Special people that cross your path come around more often than one thinks, the problem is sometimes you don't realize it until they are gone. It especially happens when someone is young. You expect to see that special person tomorrow, next week, next month or next year.
You enjoy your discussions, you think the world of this person, then all of a sudden that person is gone.
Eric Namesnik was that individual. And this weekend (April 8-10) at Canham Natatorium in Ann Arbor his persona will be honored with the Eric Namesnik Michigan Grand Prix, one of seven stops on the USA Swimming Grand Prix Series across the United States.
Snik (as he was known) was the perfect team player in a sport that for the casual observer seems to be an exercise in individual ability.
He always seemed to be on the verge of Olympic gold. He was ranked No. 1 in the world in the four-stroke medley event in 1991 and 1993. Two times he represented the United States at the Olympics.
In 1992, he won a silver medal in the 400 IM at the Barcelona Summer Olympic Games. He also took home silver and bronze medals in 1991 (Perth) and 1994 (Rome) in the World Championships. And he worked his tail off to win the gold in the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. This would have been the culmination of his efforts.
Instead, his Wolverine teammate, Tom Dolan, came into the mix.
"Everybody remembers that," said former Michigan swimming coach and Michigan Sports Hall of Fame member Jon Urbanchek in a recent USA Swimming article written by Bob Schaller. "But if you ask people whom they cheered for -- it was so hard for me because both of these kids could have won the gold medal -- nine out of 10 would have said they were cheering for Eric. Tom was talented, but Eric had such dedication and desire. People pulled for Eric because he didn't have that great talent but did have the dedication and commitment. As a coach I look back at Snik and see that he literally gave everything he could in every workout, every battle. He came in second but did his best, and I was never more proud of anyone. And I was very proud of Tom, too. As long as we went one and two, I didn't care. I told them, 'I can see either of you winning.'"
Snik lost the gold medal to his teammate -- and rival -- Dolan by 35-hundredths of a second, once again receiving the Olympic silver medal.
But if it weren't for Namesnik pushing Dolan at practice every day, Dolan might not have been able to win the Olympic title.
Now turn back the calendar to January 7, 2006. The weather was awful. Icy conditions plagued all of southeast Michigan and travel was treacherous. For Snik and his family, it turned into the day they will never forget. A terrible car crash eventually took the life of Eric Namesnik. He died on January 11. Snik was gone. A special M-Man dedicated to life, family and his sport.
Fortunately, his family allowed his organs to be donated and truly he is still breathing the life of a champion into others today. That donation and the Erik Namesnik Michigan Grand Prix are fitting memories for the man we remember as Snik.