s
s
Sections
You've read 3 of 10 free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
You've read 6 of 10 free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
You've read all of your free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
We've got a special deal for readers like you.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting 99 cents per month and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?
Thanks for reading! Why not subscribe?
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting 99 cents per month and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?
Want to keep reading? Subscribe today!
Ooops! You're out of free articles. Starting at just 99 cents per month, you can keep reading all of our products and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?

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.

“I lost a true friend, a trusting friend,” Craighead said. If friendships are based on a common goal, and this one was, then blindness, of all things, cemented the connection. In 2007 Holcomb announced he had 20-1000 vision. He was legally blind. Still, he raced, said Craighead, “knowing all he could see was the end of his arm. He was racing 95 miles an hour through 16 obstacles (turns) based on what his body felt, based on touch.”

No one knew it at the time and no one knew Holcomb had tried to kill himself because he would lose all his sight. His career would be over. One night Holcomb took 73 sleeping pills and a quart of Jack Daniels but woke up the next morning with not even a hangover.

“Steve said he was allowed to live for a reason,” Craighead said. The degenerative eye condition — keratoconus — was corrected by a new procedure now known as “Holcomb C3-R”, where contact lenses are placed behind the irises. Holcomb took his new life and became the American face of the sport.

Owner of five world titles, three Olympic medals and a 60-time World Cup medalist, Holcomb was Everyman in the sport. Balding, cherubic, a bit chubby, Holcomb was the antithesis of the lean, cut Olympic athlete. Which made him all the more identifiable and attractive to strangers, a person legally blind became an Olympic gold medalist.

While Holcomb may have been larger than life to others, he was a partner to Craighead, the man who once awoke him at 5:30 in the morning because he had failed to use his ice packs on an injured knee. A lot of sweat equity passed between these two men in 22 years. No wonder Craighead had some sweat on him when he approached the Holcomb family in Lake Placid.

He kept thinking of the same question over and over: “How can I give them a memorial item to show how much I cared for their son?” The repetitive nature of such a tortuous question produced the most logical of answers: An inch-and-half roll of tape with these words on them: “Steve, You May Need This There Because They Might Not Have A Certified Athletic Trainer Up There.”

Holcomb will always need some fixing, a tug here, a wrap there, a push and squeeze in a tender spot. That’s why he’ll remain forever young for Craighead. Steve’s still going down the chute, hell bent, still pushing the 95. Byron’s at the bottom, still waiting for his friend, with that roll of tape. In some ways Steve has never been more alive, when he greets Byron with the Holcy Dance.

To contact Bob Padecky email him at bobpadecky@gmail.com.