Just prior to the Olympics in Vancouver, Randy Starkman wrote an article about me with the headline "Big Heart, Big Results." When I think of Randy and what he meant to me, to Canadian Olympic athletes and to the entire amateur sport community, the one word that comes to mind is: ditto.
Randy had an enormous heart filled with such passion and care for Canadian athletes that he proved by tirelessly carving out a niche for all of us in the giant media landscape so dominated by professional sport. That we are indebted to him for the impact he has had on Canadian sport is an overwhelming understatement.
The shocking news of his death yesterday was so devastatingly tragic. But I just spoke to him three weeks ago -- this can't be true, I just spoke to him.
I'd turned the tables on him and called to see if he would cover a story about a trip I was doing with Right To Play. "Grover!" he said. "It's so great to hear from you!" That I am comfortable calling him for a story (he's the only reporter who has my personal cell number) and calls me by nickname is a testament to the trust and respect I have for him, his work, his integrity and his commitment to not only covering sport, but also celebrating it. His enthusiasm and support for my trip was a given, that's why I'd called him. I knew he would care.
His Olympics blog is the first bookmark in my browser. His blog is my daily go-to for all things Canadian sport and I check it religiously. I'd get impatient with him if he didn't post often enough. I wanted to know what was going on and I knew he would deliver the goods. I thought it was strange that he'd been so silent over the last couple of weeks but chalked it up to him saying he was already crushed with his work preparing for London. After our chat a few weeks ago I remember thinking to myself, "He sounds tired."
The thing about Randy is that he didn't just file the facts. He didn't rely on web searches for information and he never asked basic, superficial questions. He took the time to get to know every single athlete and developed a relationship with them far beyond the call of duty. What made him tick was finding out what made us tick. He told my story and the story of so many athletes in Canada. He wasn't just there to get a one-line quote and meet a deadline. He was there to give us a voice and highlight the real and human story behind the faces and the names. I've never met another journalist who cared like he did.
The last interview I did with Randy was the day I retired from speed skating. Doing an interview with Randy was always fun and interesting and he never failed to ask me intelligent questions that really made me think. That day he used the words "the little speed skating engine that could" to sum up my career and me. When he told me this I laughed and marveled at how perfectly he could capture my life in seven words. He seemed pleased that he'd hit the nail on the head so squarely. He did because he knew me and cared about what I'd done.
Whenever I did a post-race scrum and I saw Randy in the crowd I felt at ease. He's the only one I would recognize because he was always there. I naturally gave him a big hello and would stay on longer than I wanted to just to talk to him. He transcended the world of media to become friends with those he cared about most.
He happily encouraged me with my own writing and I'm proud to say he holds the naming rights of my little blog, The GrovesLine. He was jokingly annoyed with me for starting my blog as he had been using me as a guest writer on his own site and figured he'd have more work to do without my periodic contributions. When I asked him for advice about publishing he was so supportive and offered any help he could give. He was one of the very best and I'm so thankful I had the chance to know him and to be his friend.
The world has lost a gem in Randy Starkman. Canadian athletes have lost their voice.
It is incomprehensible to me that he is gone from this world.