Just four years ago, a good friend of my son – a coach, a mentor, a teammate, a friend – died. Unexpectedly, he died. He was the epitome of strength and character, the product of hard work, moral fiber, faith and overcoming determination. He was a leader. He was a wrestler.
He was an overcomer. He fought off cancer and epilepsy in high school to place 5th as a senior in the Illinois State Wrestling tournament.
He was Jake Curby.
He coached my son to a runner up finish in the national Greco Roman wrestling tournament, and my son became his teammate at the Unites States Olympic Education Center. There Jake was a mentor, a beacon pointing the way to top of the Olympic ladder that Jake was climbing. From overcoming leukemia to 5th in the State wrestling tournament, from high school wrestling to earning a spot on the United States national team at 66kg in Greco Roman wrestling, Jake showed the way by doing it himself.
Jake returned from wrestling in Russia in January of 2010. He had jet lag from the time change. He was tired, but could not sleep. He went and worked out at the new senior level Greco Roman training center in Boise, ID where he was starting his final ascent to the top of the Olympic mountain. He returned to his home after the workout, and he died….
It was sudden and shocking. He was a specimen of strength, physical, character, emotional and otherwise. He had not had an issue with epilepsy for years. It seemed he had conquered that opponent, but he was worn out that day, tired and stressed by lack of sleep. Death came like a thief in the night and took him from us.
It was devastating to the USA Wrestling community, to the kids he coached, to his teammates and friends, to his family – to his fiancé – to all who knew him and celebrated his life. Few people at the age of 25 have the impact that Jake had, and few have been missed as much by so many people. He was the living example of a great human being with rock solid character and full of life.
Jake’s example lives on. His short, but full, life continues to be a source of inspiration for aspiring young people – not just wrestlers, but anyone who has a dream and dares to chase it. The Curby Cup that Jake’s father and mother and family and friends and the greater wrestling community have put on every year in the Chicago area is a testament to Jake’s life and the impact he has had on people. It is a marvelous event pulling in the best Greco Roman wrestlers in world to take on the best in the United States.
No one knows the day or hour that each person will breathe their last on this earth. There are no guaranties. What we do with the time that we have, the impact we have on those around us and how people remember us is our legacy. Jake is gone, but he still inspires. His sister, Courtney, has captured that sense of sacred time wonderfully in this short video.
Whether we live 25 years or 100 years, we all have the same end awaiting us. The time we have is a precious gift. There is no promise it will be easy. In fact, it most likely will not. It is in the striving, in the overcoming, in the courage to press on and to achieve the most that can be achieved with the raw material we have been given, that the fullness of being human is reached.
We live not as islands, as John Dunne penned, but are connected to the mainland of humanity. In all that we do, every single thing, we are influencing those around us for better or worse. Jake showed what it is like to live with a higher purpose and to dare to dream and chase those dreams with passion, determination, humility, good humor and grit.
Jake also showed the value of faith and the freedom that comes from leaving the things that we cannot change to the God who made us. That is the freedom that allows a person to run unhindered toward the goals before them without the baggage of worry, doubt, regret, fear or a hundred base emotions that pull at most of us like a pack of dogs on the hunt.
In the end, however, all of our human striving is empty, the medals and trophies and accolades are meaningless, without a connection to the God who made us. We can not take those prizes with us when we shuffle off these mortal coils…. but there is a better end awaiting us: a new beginning.
The gift of life that we have in jars of clay is a shadow of the eternal life that is promised by the God who dared to shed his own heavenly glory and walk humbly among us, suffering and dying a cruel death to show us that even death, itself, cannot hold Him…. And He offers that same gift to us.
The challenges and troubles believers face in this life are working in us an eternal glory that outweighs them all. We should all dare to dream of great things, but do not neglect to hitch those dreams to greater, eternal things. Our days chasing these earthly dreams will end. Jake’s dream ended, but a far greater glory awaited him and awaits us who set our hearts on God.