A Brief Chance Meeting: “So, that was you.”
Recently I noticed one of those interesting viral posts on FaceBook. The theme is to list about five or six famous people that you have met during your life, but one of them is supposed to be a lie. Then the reader is supposed to guess which one is the lie and of course the invitation is to create your own list, post it for your friends, and continue the process.
I took note, but chose to not participate, as I am naturally suspicious about on-line games and thinly disguised information gathering.
However, the question sparked a few moments of contemplation. Over the years I have stood in line for a couple of athletes’ autographs. Other than that, I have met no politicians, no entertainers, no authors or artists. I did briefly meet Sam Butcher, creator of Precious Moments figurines. Does that count? How about Dr. Warren Wiersbe, famous pastor, author, and nationally known Bible expositor?
But after a few moments of further thought, I did recall one special occasion – a chance meeting – with a man of some long-ago fame.
During the spring of 2000, Dee and I, along with our son Brandon (age 11) decided to visit the village of Lake Placid for a week-long vacation. We wandered the village, drove the surrounding area, admired the beautiful Adirondack Mountains, and took in some Olympic Winter Games history.
One of the special places we wanted to visit was the Lake Placid Olympic Museum with its many fascinating exhibits and displays. The particular focus is the two Olympic Winter Games that took place in Lake Placid in 1932 and 1980.
When we arrived at the museum, we purchased our entry tickets. There was nobody else present, so it looked as though we would have the entire venue to ourselves. We were invited by the attendant to watch a brief film about the 1932 and 1980 Olympic Winter Games, so we slipped into a small booth that would seat perhaps ten people and waited for the film to begin.
Again, I thought we would have the small booth and twelve-inch screen to ourselves, but just after the film started, several people slipped in and sat down next to me. An elderly gentleman squeezed in right beside me and a middle-aged couple sat down on the older man’s other side.
Immediately these three folks began chattering to each other. I tried hard to focus on the film, difficult enough because the volume seemed rather low. The threesome continued their hushed but distracting conversation and frankly, I was getting irritated, but resisted the urge to ask them to be quiet.
As I continued to focus on the film, the scene changed to some grainy footage of the 1932 Winter Games. A speed skating event was underway and the camera focused on one particular man, dressed in black, as he raced to the front, evidently on his way to victory. Then, once again I heard the middle aged man’s voice – whispered to the elderly man – “So, that was you.” And the elderly man quietly replied, “Yes, that was me.”
Needless to say, my attitude instantly changed and I suddenly had far less interest in the few moments that remained of the film presentation. Once the film concluded, I stood to my feet and greeted the man next to me. I introduced myself, Dee, and Brandon, then stated that I heard a bit of the conversation.
The man I was speaking with was Jack Shea, double gold medalist in the 1932 Olympic Winter Games, winning the 500 and 1500 meter speed skating events. But on the day we met, he was 89 years old, sharp of mind with a pleasant personality. We enjoyed about fifteen minutes of conversation and he graciously posed for a photo with Brandon next to a display case with his medals and memorabilia.
The Rest of the Story
Less than two years later I was reading the newspaper and a small news brief at the bottom of the sports page caught my attention. On January 22, 2002, Mr. Shea was tragically killed in a car accident in Saranac Lake. The car he was driving had been struck head-on by a drunk driver. He was 91 years old and left behind his wife Elizabeth along with children and many grandchildren.
Mr. Shea’s sudden passing was just two weeks before the Salt Lake Olympic Winter Games. His grandson Jim Shea was to compete in the first-ever skeleton competition in the Olympics, so the elderly gentleman had looked forward to seeing the event and cheering for his grandson.
One of the more dramatic stories at the Salt Lake Olympics was Jim Shea and the skeleton event. As it turned out, Jim Shea won the gold medal and when it was clear that he had won the gold, he removed his helmet in a moment of great joy, revealing a photo of his grandfather – Mr. Jack Shea – which he had taped inside the helmet before his event got underway.
So then, perhaps the most famous person I have been privileged to meet was Mr. Jack Shea of Lake Placid, New York, the 1932 Olympic Winter Games gold medalist. And yet, as I researched the life of this man, I discovered much more than Jack Shea, Olympic champion.
The depth of his well-lived life included so much more. Devoted family guy, a man who sacrificed personal desires for the sake of others, and servant to his community. In addition, he was an outspoken critic of those who would persecute the Jewish people, so much so, that he refused to defend his 1932 Olympic titles at the 1936 Winter Olympic Games held in Nazi Germany.
Meeting Mr. Jack Shea was an unforgettable life-event and I am pleased to recall spending a few moments with this fine gentleman.
© Jeffery J. Michaels / Plain English Publications 2020
(Quotations allowed with attribution to this blog)