselves with little money for food and rent. 

The goal for the memorial fund was $20,000, and that amount was raised within the first 24 hours after it was set up on the internet. In the next couple of days $30,000 was raised. 11 days later, over $66,000 was raised. If that doesn’t show you how deep the love and respect for Scott goes, nothing will.

Here’s to Coach Scott Boliver. We all hear about these inspirational people in the news and we get a little cynical about them because we’ve become conditioned to believe that no one can ever be that good a person. Scott however was the real deal, and the way he lived his life will continue to inspire many more generations to come. No one who worked with him will ever forget the effect he had on their lives. There’s no doubt in my mind that everyone loved him.

1 comment:

  1. Ben, that was so beautiful and perfect. I've been struggling to put in to words who Scott was for me, and I completely agree on this point: "if there is a God I want to verify with him (or her) if they got the right person because I feel that he (or she) made a serious mistake."

    In fact I've gone much darker, after losing my grandma almost a year to the day we lost Scott, and oddly she was also one of those people you also want to discuss the “was this really the person you meant to take?" identity mishaps with God. After losing them, I'm actually not sure at all about God any longer because Scott and my Baba were truly 2 in a Centillion taken too soon, and I don’t understand how these grievous errors up in Heaven could have been made so close to each other in time.

    Scott truly was the real deal, and if she was still around, our T2 family probably would have met her too, and known I’m telling the truth. But, here we are now, and the bottom line is, we are all still together and stronger then ever and it is our duty to keep running and fundraising to make Coach Scott proud and keep his spirit alive in us.

    Thanks for this post.
    See you Saturday!