My first memories of Eric were at the first national speedskating championships I ever attended – in 1981 – in Butte Montana. I was terrible but managed to get one 4th place in one final.
True to form, Eric wasn’t shy at all and on a touristy trip to visit the local copper mine – an expansive bowl shaped hole in the ground terraced by the digs and service roads for the heavy equipment - Eric’s snap comment was, “Now I know why they they call this Butt Montana – it’s a gigantic toilet."
This was strong humor for me - a 12 year old raised by conservative parents and I laughed long and hard until my dad reappeared. “Look – it’s a butt!” Eric pointed to a cloud, getting a rise out of all of us.
Eric is a fierce competitor and of all of those I competed with through the years, probably he is the one I was most surprised by – and I mean surprised – when I discovered (and I mean discovered) that we were friends.
Two years older than me, as teens growing up we only competed on rare intervals. Even as I failed to make the team in 1988, Eric skated a world record in the Calgary Olympics in the 1500m in what was one of the most technically perfect race ever skated. Even today you can watch the race and just be in awe of what he put together in that minute and fifty seconds. Ultimately he won a silver medal, having the gold stolen from him in one of the later pairs of skaters.
Cocky? Sure. Brash? Yes. Confident? Yep. Loud? Yes. Bold? Yes.
At first these aspects of Eric’s personality really make you want to dislike him. And for a while I held him at a distance – intrigued by his charm, pissed off by his on ice antics. In the 1994 Olympic trials, Eric and I had several run-ins leading to shouting matches with the referees. It was pretty much accepted that Eric was a favorite amongst the judges and referees – and in hindsight, who can blame them if it were true – Eric’s clearly a gutsy clutch player.
In the 1994 Olympic games, during the great race of the games – the 5000m short track relay where the USA won their 13th and final medal (the most ever in a winter Olympics), it was Eric (with an amazing push from Andy) that put in four straightaway strokes at the end of the race to steal back silver from the Australians and match his own medal from Calgary. Another silver medal – but this time one that I share with him along with Andy Gabel and Randy Bartz…
Ok, so Eric does suck as a roommate. Seriously he’s the worst roommate you can imagine on a trip overseas. In Norway in 1995 Eric was my roommate. Prior to that I had established a great rhythm with Andy or Randy as roommates. Respect for the nap, keeping quiet when the other person was sleeping, keeping the shades closed, keeping the bathroom reasonably clean, no rap music… These had become expectations for me, and Eric proceeded to break every unwritten rule. When Eric is up – everyone’s up. If Eric wakes early with jet lag – on goes the rap music, up goes the shades and when I grumpily stumble into the shower after he was done, he’s managed to use all the towels and still leave a puddle on the floor.
But Eric – he’ll do anything for you. I’m constantly reminded of my own selfishness in the face of his selflessness. If you are traveling through Boston and you have a layover, give him a call and he’ll volunteer to come get you and take you to dinner – and then insist on paying for it. The first to buy drinks, a big tipper, always willing to drive or go out of his way for people Eric seemingly has a horde of close friends – and no wonder – he is just so engaging and one of the most generous people I’ve met.
Thank you Eric – for so many things – your friendship, your lessons in service to others, and not the least for, on February 25th, 1994, slicing an amazing four straightaway strokes deep into your 8th relay exchange of the final event of those Olympic games and guaranteeing all of us the silver medal we share.