It is never easy saying goodbye. All of us would prefer to say hello. I remember the first time I met Pat. As he strode across the lobby of the MSU Brick Breeden Fieldhouse –he had a skip in his step and a smile that exuded energy. With his rancher strength handshake and strong “hello – my name is Pat Descheemaeker” – I knew I was going to like this freshman. Randy Burchak stepped into our MSU Track and Field Coaches Office and very politely introduced himself. He then asked if he could join the MSU Men’s Cross Country Team. I am glad I said yes. Both Bobcats were fun to coach.
I had lost touch with Randy after he graduated from MSU and entered the military. He served as a subject in my thesis study. I believe he still holds the highest VO2 Max score ever recorded in the MSU Exercise Science Laboratory. As his coach I remember trying to capitalize on such fitness.
Pat and I had re-connected through Montana High School Track and Field/Cross Country. In between races we caught up on life, teammates, families and the latest training strategies. He was living out his occupational dream by ranching on his families’ ranch near Grass Range, Montana. Coaching at Fergus High was a welcome opportunity to share his passion for running. I called him PD.
One of my last memories of Randy is him in our lab – with the oxygen collection system draped around his body as he exercised on a stationary bike. One of my favorite last memories of PD is him riding his mountain bike through the woods of Bohart Ranch – site of one of the toughest local high school cross country courses in the state. His vocal support (read “wahooing” at the top of his lungs) of not just the Fergus High runners but all competitors was an encouragement to athletes on a brutal course.
Both are gone now – Randy a few years ago and Pat June 2011. It is now I am challenged to pause – look back and realize what I had as a coach to work with. Both understood hard work. Both respected the sport, their coach and their teammates. Both were very coachable. Maybe it helps when you come from small agriculture communities and Class C Schools. What a privilege to have worked with such fine young men.
To both families – I am sorry for your loss. I confess I don’t really have any words that can help with the gaping hole created with their departure. Death still doesn’t make a lot of sense. To those who remain, please remember the good times, training runs, races and fun travel we had together. And who can ever forget the XC dual meet win over UM Grizzlies that snapped a 24 year dual meet win streak? Thank you for allowing me to play the role of your coach. Definitely an honor. Thanks to the Descheemeaker and Burchak families for raising such fine men. And thank you for sharing their lives with the Bobcats.
Next time – “Starting Over”. Until then – enjoy the run.
Photo (1983 Bobcat XC) courtesy of Mike Carrigan MSU Track and Field.