Passing on Mercer Islander Rick Denmark's life lessons | Bryan Welch

It has been almost a year since longtime Island resident and Club Emerald fixture Rick Denmark passed away.

Rick died suddenly of a pulmonary embolism last May. An avid exercise enthusiast, multiple marathoner and eventual Ironman triathlete at 61 years old, Rick was blessed with charisma, good looks and integrity, and a keen desire to make those around him better athletes and in turn better people. He brought a strong sense of right and wrong to any venue, and for me personally was sort of a John Wayne figure. Equally comfortable speaking to the board of directors of a major company or just having a beer and a few laughs at a tavern, I admired him and still miss him. Perhaps that’s why it’s taken so long to write about him, and also why I often think about how one person’s life can impact so many others.

Our son, Braydon, is now 14 months old and full of energy, curiosity and joy. Over time he will be shaped greatly by those close to him and sometimes by those not so close to him. Instilling kindness and compassion, integrity and determination, and intelligence both physically and mentally is not without its challenges. Not usurping his freedom of choice while trying to provide guidance is a balancing act worthy of applause for any parent. Soccer star or physicist, fireman or tax attorney, it matters only if you can make yourself and those around you better people.

I’m hopeful that my son will be the kind of guy who would sit in the car with you for two plus hours in the pouring rain on a Friday evening, awaiting AAA service for a broken lug nut and a flat tire, abandoning his own ride to do it. Rick Denmark did that for me. I’m hopeful that my son will encourage others to go for it when it comes to tackling their first half marathon, setting aside training days and discussing strategies for success at length. Rick Denmark did that for me. I would hope that if Braydon has expertise in a certain area of life, for example finance, he would take the time to compare notes and trade business strategies with a guy in a completely unrelated field. Rick Denmark did that for me.

Since his death I have heard many stories of his enthusiasm for life and his belief in exercise as the foundation for moving forward through a rich, full life. I’ve also heard a couple of doubts about the sense of it all from the “what’s the point if it could happen to a guy like that?” group. I think it’s healthy to question, and healthier to make your own choices when it comes to the fundamentals of health, which I will label as the physical, mental and spiritual pillars. It’s up to you to define exactly what each of those pillars means, but for me the big three come down to simple realities.

Physically, you have one body to get you through what is hopefully a long and prosperous journey, and the more strength and stamina and elasticity that body has, the more likely you are to thwart everything from serious injury to high blood pressure. I’ve witnessed repeatedly how strength and stamina can help someone survive the devastating protocol when it comes to treating uncontrollable “wild cards” like cancer. Treat your body right and increase by a thousand-fold your enjoyment of life on a daily basis. Pain free and graceful is a beautiful way to move through the world.

Mentally, I’ve always felt that there is book smart, and then there is street smart. One comes from reading and learning about the world, and one is derived from getting out there and experiencing the world. Blending both of these requires a constant curiosity on the one hand, and an unflinching desire to attempt new challenges while not being afraid to fail on the other hand. Learning from mistakes, adjusting on the fly, and trying again is quite a foundation for future success.

Spirituality, which I’ll define as your overall outlook on life, for me is more about having confidence and believing in the best possible outcome regardless of the situation. This belief in the enormous capacity of the human spirit has been confirmed time and again, as I’ve seen extraordinary people coping with daunting challenges and continuing to thrive. Call it determination or single-mindedness, Rick and I spoke frequently of doing whatever it takes to stay healthy and strong enough to help yourself and others moving forward. It is as essential to believe in your ability to always land on your feet as it is vital to do the necessary work to make sure your feet are ready to absorb the shock of that landing.

There are many lessons and philosophies to share with Braydon, and in time he’ll be able to forge and share his own with others. I know that my physical, mental and spiritual centers have all been strengthened by knowing Rick Denmark, and that strength in turn will be passed on to my son. I think Rick would like that.

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