It’s the little things I remember about Tom. The message he sent me after a story he liked. The email of encouragement before my first triathlon. One year when I was tackling my first metric century bike ride at the charity event Ride for Roswell he called me over to a corner of the office and gave me the surprise money he won in one of his fantasy leagues.
After one of the female clerks at The Buffalo News had a run-in with a sketchy character on the way to her car after a late night shift, he started walking out to the parking lot with all the females of the sports department. Every major holiday, he gave the clerks candy. He’d give me holiday chocolate, too, noting that with all the training I had been doing, I’d burn it off in no time.
When I went back to school to earn my master’s degree, I invited the sports department to the public defense of my thesis (a fascinating study on how cheerleaders negotiate their identities of hyperfemininity and athleticism). He was one of three of my colleagues who came, and he came bearing gifts — a congratulatory gift card. Because he said there was no doubt I would pass my defense. Upon hearing my committee suggest I look into expanding and publishing my thesis, Tom later suggested I talk to his wife Karen, who knew how to negotiate some of the book publishing world.
Tom Borrelli was a sportswriter at The Buffalo News and while he first kinda terrified me when I started at the paper, I gradually learned that he was someone who always had my back. Even when I didn’t know it. That was Tom’s way. He didn’t make a show of those acts of kindness. He just did them. Quietly and genuinely.
In 2009 he was covering a high school football game and fell from the press box. He died a few weeks later from his injuries. To honor his memory, the Tom Borrelli Memorial Scholarship Fund was created. Each year it gives a scholarship to the top male and female high school lacrosse player in Western New York.
The first two months of the year didn’t kick 2012 off on a particularly high note for me. At some point in February, I decided that the best way to move through the crap was to take on races which (for me at least) were ridiculously difficult. Enter my first trail marathon. Enter the doubleMussel weekend. Enter Sunday’s Pain in the Alleganies.
But I wanted to race for something more than my emotional well-being. I thought about Tom, about how much he supported and encouraged me and I wanted to give back, to try and repay all those small acts of kindness which added up to have an enormous impact on my life. So this half Ironman (aka 70.3) became a way for me to raise money for the scholarship fund.
This week, my taper week, I’ve thought a lot about Tom and all those little things. This particular triathlon won’t be easy. I’m actually not too concerned about the 1.2-mile swim but the 56-mile bike ride on the most difficult terrain I have encountered in a race, scares the crap out of me. Hell, if I get to the 13.1-mile run before the bike cutoff, I’ll be happy. But here’s the thing: No matter what happens, I know that Tom is somewhere proud of me. To anyone who might judge my result, well, he would have some choice words. Because Tom was about doing the best you could, with what you had, where you were.
And as long as I do that on Sunday, my day will be a success.
If you’d like to donate to the Tom Borrelli Memorial Scholarship Fund, you can at http://www.active.com/donate/borrelli. And for those who have already donated, a heartfelt thank you doesn’t seem quite adequate. But it’s all I’ve got right now.