18' 1" Olympic Trials 2008

18' 1" Olympic Trials 2008

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Strength in Tragedy, Colorado, Jackie, and Keegan

I have been wanted to write, but my thoughts are scattered, and I have been unsure of the appropriateness of doing so.
Where do I begin? I left my home in California at 4am Wednesday August 29th to catch a flight out of Sacramento to Phoenix, then Phoenix to Minneapolis. Arriving in the afternoon it was strangely comforting being back in Minnesota. Although I left there to pursue a different path, my time there left me with great friendships and memories. With a good night of sleep I woke up early to jump in a truck with my friend and former athlete, who earlier in the week found out that his travel buddy was unable to help him with the 1,000+ mile drive to Pueblo, CO, so I was happy to help him out and assure that he would have a chance to attend one of his favorite competitions. The favor went both ways, as I could not afford to get myself to the meet on my own and the Kreiger family once more, funded my travel to a competition.
We were making great time to Pueblo. 800+ miles later we arrived in Sterling, CO in 11.5 hours. We grabbed dinner and a hotel room and passed out. Just under 300 miles of driving left I woke up early and did a light workout before hitting the road. When I turned my phone on the first communication that came through was about the passing of my friend of 13 years, former teammate for my entire college career, post-collegiate teammate, and former Coworker during my time on the coaching staff of Idaho State. I’m not sure how to describe how I felt from there, helpless I guess. I knew my Idaho family was in a great deal of pain, and I couldn’t get to them. I was in the middle of the country on my way to a competition in someone else’s vehicle, carrying out a commitment I had no intention of backing out on. It was 7am, I had two beers left in a 6 pack and still in my workout clothes, covered in sweat, I set my phone down, carried them out to the deck of the hotel poured out the first drink and held them to the sky as tears began pouring down my face. That was the last time I got to have a drink with one of my favorite drinking buddies. As I sat there in silence I told myself that those would be the last tears I shed until I arrived in Pocatello. A large group of ISU athletes was already waiting in Pueblo, and we still had an event to attend.
Somehow I managed to win the competition in Pueblo with a jump of 5.45m, over taking Mark Hollis by having less attempts at the previous height. Mark, Rory Quiller, and I all had great attempts at 5.60m, but couldn’t quite leave the bar up. It was shockingly some of the best jumping I’ve done all year.

Now I needed to figure out how to get my friend back to Minneapolis and change my flight to Sacramento, to somewhere closer to Idaho. Knowing he is a tough and responsible kid, Grant and his family felt comfortable with him making the drive alone, and there happened to be a free seat in one of the ISU athletes vehicles headed back to Pocatello. The 700 mile drive went quick, but upon arriving everything changed. It’s been a hard week, but I’m so impressed with the strength I’ve witnessed as the days went on. Even more impressive, is the amount of love and support surrounding this one person.

 I wrote this when I arrived in Pueblo, it was for my own purposes, but now I’m ready to share it.
-It’s been a long time since I drank two beers at 7am. The only reason it was only two was because there were only two available. I recently read something about Jackie that said “This is not a time to drink alcohol. That will not honor Jackie’s memory.” Obviously that asshole didn’t know Jackie. I understand that he is trying to protect athletes, but in this situation, it is not his place. Death has seemed to surround the Idaho State Track and Field program over the past few years, and at the last instance of such I was standing with Jackie, and with tears in her eyes she said “At my funeral I don’t want people to be standing around and crying, you better have a party and you fuckers better be slamming beers.” That is the Jackie I know. She brought joy and laughter to all those around her, even in times of great sadness, times just like this. So crack a joke and don’t be afraid to laugh and smile. With this loss, tears flow easily, grins come with effort, both came to Jackie with ease, a huge heart and massive sense of humor made her the wonderfully unique person that we will remember for all time.
Death is nothing if not cruel. We all have an expiration date and to most of us, we see dying young as a tragedy. It’s hard to see the poetry in such a terrible thing. Cherish in the fact she doesn’t have to experience what you’re experiencing now. With so many loved ones in her life, growing old would have been filled with adventures and joy, but also with sadness and the crushing heartbreak of loss as all those around her eventually passed on. That is something Jackie no longer has to go through. She will never get depressed again, doesn’t have to grow old and senile, or experience chronic pain, and sickness. She gets to remain happy and young from now on.- 

More unplanned travels lie ahead. It’s odd that I wrote the text above on different days and I was unable to post it, because last night I received a phone call I could have never expected. Former Idaho State Pole Vaulter Keegan Burnett took his own life on Monday night. After legitimately cheating death on two different occasions, Keegan ultimately decided that he wanted to have a higher quality of life rather than a larger quantity (is how his father said he put it). Keegan survived a massive head injury  in May of 2007 which would have killed most people, after awaking from a month in a coma, where he endured multiple brain surgeries, he learned how to walk and talk properly again. He went on to live a life filled with adventure and ambition, only to be dealt another stroke of bad luck. While night skiing in January of this year Keegan crashed and shattered his T-12 vertebrae and ruptured C-4 and C-5, leaving him paralyzed from the waste down.
I can’t be angry with Keegan for the decision he made. A selfish act is the term most use, for the pain he has caused those he left behind, but with these types of circumstances we should not judge him. A man whose entire existence and happiness revolved around athletics and outdoor sports, any one of us would consider the same fate. Keegan just had the courage to go through with it. I will miss Keegan, he was the most hard-headed person I have ever met, he loved to argue, and always had to be right. Everything he did, had to be done his way, he even got the final say in the order of his own demise. I used to say to him when we spoke “Your just impossible to kill.”, he even proved me wrong there.

 All this pain is a worthy price we must all pay for loving with our hearts and feeling those powerful emotions and connections returned to us by such wonderful people. 


  1. very well said i graduated with keegan

  2. I had to read Phaedra by Racine in my Literature class, and it was soooo depressing. I was wondering, are there any tragedies that aren't depressing? Or is there anyway a tragedy could be anything but depressing?

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