|Michael Stanley Feb 22 1945 - March 5th 2015|
It's always difficult to put thoughts together after shocking and upsetting news. Even though much time has passed since I first heard that Mike Stanley, a retired teacher and wrestling coach in Boulder, didn't survive a heart attack while riding mountain bikes with his son in Alaska, I'm still having trouble putting down words. When I first got the news, I was in shock that soon gave way to tremendous sadness. I didn't want to believe it was true. News this heavy seemed unreal.
Mike's memorial was held at my former high school on April 11th. At that same school is where I first met him and also where he taught science. I never had him as a teacher, but he became an unofficial assistant cross country coach, at least in my eyes. Mostly I remember Mike heading to the higher mountains with a small group of us during the summer in which I was training for the Pikes Peak ascent. He was busy climbing to the top of as many Colorado 14ers as he could and would eventually summit them all.
One of the first people I saw when I was about to enter the auditorium for the memorial service was my former track and cross country coach. He was also one of the speakers. I was deeply moved when he mentioned that he had heard the interview I did on KGNU with Diane Israel and Carmen Cool. He gave me a warm hug and told me that he was proud of me. Of course, this made me want to bawl. I was in tears before the memorial even started, but so were many others.
There were many stories, mostly confirming how positive Mike always was. Some stories made us laugh, most brought more tears. Susan, Mike's wife, spoke, and I wished so badly that I could take away her pain. I wished the same for his children. It seemed everyone in the audience knew how lucky we all were to have known such a kind and generous man.
On the day I set the record at Pikes, Mike was there at the finish line. I can't figure out how he found the time to support so many people from all walks of life, but he was continually there for students, athletes, his peers, his colleagues, friends, family and anyone else who needed. The last few miles of the race were tough for me. At one point with at least 10 more minutes to go, I could no longer feel my lower body. Even my arms were tired, but through sheer willpower, I forced myself across the finish line where I promptly collapsed. Before I hit the ground, I felt someone at my side, his arm around my waist holding me upright. Someone else rushed to my other side. Mike and Fairview's head track coach at the time, Terry Altenborg, helped me get to the medical tent for a dose of oxygen and a warm blanket. Looking back, I can say that's just how Mike was, always willing to help in any situation. He witnessed one of my greatest achievements in life. I will never forget that moment.
My last conversation with Mike was when I ran into him and his wife at the store. The three of us were discussing a mutual friend who had been struggling badly with an eating disorder. In his usual form, he was trying to figure out ways in witch to help. Once again, he was always ready to offer guidance, encouragement, love and support.
When a person like Mike steps off the planet, it's impossible to not feel a terrible sense of loss. You want the world to stop spinning for a moment and for everyone to acknowledge his absence. You want to fill the emptiness and stop the pain, but more than anything, you just want him back. The world doesn't have enough genuinely good people, so losing someone as kind as Mike hits hard.
In moving forward, I know that everyone Mike taught, mentored, inspired and loved will carry his memory forever in his or her heart. There hasn't been a day since I got the news that I haven't thought about him. I can only hope to use him as a role model and aim to do good in the world.
|Mike, on the left, was always willing to offer a hand.|
“In the vastness of space and the immensity of time, it is my joy to share a planet and an epoch with Annie."