I remember him as a child quite well. White blonde hair, small, determined young boy. He and his brother joined the skating club years ago. Yari took to skating differently than his brother. He was serious and focused and train-able as people like to say. His brother skated but not in the same way. And soon Yari rose through the ranks, competing, growing, focussing and then I blinked and he was off to Calgary to train. And in the summers he would come back to the club and run our dry land sessions. Even then he was tough and serious even though we were a rag tag group of skaters of all ages, including my partner who was well into her 70’s at that point. He ran dry land like we were real skaters.
And one summer he brought a girl who would become his wife. And she and I would hang around the back laughing and talking, and Yari would look up and smile and then tell us to get down and do our endless low walks across the grassy field under the hot summer sun. And while it was clear that I wasn’t going anywhere with my skating he always had the time of day for me. And sometimes he would say something that was just plain funny. And spot on. And that’s when you could see the funny guy behind the focused young man.
I remember he came back for a few seasons to coach and I always wanted to do better because in spite of my lack of natural ability and the numerous fears that held me back, he still gave me his all. But it wasn’t just me he gave his all to, it was everyone. He gave everyone his all.
I saw him this March at the BC Championships. He was the referee. We said a quick hello because he was busy. I heard that he and his wife had gone their separate ways. That he had become a lawyer and that he lived in Calgary. That he had spent a few difficult years but he was happy now. I heard he had fallen in love with a woman and a little boy. That they were the centre of his universe and that he was a devoted step-father to this little boy. And I imagine Yari in all his generosity and kindness and capacity to give, being an amazing person to the little boy in his life. I heard that they were the apple of his eye and that they were to be married in July this year. I had heard that as a lawyer when things got tough he would lighten things up by wearing colourful socks or ties or jackets and that he had picked a spectacular jacket for his wedding.
And then I heard that one week before his wedding he suffered a terrible headache. It was blinding and relentless and like nothing he had felt before even though he was familiar with migraines. So he brought his little boy to his neighbour’s house and called an ambulance.
One day this summer the phone rang. It was my best friend who had called to say she had something to tell me and that she wanted me to hear it from her and then she told me that Yari had passed away. And it shook me to my core. It shook me. Not because I knew him so well. I didn’t at all. He was a ship passing by in my life. I cried because he had given me something. I cried because he was so young – 37. I cried because his wedding, the happiest day of his life in the end became a celebration of the passing of his life. I cried because I didn’t know how to grieve for someone that wasn’t my immediate family but who had touched my life with his generosity and his passion for a crazy sport. A sport he believed in passionately, a sport he gave so generously of his time to. A sport that he helped young people and old people and all kinds of people in between, excel in, taking each of us as seriously as though he were training us for the Canadian national team. He made me reach higher – try harder. Speed skating, a sport that gave me confidence when I had none. An ounce of the confidence that this sport has given me in life belongs to Yari who helped me get there.
I have only known three people in my life who left far too young. Sometimes when I’m out walking I say their names out loud – Lori Brown, Scott Wilson. I blow their names out to the wind hoping that those lives will be scattered to the earth, carried by the wind, embedded in the dirt, carried away to beautiful places. I say those names to confirm that they were indeed here. I say their names as an act of remembrance so I never forget. And now when I walk I say Yari’s name in the hope that a young person who left us far too early and who gave so many, so much, will always be remembered and embraced. Yari.