Friday, November 7, 2008

Walter Ris was my Uncle.....

For some reason driving into the office this morning I was thinking about my long deceased Uncle. Maybe it was the clear crisp skies that jogged something in my mind, or maybe it's just that time of year again. But for whatever reason my mind wandered off and he came to the front.

It was the Christmas morning 1989 when he passed away. I still remember the call from my Aunt (my Dad's older sister). Telling us he passed away in his sleep. Wally was a big man about 6'2" and 190 lbs - he was a former Olympian gold medalist, and could pick his nephew (me) up by my ears. Even though it's been almost 20 years since his passing, I can still remember his smile and loud booming voice. I was in awe of him every time we visited - and the best I could describe him was he was like a loving bear in a china shop trying to be gentle.

Still as I think back, we weren't really that close - we saw one another on holidays and family gatherings, but for some reason he made a big impression on me. I still remember the time I got to hold his goal metals that he kept stored away in his downstairs office. I must have been about 8 years old, and these things were heavy in my hands. The metal dwarfed my hands and he had kept them well polished and preserved some twenty plus years after receiving them. In my mind, his office shrank to encompass only him, me and the two metals - something like the 'one ring' in JRR Tolkin's Hobbit series. Holding the metals and seeing the look on my uncle's face clicked something inside of me, and to this day I'm not sure what turned on.....

Maybe that's where my competitive fire came from - just seeing my Uncle's eyes and holding that weight. I wanted to experience that he had experienced, to feel what he had felt it was infectious. I wanted to go to that place we all go during a difficult run in my mind - to feel the tingling sensation through our limbs knowing you are totally in the moment, and in-sync with your body. Pushing yourself to the very limit, and feeling every moment as it passes. Somewhere in college that moment, that drive slipped through my fingers.

Still thinking back to my Uncle - I was close enough to experience HIM; to experience what he had felt and done. And to his day I thank God for my Uncle Wally, my Aunt and my cousins because he was a good man, husband and person. This world should have more Wally's......

1 comment:

Jerry Pasierb said...


My name is Jerry Pasierb and I reside in Downers Grove, Illinois, a suburb just outside of Chicago.

I don't know exactly how it came about, but I found your blog about your uncle Ris earlier today.

My dad, who turned 88 this week was over my house. I was on my laptop and I was showing him some of the memorable Olympic races like the Munich Olympics 800 meters with Dave Wottle and the Marathon with Frank Shorter. At that time my dad started telling me about his days at the Midwest Athletic Club in Chicago when he was a teenager. He mentioned your uncle's name and was not certain whether he had won an Olympic metal nor of his whereabouts. I started to search your uncle's name on the internet and was able to read to my dad his accomplishments. Because of the war, everyone went their own way; your uncle went into the Navy and my dad was in the Army. It seemed that noone kept in contact thereafter. Early in his swimming career and for a few years, my dad held the City of Chicago AAU record for 100 yard backstroke. If it weren't for the war, I think my dad could have made it further as a swimmer.

To say the least my dad was happy to hear about your uncle's accomplishments and I think he has a few stories that he can tell about your uncle when he was a teenager.

My dad called me this evening to let me know that he found the swimming team program of all the swimmers who were part of that team including your uncle. Let me know how I can send that to you.

Ironically, I see that you are an avid runner. I too have been running for a few years, and hope that my 49 year old body still has something left in it to make it back to the Boston Marathon. Unlike the year round mild weather that you have in California, we're preparing for winter. For me that means transitioning to roller skiing and cross country skiing. My favorite winter event is competing in the American Birkebiner which is a 43km cross country ski race in Wisconsin in February.

Again, it was good to see your blog on your uncle and I hope that if you're interested in any more stories about him, my dad would be happy to tell you about his days on the swimming team with your uncle.