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A day about love, or a day about loss?

by Carla Albano

My sixty-sixth Valentine’s Day is approaching. Will it be a day about love, or will it be a day about loss?

On Valentine’s Day, 2018, while I was elsewhere in the world swimming, I learned of a school shooting in Parkland Florida, a suburb of my hometown. I had little connection to the outside world, so the facts came to me slowly. By the time I returned home, the details and reality of what happened were horrifying. The shooting monopolized our city for months.

The shooting was one of the worst in America’s history. Ironically it happened in an idyllic town at a school named for Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Douglas was a revered woman who unconditionally loved Florida’s nature and who strove to ensure the peace and tranquility of our stunning landscape would survive our assault upon it.

One of my own, a swimmer, and captain of the swim team, perished that Valentine’s Day. While our entire county was burying the dead, the swimming community quietly began to mourn our local prodigy. His name is Nicholas Dworet. I use the word “is” because he still is Nick, though not physically here.

South Florida is a mecca for swimming, and Nick had been a stand-out for some time. His loss rippled throughout pools everywhere; he was on the threshold of greatness. Many coaches speculated that when 2020 came, Nick would qualify for both the Swedish and American Olympic Teams. He was that good.

However, Nick was a greater champion dry. Nick was a Champion In Life.

Each person who died alongside Nick deserved to be known as more than just a number. Many books have been published about this tragedy; I had the honor to tell Nick’s story, in Soul of a Swimmer.

Today, I intimately know literally hundreds of people who loved Nick, and who each still mourn him every day, but especially tomorrow. Reliving this tragedy on Valentine’s Day is a calculated legacy the evil shooter left behind. In addition to killing 17 people, he created a heartless and cruel annual assault upon the survivors, symbolized everywhere with red hearts.

The next 48 hours will be tough. I will try to remember Nick with love; he certainly spread a lifetime of love upon this earth, in just 17 short years.

I’m selecting a few special memories of Nick to focus upon, which signify his intrinsic understanding of love. For example, when Nick was carpooling home from practice one day, his teammate said to him:

“I hope you don’t mind, my parents couldn’t leave work, and my grandparents are picking us up.”

Nick replied with excitement “Grandparents, I LOVE Grandparents.”

Nick is a product of phenomenal parents, who deeply love each other, and love their boys even more. The fact that they can only physically hold one son now is heartbreaking. Nick’s physical work here was complete when he left us six years ago, yet he lives on.

Every year when February 14 rolls around, I talk to myself, about the special boy I never knew. Nick needs to know he changed my life. Nick helped me live through a tumultuous period of retirement, where I had lost my way and my worth in the world.

On this Valentine’s Day, if I could exchange all 65 years of superficial things (such as flowers, candy, and cards) to be able to converse or swim with Nick for just five minutes, I would be the happiest woman on earth.

In the alternative, tomorrow I shall celebrate the love Nick left behind. Maybe he will fly past me while I’m swimming in the ocean.

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