Thursday, September 4, 2008

A Champion For Life

Hi. I said on the air Thursday night that Darryl Kollai was as good at his sport as LeBron James is at his.

DARRYL KOLLAI (ON LEFT) AND SON ERIC

Darryl Kollai was not a household name in Northeast Ohio. But ask someone in the triathlon community and chances are they knew of him. Many of us saw the backside of Darryl because he was routinely swimming, biking and running the competition into the ground.


Darryl is no longer with us. On a Saturday ride with training buddies, Darryl had a heart attack and was gone...suddenly.


His legend. His imprint. His charisma was overwhelming. He mentored so many athletes and turned them into champs. All the while, Kollai was winning medal after medal.. 27 years in the sport, but 53 is too damn young to be leaving.





Kollai was a national caliber racer. In his 40's he was consistently trashing all the 20 and 30-somethings. Just a few weeks before he died, he tore into a bike segment and everyone else was eating his dust. His strength was amazing. He broke bike frames and never , ever gave an inch.


I remember the legend of Steve Prefontaine. The guts. The toughness. I like to think that if Pre were to have lived..he's be Darryl Kollai. Smiling assassin on the course.


To train with Darryl, they say was to come an inch from the edge..and then go over. Ask Heather Petroff, who spoke at his funeral, or my old college buddy Scott McGill, himself a brilliant racer. Darryl always said "Just a little bit further" or "Its all downhill from here" (Both lies, but you do what you have to). Darryl always preached that "No one likes the view from second place".


At Darryl's funeral, the family..son Eric ,daughter Michelle, wife Susan, laughed at the stories told by others and told some zingers of their own. Darryl knew how to do so many things. Humor..wit..motivator. mechanic...the list goes on and on.. Everyone laughed..many shed tears. He was buried in his Team USA jacket as he competed for the US in Perth Austrailia in the mid to late 90's. Pictures and articles displayed as were his Cervelo Bike and his wetsuit.


After the service..a long and winding procession went to the place of burial..along the tough, hilly roads that he climbed...past the deer he saw each day...inching up the inclines..reaching to the sky...Darryl reached everyday. He reached for greatness. Burning lungs, sweating body..muscles screaming. Torture for some, but the closest thing to heaven for Darryl. And now, he is training there, he is likely training God, urging him to push harder to be the best God he can be.


I would like to write, Rest in Peace Darryl, but I don't think thats what you have in mind. Your time here was short, as were the times you set as you raced. You raised the bar for many others and the sport has benefited so greatly because of you.
DARRYL KOLLAI 1955--2008

24 comments:

UntPawGal02 said...

Sorry to hear about the loss of Darryl... he sure sounded like a champion!

filoli said...

I am so sorry to hear about this. What a tragic and sudden loss...

CycloneCross said...

I'm new to multisport and didn't know / hadn't heard about Darryl before his passing. I want to thank you for your touching and thoughtful tribute to his life in this time of great loss for his family, friends, and for the sport.

jbmmommy said...

Beautiful tribute to someone taken from his family and friends far too soon. My thoughts and prayers go out to all who knew him and will mourn his loss.

Julie Lewis-Sroka said...

Thanks for doing this story John.

TrainingtoTri said...

Oh that is so sad, what a nice tribute JT.

On another note, I like the site revamp.

Marcy said...

:-( Man, I'm sorry to hear about this. Thank you JT, nicely said.

RunBubbaRun said...

Sorry to hear bout him. Thanks for the tribute. Sounded like a great guy who gave back to the sport he loved.

Wes said...

Wow! What a great guy. Looks like he knew how to go out in style too.

Carry on, Darryl!! We'll be there soon.

Trishie said...

So sorry to about Darryl's passing. He sounds like a wonderful friend and a true asset to the sport. What a lovely tribute, JT

Benson said...

In the words of Chris Farley
"oh man, that SUCKS!"
Very sad to hear this.

Great tribute JT. I'm inspired to keep going just a bit farther.

Donald said...

What a sad story. This is a nice tribute to him, John.

Lisa Slow-n-Steady said...

Nice tribute.

Mel said...

WOW....what a awesome athlete...so sorry to hear about his passing!!! my prayers are with his family and friends!!!

Anonymous said...

Thank-you.
It meant a lot to me to sit with my 2 children and and watch my dad, their grandpa, on television being compared to LeBron James. It brought some pride to help heal our broken hearts.

Lily on the Road said...

Beautifully written John, he sounds as though he lived his life to the fullest & to his own drum.

For such a short time on this earth, Darryl Kollai certainly made an impact on so many.

My thoughts and prayers are with his family & friends....God Bless...

cindy said...

What a beautiful tribute to a true champion. It sounds like he really knew how to live life to the fullest.

I was shocked by news that a friend of mine died suddenly on Wednesday. She was 49, and a triathlete. I would always see her at the pool, on the bike path, or at races. Life is fragile.

jahowie said...

Very sad news. It's nice that you gave his a nice tribute.

Rachel said...

Very touching post. He will be missed.

Jack said...

John It is always frightening to think of someone as young and vibrant as Darryly passing away but it makes me know that living life is so important and we must continue living a vibrant life. I know you must get the same comments I do from some people like "aren't you a little old to be doing triathlons?" I just laugh and think about all the people who get to a certain age and retire to their rocking chairs to get old. I think I would rather die young like Darryl living life to the fullest than to be one of these poor folks. Great tribute.

triguyjt said...

I am glad to know that many others from around the country know what a great competitor darryl was. I could not come close to him in ability and speed...but I always strived that way and will continue to do so.
echoing what jack said...younger triathletes...wait till your in your 40's or in my case 50's...its so fun to race hard and beat the kids....its like turning back the clock

Kona Shelley said...

Oh boy..i'm so sorry to have read this just now...very tragic and sad loss for us all!

Jerry said...

thank you for a most fitting tribute.

I was lucky enough to be able to ride with Darryl from time to time and whenever I think of him, which will be often, I will remember him pushing those monster gears up the climbs and then perching himself on the nose of his saddle and hammering everything else.

ride on Darryl..you will be missed

Viv said...

What a wonderful tribute to amazing endurance athelete Darryl.