My best friend in sport, Randy Starkman

With Randy and Beckie Scott at the 2008 Olympics….


I’m in Belgium in the hotel breakfast room and can’t stop crying.  An email shared the shocking news of Randy Stakman’s passing late last night.  I felt sick going to sleep.  The reality of losing Randy only became real this morning when I opened my computer.  The tears began to flow and haven’t stopped.


Like so many athletes have shared, our tears flow for the loss of the biggest heart we came to know and love in the world of amateur sport.  The heart of gold that was my dear friend, Randy Starkman.


You see, Randy was more than a reporter.  To me and so many others, he was a friend.  A person who truly cared for us, for sport, for right and for wrong.  More than anything, Randy cared about sharing.  Sharing the stories and the insights into the often ignored sporting fields we practiced and played in.


Randy was an artist.  He was a humorist.  A humanist.  He was my friend who brought me gifts.  Things like colored wax to create with.  I remember him coming to Calgary to do an interview with the speed skaters.  We had a sushi date and he brought this package of colored wax you could mould with the warmth of your hands.  We sat and ate our sushi, made a bunch of sushi from the wax and he interviewed me along the way.


A few summers ago, while doing more interviews from a book we were going to write together, he brought more wax.  I made some tulips to give to a friend of Randy’s wife, Mary, at the CBC.  I left the little tulips in the car and they melted flat from the heat of the sun.  Randy laughed and said ‘you know, she’ll like these more than the original ones!’.  Randy always had a way to laugh at things.


Back in Vancouver in 2010, days before the opening ceremony, Randy popped by to visit my husband Peter and I at the apartment I had in Richmond for the Games.  Always respecting the line he tread as journalist and friend, he said ‘why don’t you just send Peter down to the entrance and I can give him something I made for you’.  He didn’t want to disturb my focus.  I went down with Peter to say hi.  Randy had this shoe box.  He wouldn’t let me open it with him present.  Too embarrassed, he said.


I remember getting a big hug from Starkman and he said to me ‘you’re gonna do something special here, Hughes, I just know it’.  He shuffled away along the sidewalk and I immediately opened the box.  It was a paper mache speed skate.  It was beautiful.  It’s still my most prized souvenier from the Games.


That’s how Randy was.  That’s how I will remember him.  He sought out that something special in athletes.  Not only did he have the ability to articulate the insights, he often made us realize who we were by his perspectives.  He would send me transcripts from interviews he felt offered more than the final edited cuts allowed in the Star because he thought I would find inspiration in a certain athlete.


He’d be so excited to share and athlete he considered ‘the real thing’.


He made us understand we were more than our success.  That we should strive for more than just being good at what we do.  He celebrated the victories and supported through the rough patches.


In the 2009 World Championships, after skating a terrible 3000m race where I was disqualified twice and at a loss to understand just how I could skate so slow, so bad, I remember going to the mixed zone and facing the scrum.  I remember Randy in the middle of all the faces.  Asking what went wrong and what was up.  I just remember saying I sucked and didn’t know why.  What followed was typical Starkman.  Instead of grilling me more, he turned the moment into a pep talk.  ‘Hughes, if anyone can turn this around, it’s you’.  Next thing I knew, he had all the Canadian reporters following along and giving me the best motivational scrum ever.  I walked away in a bit of a shock thinking ‘well, if these guys think I can do this, maybe I can?’


Two days later I won a silver medal in the 5000m.  I went back to the mixed zone to a big smile and hug.  There was Randy saying ‘See, I told ya so!’.


The Olympics I’ve watched from afar I’ve followed via Randy’s stories.  He connected athletes he thought could learn and grow from each other.  I still can’t wait to meet Mary Spencer because Randy told me she’s cool; because of the pieces he’s written on her I find so damn inspiring.  I don’t know her but feel I do because of his writing.


I can hear Randy’s rough voice over the phone, ‘Hey Hughes, how’s my man crush Peter doing?’.  He’s one of the few people my husband Peter cared to be around in the world of sport.  This morning when I spoke to Peter, eight time zones behind, he said to me ‘I just did that yoga CD that Randy gave me in 2010’.  Randy had two man-crushes: my husband Peter and Jenn Heil’s partner, Dom Gauthier.  And I know both guys loved him back.


Randy had the heart of gold but he had the edge, too.  He was everything to us and I just cannot believe he’s gone.  I can’t imagine what Mary and Ella are going though.  The sadness I feel is but an ounce of what they are living.  I have so many emails and photos Randy sent to me, proudly showing off his ‘girls’.  He was so proud of Ella and so inspired by Mary.  The love he had for his two girls was strong and it was beautiful.


I can only say that whatever I do, in sport, in life, in this world as I know it and as it unfolds to me, I have been inspired by my dear friend Randy.  That I am preparing for another Olympics without him seems incomplete.  Randy always said to me ‘Hughes, what am I going to do when you quit?’.   He knew months before I came back to bike racing what my intentions were and I trusted him to keep it a secret until the time was right.  I trusted Randy with my life.  With this loss all I can think of doing is to live these beautiful moments with a glimmer of his golden heart in mine.


I only wonder, who is going to tell the stories now that Randy is gone.  Yes, indeed, they will be told, but they will never be the same.  We’ve lost our voice of reason and our voice of joy.  We’ve lost our dear friend and colleague, Randy Starkman.

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