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Honoring a friend …

On Monday I attended the funeral of a friend of mine, Steve Pal.  Steve died way too young (46), after a long struggle with heart and lung ailments.

I have known Steve casually for over 30 years. He and I met when we played for neighbor high school water polo teams in Northern California. Steve was a year ahead of me, and I was playing one of my first varsity games. I was the rookie, and the other guys left me to guard this freak of nature. After he tooled me a few times, I just started grabbing and holding on, and we started this back and forth of cheap shots, elbows, and so on. Eventually the game ended, we won, but I was frustrated and angry.  But somehow, Steve wasn’t!  A few minutes after the game Steve wandered over to our group and started talking to us.  He knew all of the older guys, and walked over an introduced himself.  I was irritated and unpleasant, but he was friendly and talkative even after the cheap shots!  We ran into each other several more times that season, and each time he remembered me, the previous conversations, the previous games, and knew what was going on with our team. We also played each other a few more times, and each of those times were physical, intense struggles!  Over that season, I started (with Steve’s help) learning to disconnect the game from the person, and to take things less personally.  It didn’t really take for a long time, but it started with Steve.

I ran into Steve several times during college and our 20’s.  We played against each other a few times in college (he was at Long Beach State, I was at Claremont-Mudd), and we both settled in the Long Beach area.  I started running into him more frequently when I began to referee water polo.  When I first saw Steve on an assignment, that first high school game came flooding back to me!  Over the following years he and I had a great many conversations about water polo, water polo people, college, lifeguarding, his family, my family and our common friends.

A “Memorial” web page was created for Steve.  The memory book section contains page after page of  memories and tributes.  Clearly, I am not the only person who will miss him.

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