I have been waiting for the right time to share my story about Pat C as it is beautiful, heartwrenching and difficult for me to tell. But now seems as good a time as any.
My son and Pat were high school classmates at St. John's Prep in Danvers, MA. My son was a very good skier (at a school where skiing matters, believe it or not) but was only so-so at the "ball" sports, and certainly not even remotely strong enough to think about playing there as the Prep typically contends for state titles in baseball, football and basketball. Nonetheless, he and Pat developed a very nice relationship--not best friends, but certainly "bro's", as AJ (my son) would refer to him. They had a number of classes together and also sang in the chorus, an extracurricular that required them to arrive at school by 7 each morning. AJ had enormous respect for Pat-he was a great athlete and student and treated his fellow students, no matter their athletic abilities, quite well. I got to know Pat, but only distantly.
When Pat was offered his ND scholarship, no one was happier for him than my son. AJ had already decided not to apply to ND and follow in his dad's footsteps; for him, there weren't enough mountains to schuss down in Indiana and his grades were probably not good enough. So, he went to the University of Utah.
During their freshmen year, AJ came out for a football game and we had dinner with Pat. Listening to Pat recite his "normal" day was simply incredible--up at 5 am to lift weights for one of the two sports, classes all day (he was carrying 18 hours), at least one, and sometimes two practices, film study, study hall, and maybe back in his room by 11 pm only to perform the same routine the next day. As of that October, he had seen his first-year roommate for more than a few minutes only three times.
During his sophomore, our son had the first of what would be many seizures. Over the next few years, they would become more frequent, more violent and less predictable. During a bike ride with me this past summer, he had one while cycling and went over the bars. How he survived is beyond me; he actually tore his rotator cuff which would require surgery a few months later.
Whether because of surgical complications, a seizure that led to his death or just God's will, AJ died the morning of October 13, 2014 in his sleep. I had just landed in Tokyo for business when I got the frantic call we parents all fear from my wife.
At his wake the following Friday, 2700 people walked past his casket and met with my wife, my three girls and me. We stood for six hours and tried to be brave. Most people had to wait 2 to 3 hours to visit with us--it was incredibly moving for us that so many people would wait so long to comfort and console us. Midway through the wake, a tall young man approached the casket, prayed, and then came to my family. Of course, it was Pat, and, despite his schedule and lack of free time, he took it upon himself to fly to Boston, wait in line and pray with us. I couldn't believe it then and I still can't.
The men's BB team became a rallying point for us this fall and winter. Even my youngest daughter, who previously cared little about the team, was riveted to the TV for most games. We watched all the guys and loved their style of play. But we really loved Pat--his athleticism, his teamwork and his leadership. For the team, the season was one of redemption. For my family, it was one of healing.
Saturday night was really tough for us. Perhaps it was the way they lost (maybe a blowout would have been easier to take), but we went to bed depressed and sad, like most of ND Nation. That the team wouldn't be playing anymore was tough; that we wouldn't get to see the kid who had done so much for our family was even more difficult.
Before the game, I sent Pat an e-mail message, my first to him all year. When I woke up Sunday morning, I saw that he had responded about 45 minutes after the game ended. Imagine that--this team captain, with teammates, friends, family and the press tugging on him, took probably ten minutes to write me only minutes after the biggest game of his life. His message to me was incredibly mature and powerful. And while I'd rather not discuss it as it was personal, suffice to say I will never delete it. It was that strong.
We've had great leaders at Notre Dame but I really wonder if anyone has been as strong as Pat. In a way. I feel that he was a small part of God's plan to help my family through this difficult time. He has officially become my favorite ND athlete of all time and I will miss seeing #24 next year.