Friday, January 2, 2009

All the Way

There's a saying in aviation, a code of honor:
Fly it all the way to the scene of the crash.

Nick Scandone was no pilot, but surely no one ever lived out such a creed more fully.

Nick died in the early hours Friday, an event entirely foreseen and unavoidable. He had ALS, which cripples and then kills. What Nick did with his ALS, however, was set an example of how to live. First he set a goal, to win a Paralympic gold medal. Then he succeeded.

Around him, his friends fretted that maybe he could hold on long enough to win the US Trials but not long enough to actually race in the Games at Qingdao. Or that he might make it to China but never make it back. And so on. The one who never fretted, at least so's you could see it, was Nick Scandone. But truly, it was a race to the race.

Nick was diagnosed in 2002. Typically, people survive about three years after a diagnosis of ALS, which meant that Nick's averages ran out in 2005. But of course he wasn't aiming at anything average. 2005 was also the year that the former 470 North American champion won the open-division 2.4mR worlds and was voted Rolex Sailor of the Year in the USA. The gold medal race in China was another three years out. So you see how chancy this thing was, all along.

ALS progressively attacks the spine and brain. Come time for the 2008 Trials, Nick could no longer manage the singlehanded 2.4mR, and he teamed up in a SKUD 18 with paraplegic Maureen McKinnon-Tucker, combining "her physical ability and my mental ability."

That phrase, "could no longer manage" conceals a nightmare-welter of developments that, frankly, you just don't want to know about. The man was dying. The disease was gnawing at his every vital. Still, these two had gold medal written all over them, if.

So I held my breath, and I was not alone.

That "if" was resolved conclusively in Qingdao. The final score, by cut-and-paste:
SKUD-18: 11 boats
1. Nick Scandone (Newport Beach, Calif., USA) and Maureen McKinnon-Tucker (Marblehead, Mass., USA), 2, 1, 1, 1, (3), 2; 7

The last time I saw Nick Scandone, the US Paralympic Team was passing through SFO en route to China for the Games. I drove to the airport to meet and greet and wish them well. I wrote at the time that Nick's handshake was weak, but the eyes were bright. Those who were with him to the end say that he never stopped being a giver.

As for this shot of Nick and Maureen, I blew the focus, but the spirit is clear. And I was a bit misty anyway, so this is kinda sorta how it really looked . . .