This is the first post in what I plan to have as a regular feature on my blog. The idea was inspired while running, searching for an idea for a blog post, and listening to the Genesis album Duke. The song “Turn it on Again,” poured through my ear buds, and Phil Collins declared, “I can show you some of the people in my life,” and I thought, “I have so many interesting, talented, and cool people in my life, I should share them,” and a feature was born. In addition to introducing you to these special individuals in my life, I hope you will realize that your life is similarly peopled and that they and you too are fascinating and worthy of celebration.
As a point of clarification, I do not interview the subjects of the post, but I do ask for their permission to be featured, and, if they don’t trust me, I do share the post with them before publishing, giving them full power to edit the content of the post. So, with no further delay, allow me to introduce you to one of the people in my life: Del Culver, whom many of you already know.
I often joke that at Del’s wake, at least fifty people will speak and identify Del as having been their best friend – and each one of them will be correct. He will be the first one to tell you he’s far from perfect, but he possesses one of the most capacious hearts I’ve ever encountered, meaning there’s room and love in there for just about everyone and especially for living life to the fullest. Metaphorically, in any of his many friend groups, he’s the hub of the wheel through which all of the spokes run, or he’s the glue that holds everything and everyone together
I met Del when he took a job as a phys. ed. teacher and coach in Port Clinton. He and I soon became neighbors and friends during what was a very low point in my career: the tail end of an extraordinarily unsuccessful attempt at coaching football at Port Clinton High School.
I had taken up psycho-emotional residence in what I refer to as my “Dark Place,” but Del helped me to find new meaning and purpose by introducing me to fitness challenges and by convincing me to say, “Yes,” to just about anything. I frequently kid that I want ‘WWDD” tattooed on my wrist (“What Would Del Do”). For a few years, we were Port Clinton’s Hall and Oates: a tall, good-looking, multi-talented blond guy and his short, dark-haired, nappy-headed, less-talented but super-determined partner. By the photos, I’m pretty sure you can tell who is Hall and who is Oates.
Over the years, we ran a number of races, culminating in a marathon. At mile 16, a bad case of tendinitis flared up in my knee. Although he was running strong, Del all-but-carried me another 7 miles until I just couldn’t take another step. He then waited with me until a first aid vehicle picked me up before finishing his race. The coolest (pun intended) run we ever did together, however, was a January run across the ice from Catawba to Put-in-Bay with eight other runner-friends/borderline crazies. It was a fairly stupid thing to do, but it turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life.
He also talked me into a Tough Mudder endurance race with another collection of adrenaline junkies, but the best evidence of Del’s inordinate sway over my decision making was his convincing me that I could be triathlete, when I didn’t even own a bike and couldn’t even swim. We shared several near-death incidents on our bikes, and I nearly drowned in five feet of water during a sprint triathlon, but our ultimate shared fitness challenge was a Half Ironman, which just about killed us both.
Del and I have also completed several outdoors adventures; although, in general, I hate the outdoors. Whenever we’ve whitewater rafted, kayaked, got a bit reckless on his Jet-Skis, hiked up mountains, run across open ice – again with various other friends – I’ve always participated with one non-negotiable rule: Del had to be in my raft or right behind me because I knew if I fell in, out, or over, Del would never let me go in, out, or over alone. I’m pretty sure everyone in the raft, on the mountain or ice, felt the exact same way about Del. The only adventure Del has been unable to convince me to share with him – yet – is jumping out of a plane. There are limits to friendship and to peer pressure.
Thirteen years ago, I vacationed in Hawaii. It was incredible on many levels, but one of my takeaways was that I hoped Del would never take a trip there himself because, if he did, I knew he might never come home. To my great misfortune, however, he did make that trip, he did fall in love with Hawaii, and last year he decided to leave his teaching job, countless friends, and his family behind, and with his lovely life partner, Melinda, he moved to Oahu. I mean, WHO DOES THAT?! Many of us say such things. But nobody actually follows through. My dad threatened to move to Canada nearly every hot summer’s day of my childhood, but I knew he was never moving to Canada. The first time Del shared that he was thinking of re-locating to Hawaii, I knew it was all but a fete accompli. I hated him for it. I loved him for it.
Before Del left for Hawaii, a group of us got together to toast Del and Mel, to say our goodbyes, and to present him with a gift certificate to a surf shop on Oahu, where he could purchase a surf board. The dude was born to be a beach god/surfer. He was scheduled to begin a drive across country with his dog, Boris, the next day before catching a flight out of L.A. I was brokenhearted, but I knew it was something he had to do for himself, and my responsibility to him as a friend was to support him in his move. Unashamedly, I told Del I loved him, and I thanked him for being my friend and for, in some way, saving my life all those years ago when I most needed saving.
I miss Del every stinking day, but I’m happy for him and Mel and especially happy for not having to resist the pressure to jump out of a perfectly-good airplane.
That’s just a glimpse into Del Culver: One of the People in My Life.”
Surf on, Brother! And aloha!
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