You know those dreams where you can’t run? You beg your legs to move, to push you forward faster, but there is no answer. Somewhere in your torso, the message sent from your brain to your legs gets lost and you’re just spinning your wheels, going nowhere fast.
On a Saturday afternoon in November of 1982, on a golf course in Portland, Maine, I lived that nightmare. It was during the State Class D cross country championship meet — the worst day of the year not to run fast. But I was on empty that day, I had nothing to offer the team and finished as our last runner.
We won the state championship that day. We put four runners in the top 10 and dominated the field. I finished in the last 10 and for the first time in my life — for the only time as I can recall — I threw up after the race. That’s how bad off I was that day.
In my later years, my friendship with my former coach would reveal something to me about that day.
He had asked if I could pick the moment he was most proud of me during the three years I ran cross country for him.
The year I finished 27th in the state — and the No. 3 runner from out team, just seconds behind our No. 2 guy? No.
The year I finished in the top 10 and we won the Pendale Cross Country Championship? No.
“It was the year we won the state championship and you had the worst race of your life,” my coach said. “I knew you were hurting that day, but you finished. You didn’t give up. You didn’t quit.”
I couldn’t quit. I had teammates counting on me.
One of them was Kevin Bate, who didn’t even run that day. He wasn’t one of our top seven runners that year, but he was certainly a Crusader just like the rest of us.
One of my strongest memories of that day was of Kevin, a freshman that season, and the other runners who didn’t compete spread out over the course, cheering us on. Well, he cheered on my teammates who shined that day, but he helped push me not to quit when I was having the worst running day of my life.
I woke up this morning and found out that Kevin had passed away. He was 46 years old.
His younger brother, Jeremy, who three years later would run along side his older brother and help Bapst win another state championship, posted the news on Facebook.
That’s the thing about Facebook. For all the great things it does (like allowing us to get back in touch with long lost friends) to all the mundane things it offers up (so one of my long lost friends had spaghetti for dinner … again), it also acts as the phone call in the middle of the night — the one that slaps you in the face with sad news and leaves you stunned.
Kevin Bate is dead.
I would never classify Kevin as a “close friend” — at least not in the sense of the word where we had grown up together, or where would hang out and do things together outside of school, outside of the cross country and/or track season.
Our relationship was that of “teammates” for two years, and sometimes that kind of relationship leaves a tighter bond than a casual friendship does. We trained together. We ran together. We pushed each other and we pulled for each other through thick and thin. We won a state championship together and that is something nobody can take away from us.
After high school, I lost touch with Kevin for many years — well, for most of our adult lives, to be honest — until we became Facebook friends a few years back.
We had a few casual contacts via comments over the years since, but outside of that we only got to know each other again through our random wall postings that we stumbled across on our feeds.
After learning of his passing this morning, I went to his wall and read some of the tributes pouring in from those who knew him best. He was loved by his friends and family. Of that, there is no doubt.
I looked through his pictures and a saw a musician, a fisherman, a Red Sox fan, a father and a friend. That was the Kevin Bate of today, the man I never really knew after losing touch.
The Kevin Bate I knew was a teammate who would cheer you on and support you on your worst day.
That’s all I need to know to know the world lost a good man.