In 2011 I was fortunate to become friends with a big, grinning Colombian lawyer named Danny Alvarez. We spent 23 days together on a ranch in Wyoming at Gerry Spence’s Trial Lawyer’s College, trying to become better lawyers and better people. We spent most of each day in class, but managed to sneak in a fair bit of hiking and fly fishing as well. I spent more than a few hours standing in the East Fork of the Wind River teaching Danny how to stalk trout, present a fly properly and bring a beautiful wild cutthroat trout to the net. When I fished with Danny I figured I could leave my bear spray at the barn. If grizzlies had walked up on Danny they would have thought he was one of them.
When given a weekend off, our little pack of friends made a mad dash for Jackson Hole for the weekend, determined to make the all-day trek up Middle Teton. In the group we had three accomplished hikers, a pre-F3 Chico, and the Big Colombian. He weighed somewhere north of 250, but managed to push us all up that mountain. Every time I was ready to give out, I would see Danny trudging up the hill and think, “If that big sonofabitch can get up this mountain, so can I.”
In the intervening years I have thought of that climb often, like when refusing to stop in a marathon when I was basically a dead man walking (in fact running right into the medical tent), or plodding up that nine mile BRR leg on the greenway. Every time I feel like stopping, I think of Danny continuing up Middle Teton, just putting one foot in front of the other. I even watch that movie MacFarlane sometimes for inspiration before a race. The one where Kevin Costner starts a cross country team from amongst the farmhand “pickers” that attend the local high school, none of whom imagined getting a college education before running took them there. They had grown fast from sprinting from the fields to school, and then back to the fields again. But in the end it was a big fellow named Danny that had to save them when one of his faster teammates faltered. So it is not only when I run up a hill that I think of Danny, it is during my pre-race inspiration as well.
Still my legs — or my will — have failed me on occasion. On leg 35 of the BRR. On leg 28. When it has happened I have felt like I was letting down not just myself and my team, but a friend miles away in Kentucky.
Danny’s dream was to become the first Latino ever elected judge in Kentucky. On his second try, he won the most votes in his primary on Tuesday night, and was well-positioned for the general election. We texted back and forth in celebration of his victory, but had last spoken just a few days earlier. He was hitting the campaign trail hard, keeping up a busy solo law practice, and still trying to be the best husband and father of three he could be. On Wednesday, still in the afterglow of his big win, Danny collapsed at home of an apparent heart attack, and he is gone. He was a workhorse until the end.
There is a video online of Danny at his grandmother’s grave during Election Day. He was humble. He was grounded. He was faithful. He was real.
I learned a lot from Danny Alvarez. About persistence. About faith. But he had much more to offer. I know no words of wisdom and frankly I don’t really expect to hear any. For now I am just heart broken.
I considered bagging my Q when I got the news, but I couldn’t do that. The only thing that made sense to me this morning was to go out with a group of men and run up hills as much as possible. I wanted to keep running up those hills like Danny climbing Middle Teton, to come face to face with the wavering of my own will and see if I could keep going anyway. Perhaps to make up for those times when I have failed him, and myself. Or perhaps I thought that doing that would make my friend seem closer. It did, for a moment, though right now he seems a million miles away. I will see him again. There are many hills in my future.
You must be logged in to post a comment.