Monday, January 22, 2018

Remembering Rob Myslik, 15 Years Later

TigerBlog was copied on an email from Jim Barlow yesterday that mentioned that it was the 15th anniversary of the tragic death of Rob Myslik.

If you don't know who Rob was, he was the son of former Director of Athletics Bob Myslik and a 1990 Princeton grad. He and Barlow, the men's soccer coach at Princeton, were teammates together, and Rob then was an assistant coach under Barlow at one point.

Rob was killed in a car accident on Jan. 21, 2003. He was in Utah, on his way to the Sundance Film Festival. TigerBlog knew Rob, but not very well. He did know that he was a really nice, really friendly, really thoughtful, really impressive person.

Barlow and Rob were best friends. It was five years ago, on the 10th anniversary, when Barlow wrote a guest TigerBlog in memory of his friend. He included the link in his email yesterday, and TigerBlog wants to rerun it here today.

People turn over in a college athletic department. The athletes, certainly, as they only get four years to be there. And the staff of the department, while not quite that transitional, still has very few people here who would know who Rob Myslik is.

That's why what Jim wrote is so important. Rob was a huge part of the soccer program at Princeton, and his memory lives on, with the name of the game field (Myslik Field) at Roberts Stadium and especially with those who knew him best. Like Jim Barlow.

And so here is what Jim wrote five years ago, without a word changed:
When I started to think of what I might say today, and began to get nervous about trying to “say the right things,” I was reminded of the words that Toni Morrison spoke after the tragedy of September 11th.  I keep these words taped to the wall behind my desk.  She said to the Princeton University community -- “I must be steady and I must be clear, knowing all the time that I have nothing to say….” (at first, this line seemed really appropriate for me – if you knew Rob no words are necessary – he revealed himself to you in ways beyond mere words and we all know that -- if you did not know him, well, then words do not suffice) – The more I thought about it, though, the more I could hear Rob’s voice saying “what a cop out.”  A talker like no one else, he would want us to talk, to share, to live this moment here today like we live every other one.

So I kept reading over Morrison’s words about addressing the broken and the dead without any anger, self-promotion, cliché – without any agendas. She said that speaking to the broken and the dead is “too holy an act for impure thoughts” because “the dead are free, absolute, they cannot be seduced by blitz.” The more I thought about it the more I realized that this is how people spoke to Rob when he was alive.  Of all the people I have ever met, he was already the most free, absolute.  He remained immune to societal measures of success – the same “blitz” of which Morrison speaks.  He refused to be seduced by money or status…What seduced him was life – being awake in each moment and squeezing as much as possible out of every day.  I think his battles with insomnia were a reflection of this need to always be AWAKE
(taken from my eulogy on Rob Myslik written in January, 2003)
As I finished reading this year’s New Year/holiday update letter from Rob Myslik’s sister Melora and her husband Andrew Balson, I could not get past the following sentence:
“As we approach the 10 year anniversary of the loss of our beloved Robby, we continue to try to live our lives to the fullest, as he knew how better than most.”
Ten years.  

I can remember that day so vividly - being awoken in my hotel room in Guadlajara, Mexico with an urgent message to call home.  I had assumed that my wife PK was checking on me as there had been a big earthquake in Mexico that night.  When I phoned her, however, she delivered the life-changing news  – Rob was killed in a car accident.

In the eulogy I gave at his memorial service days later, I started off by saying, “These days, everything reminds me of Rob.”

Ten years later not much has changed. 

So many things continue to remind me of Rob.  Big things remind me, like our game field (named in Rob’s memory), our prestigious Robert Hauter Myslik Award (awarded to the member of the team who most demonstrates the passion for life, the fiery competitiveness, the unwavering honesty and the selfless generosity of Rob), the Reach the Beach 200-mile relay that is run in his memory each year, and, the biggest of all, his daughter Maggie (who will turn 10 in the fall). 

But so many little things also remind me, like a passionate debate, a competitive practice, a frank discussion, a playful dog, a bad referee, a pizza at De Lorenzo’s, a beat-up, smelly car, Princeton soccer, Princeton basketball, a good book.  I can’t help but imagine Rob’s insights into everyday life.
What would he think of the Lance Armstrong interview, of the imaginary girlfriend at Notre Dame?   Would he have liked Les Mis as much as TigerBlog?  What would he think of our team?  What suggestions would he have for the line-up?  Our practices? What would his player ratings have been after each game?  How much would he have heckled Penn fans at last week’s basketball game?

As I write this guest TigerBlog, I have the Liverpool/Norwich game on in the background.  After Liverpool scored, the announced called it a “scrappy” goal.  My first thought?  You guessed it  – one of Rob’s many nicknames was Scrappy.

Yes, ten years later and Rob is still everywhere.  But not everyone knows him. We keep a picture of
Rob on the bench at our games.  On one of our road trips this season, I asked a freshman to carry the picture on the bus and be responsible for making sure the picture made it to the bench and back on the bus.  “By the way, “ I asked him, “do you know who that is in the picture?”

After a long pause he looked back at me. “Yes,” he guessed, “is it PK?”

The bus roared in laughter, but the incident served as a reminder that many of our current players don’t know anything about Rob Myslik, about a person who was such a huge part of what Princeton Soccer is and of the values that make our program special.  Rob’s story needs to be told every season, every time a group of freshmen arrive on campus.  There can be no better role model for them. On the tenth anniversary of his tragic death, Rob continues to teach us, in Melora’s words, how to live our lives to the fullest.

Gradually, you will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form of your departed;
And when the work of grief is done,
The wound of loss will heal
And you will have learned
To wean your eyes
From that gap in the air
And be able to enter the part
In your soul where your loved one
Has awaited your return
All the time.
(from John O’Donohue’s On Grief)


Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this article remembering Rob. We were classmates at Princeton and he was completely full of life and passionate about everything he did. A great person who is truly missed.

Anonymous said...

Oddly enough, I thought about Rob today and stumbled on this dated post. He was my coach and teacher in prep school right after his Princeton playing days. Thank you for continuing to shine a light on his life and legacy. 15 years on and he continues to live inside the myriad of people he touched and inspired, many of which, myself included, wonder how he'd respond to knowing how we all feel. I suspect it'd be "go deeper, man." or 'that's too nonchalant, keep going' as just an appreciation of who he was and how he conducted himself would not impress him. For none of us would 'defeating the teacher' if we remained in awe of him in lieu of continuing to push forward beyond him. But maybe that is just me and maybe that was the lesson all along. Rob was a wonderful and beautiful man and to all those who miss and mourn him, you are not alone. May we all find peace in our mourning, and learn everyday from his memory.