Monday, August 31, 2009

His Body Betrayed Him Again and Again

Tall, powerful, seemingly athletic and "indestructible," Leif looked like a formidably fit young man, but sadly his body seemed destined to betray him and ruin his sports and career choices.

It began with his eyes, and finding out that he was nearsighted and could not pass a flight physical so that he could aim for a career as a military pilot. I've posted the essay he wrote about that when he was fourteen.

Next he had to quit playing soccer, a game he had loved for ten years, when he couldn't immediately deal with the heat and humidity in Puerto Rico and then sprained his ankle.

I think those were big disappointments for him, but he recovered and pressed on. The next disappointment was when he gave up his dream of becoming an Air Force officer when he pulled a muscle in his groin and couldn't do the situps to pass the physical fitness test at ROTC summer camp.

Again he switched gears and tried something else. He enlisted in the infantry and had to complete basic training with a broken foot after another cadet fell on it during first aid training.

He might have made it, though, had not something he was exposed to caused him to develop asthma, which made it very hard for him to run with his huge and heavy pack and weapon. Ultimately, he was medically retired from the army at the age of 25. That diagnosis also meant he had to give up his other chosen careers that required him to have a fitness level and ability to run . . . law enforcement careers. I think he also lost something important to him, the ability to serve his country.

I think he had resigned himself to the loss of those options, but he never really found a substitute, nothing he felt committed to and willing to really sink himself into. He wanted to be a hero, but his body failed him.

I still have his army boots in my closet. He walked and ran a long way in those boots, even with his asthma, trying desperately to do it. After he got out of the army and came back to Kansas, I remember one day when he wore those boots to walk all the way out to Tuttle Creek Lake, a distance of over five miles each way. He left the army in May 2001 and many of the clothes and shoes he'd had were long gone, discarded, but his combat boots were still there when he died seven years later, and so were his uniforms. Despite the misery of his last year in the army, they must have held a sentimental attachment for him. Leif wasn't one to keep things unless he wanted them around.

I look at this photo of him in December 1992, when he was halfway through his senior year of high school, and see a very slender and rather brooding young man, though that wasn't his usual aspect at that time. What was he thinking?

In one of his online dating profiles, he was asked what he thought his best feature was. He answered, his lips, and I think you can see why in this photo, although since he isn't smiling, you can't see the cute dimples that charmed everyone. He's wearing two earrings in this photo. In those days, he enjoyed wearing earrings and necklaces.

There was still so much hope in 1992, for him, for all of us. He turned 18 a month later.

The photo was taken in our old stone house.

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