The laps ticked off pretty easily. Almost too easily. I have no idea what’s happened, but lately I’ve been crushing the swim workouts. My coach even asked if my last set of reported times was correct. Trust me, I’ve checked and doubled checked that the YMCA pool I routinely swim at is indeed 25 yards long. Perhaps some of my weight gain from my month of travel has made me more buoyant. Or maybe I’m just getting a bit better.
During my last swim workout, in between my careful counting of laps, Tom Borrelli popped into my mind. Gosh, I hadn’t thought about Tom in a while. But there he was, front and center in my head as I pounded out my 400-yard repeats. He was offering me encouragement, not just for my workout but as I start to piece back together my happiness after a rough winter.
Tom was one of my coworkers at The Buffalo News. When I first began at the paper, he scared me. I didn’t know what to make of him. He was quiet and abrupt and I wasn’t really sure where I stood with him. It was after I had written a piece about a girl who was a placekicker for an area high school football team that I understand he was on my side. He sent me an unsolicited internal message praising my story. That meant the world to me as my inbox was filled with nasty emails about how girls shouldn’t play football and how I should have never wasted readers’ time with this story. I told Tom about those emails. He scoffed at the misogyny. I believe the word “jackass” may have been used. I felt confident after that. Tom had my back.
Tom and I shared the same vegetarian diet (and took all kinds of ribbing regarding “Tofurkey”) and both loved to watch Law and Order. But what I remember most were his emails of support when I started doing endurance events. I still remember the email he sent me a few days before my first triathlon: “I’d wish you luck but you don’t need it. You’ve put in all the work. Go have fun.” The supportive emails weren’t frequent, but each was genuine and poignant and something I treasured. At times when people would think I was crazy or would question my motives, Tom reminded me that the important thing was doing what I loved — whether that was writing about women in sport or training for a triathlon.
In November 2009, Tom passed away after sustaining injuries in a fall from a press box while covering a high school football game. To honor his memory, friends established the Tom Borrelli Scholarship Fund with awards given to the top male and female high school lacrosse player in Western New York. (Tom was an ace at covering lacrosse at all levels, a skill which made him the first media member inducted into the National Lacrosse League Hall of Fame.)
Major fundraising is done through an annual golf tournament, now in its fourth year. I’ve volunteered at the event and love it. Only golf isn’t my thing — unless there are windmills and clowns’ mouths on the course and a very large waffle cone filled with ice cream afterward. So this year, I’ve decided to honor Tom by connecting one of my endurance events to fundraising efforts for the scholarship. What better way to honor Tom, who encouraged my lunatic endurance sports experiment, than by doing a race for him?
And so, Team Tom Borrelli (that would be me) will be racing Pain in the Alleganies, a half iron distance event on Sunday, Sept. 23 in Allegany State Park. I’ll be thinking of him while I’m training for sure, remembering that the important thing, the truly important thing, is following my passion. That’s what would make Tom happy.
Now for the solicitation part: Please consider making a donation (no matter how small or large) to Team Tom Borrelli. Visit www.active.com/donate/borrelli to donate.