Who Dat?

Back in the 80s, long before the X-Games existed, Tom Haig traveled the world as an extreme athlete. He visited more than 50 countries as an international high diver, doing multiple somersault tricks from over 90 feet.

That life came crashing down one Sunday morning in 1996. While training on his mountain bike, he smashed into the grill of a truck and became paralyzed from the waist down. But less than a year later he completed a 100-mile ride on a hand-cycle and traveled by himself to Europe and the Middle East.

Since then he has continued to travel the world as a consultant, writer and video producer. He spent six months launching a Tibetan radio station in the Himalayas and shot documentary shorts on disability in Bangladesh, France, Albania, Ghana and most recently Nepal.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

20 Pools - A Swimming Odyssey: Pool #20:Wilson High School Outdoor Pool, Portland, OR

I don't often get to Portland's west side unless I'm on my way out to the Pacific Ocean. And then it's usually a sprint past the neighborhoods on US 26, which is as wide as an interstate. And I'd never been to the campus of Portland's Wilson High School, although oddly enough, I was once their diving coach. When I first moved to Portland I coached all the teams in the Portland Interscholastic League, but we trained all the schools out of the Portland Community College pool five miles away.

But I'd visited this neighborhood just a few days before leaving for Nepal. And as I hopped in the crowded lunchtime lanes to knock out my mile, all I could think of was the reason I had ventured into this section of town. I was there to interview Jay Edwards, my boss from my days as a corporate writer for the sportswear giant, Adidas.

I've told this story many times before, but on the day I broke my back, Jay Edwards leveraged the entire Adidas America health insurance contract against the provider Great West Insurance, who was refusing to pay the claim on a technicality. He told them if they wouldn't pay this claim, he was going to hang up and immediately call Blue Cross and tell them they had a new giant client. Great West caved, and I was saved a lifetime of debt.

I didn't know of this story until years later when a coworker told me what had transpired. Once healthy again, Jay hired me to start writing for the fledgling Adidas Internal Communications department where I stayed for the next three years.

As I was wrestling for space in the center lane of the pool, my mind began drifting back to those days, most of which were spent bent over laughing as we had to cross off story ideas that would be absolutely fantastic, but would get us all fired. I could feel an energy surge into my stroke and I had to keep myself from laughing because it was messing up my breathing.

Eventually I left Adidas to go live in the Himalayas, but when I came back, one of the first people I visited was Jay. Throughout the years he shoveled me some nice contracts that kept my struggling web & print business afloat. We met once every four months where he would buy me lunch and float me a job. So not only did he save me from my accident, he kept me afloat for years afterwards.

Every year on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving a group of former Adidas workers would get together for lunch which often times resulted in what Jay called "pulling a shift." When you pulled a shift that meant that you stayed at the pub longer than the waitress who served you.

After 34 laps, I pulled up at my halfway point and looked at the tall trees surrounding the school. I caught my breath and thought of about a dozen things I'd like to tell Jay the next time I saw him. I'd been doing that as a force of habit for years. If anything really sardonic or acerbic crossed my path, I'd mentally put in the "Jay" file for the next time I'd see him. I still do it to this day.

But now I have to keep them to myself. The week after I got back from Nepal, I emailed Jay and asked him if we could get together because I'd picked up some goofy statue from Kathmandu for him. His email was short, "Can't make it this week. I've got a doctor's excuse: new experimental drugs . Let's try again in a few weeks."  

Before I'd left for Nepal, Jay told me he'd been diagnosed with liver cancer, but said his doctor's gave him a strong prognosis. I kept my chin up, but when I did some research, I discovered liver cancer is one of the most deadly forms of the disease and he most likely did not have much time left.

I responded to him with the same kind of humor we always used, "Hey - make sure you tip those doctors - you don't want them slipping you the placebo!"

"I'll take that under advisement," he responded.  

And that's the last I heard from Jay. The reason I was swimming in the West Hills was that I had a meeting to plan for his memorial service. I flopped back in the pool and gutted out the last half mile rotating between laughing and crying. I've never actually cried underwater before, but there was no holding back.

When it was time to hop out I was a wreck,, but there's no way any lifeguard could tell.The red in my eyes just looked like chlorine burn.  They brought up my chair and helped me out of the pool (no lift in a Portland Public Pool?). Normally I'll chat up the lifeguards, but not on this day. I just thanked them and dried off. And then kept on thinking of the things I will tell Jay next time I see him.


2 comments:

  1. Damn you made me tear with no chlorine involved. Nice writing, sir.

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