Steve Holcomb is forever young. He will never grow old. He will never need a walker, extended bed rest or that bottle of Metamucil. He lives in Byron Craighead the way he is living so many others, alive, vibrant, full of spunk and dash and Craighead was ready to show it Monday.
Craighead, the SRJC Hall of Famer and athletic trainer for USA bobsled in three Winter Olympics, rose from his seat at a coffee shop. Craighead looked behind him to see if anyone would be watching, shrugged, and proceeded with the Holcy Dance.
Arms slanted to his side, palms facing forward, his left foot slid sideways, his right foot sliding to the right. Craighead moved like he was on the deck of a ship rolling in a storm, limbs jerked this way and that, his body a rag doll being shook.
“Steve walked like this to loosen up the team,” said Craighead, convinced that if the most famous name in American sledding acted like that, it would be disrespectful to sniff a scorn. The moment was light, free of the complicated backstory, free from May 6, the day Steve Holcomb was found dead in his dorm room at Lake Placid.
“It’s difficult to approach … ” Craighead stopped talking. His voice clutched up. He was invited by Holcomb’s family to attend their son’s memorial on May 11 in Lake Placid. He was trying to explain how the memorial went.
“The family, I wanted to give them something.” It took Craighead four stop-and-starts to complete that sentence. Tears accompanied the last two attempts. Steve Holcomb, driver of the USA sled in 2010 that won his country’s first gold medal in sledding in 62 years, was 37. Thirty-seven! Holcomb was preparing for his fourth Olympics in 2018.
“Are you sitting down?” asked a USA Bobsled official on a cell call from Lake Placid.
“Why should I be sitting down?” asked Craighead.
Craighead didn’t sleep that night. This one really hurt. Besides teaching at SRJC for 37 years, Craighead had been an athletic trainer for the Raiders when they had training camp in Santa Rosa, a trainer for USA wrestling for four years, even a trainer for a spell for professional rodeo. He was an athletic trainer for USA bobsled for 21 years. Craighead had seen a lot, known big names, performed on the world stage.
But this was an athlete dying young; this was a death that upset the natural of order of things. Elite athletes live on famously after their playing days, like Derek Jeter, acclaim following them around like a faithful puppy, forever warm. If they die at their own hand, like the troubled Aaron Hernandez at 27, the memory of that athlete feels cold, chilling even. But Holcomb, he was a different cat, someone whose personality was a warm puppy. A 37-year-old warm puppy. Someone who had a private audience with former President Barack Obama. Someone 34 years younger than Craighead.
Someone who will remain forever young to Craighead because how do you forget someone who was 15 and asked you to ski down mountains at St. Moritz? That’s what happened in 1995. An avalanche had stranded USA’s bobsleds. Holcomb and Craighead made it past the avalanche. The teenager convinced Craighead not to waste the day.