My memory was triggered by the book I read on my flight to Toronto. The book was the story of Mike Flynt who at age 59 returned to play his senior year of college football. Mike Flynt reminded me of a good friend of mine who passed away this summer. Mike and my friend Larry Burke had a lot in common. They were both tough as nails, loved training in the gym and had a passion for what fitness could do in people’s lives. Mike has a great story and I encourage you to check it out. Larry’s story may not be told so this post will focus on him.
Larry, in his early years, was not the easiest guy to get along with, but with age and experience he became a social hub that attracted all who met him. With his personality, athletic feats and generosity he became legendary in the Vancouver weight lifting community. He was a leader even if he did not intend to be. His personal history includes being a world class weight lifter and a Canadian record holder. In 1979, he tried his hand in body building and won the Mr. Vancouver title. During his competitive years, Larry built relationships and influenced those around him. After competing he found a passion for rafting, but his real legacy is the influence he had on those around him. He drew people together. Larry had some leadership lessons for all of us:
- Attitude – Aim high and work hard. He told me that small goals limit you and to enjoy life we must be the best we can be and that meant to aim for the sky.
- Lead by example – Larry did it first. He worked harder than others and would try anything. This was true right to the end. At 59, Larry would try new training styles and would still challenge the youngest guys in the gym. With his effort, he gained credibility from those who did not know his story and they would follow him.
- He was a servant – Larry wanted to help others. He did not have a lot of material wealth, but he gave his time, skill and effort. This was without expectation. I am sure he received what he wanted, which was to share his passion for life.
He loved to raft, but could not always wait for someone to go with him. His passion meant finding a way to do what he loved. He would leave a bike at the bottom of the mountain and drive his raft to the top. On this ice cold river, Larry would pilot his raft through the rapids and at the bottom, pull his boat ashore. From there he would ride his bike to the top of the mountain, drive down and get his raft and do this all over again. He loved it and the effort was worth every trip.
The reason Larry was so passionate was not clear to me. Something in his life focused him on excellence and giving back. His love for people helped him share experiences with his friends. That included taking them rafting and camping. He built a community of people who would have not met without him. A hole is left at the gym with Larry gone, but if some of us take up his example, his leadership will continue.