When I was 6, he was my babysitter who made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and I cried because there was too much jelly.
When I was 10, he recruited me to be a water boy for the football team, where he bribed me with pizza that had any topping I wanted and let me eat as much as I wanted (it, um, showed).
When I was 12, he strung my lacrosse stick. He strung everyone’s lacrosse stick.
When I was 14, he taught me how to bench, squat (the dude could squat three plates routinely!), and hand clean. Proper technique was a must, or you wouldn’t be invited back.
When I was 16, he was at school before any teachers were, opening up the weight room, training with us, spotting us, driving us to become better athletes. I’m not even sure he was getting paid — he did it for us. But he also stayed for every game, meaning that he was, quite literally, the first one in and the last one out of the high school parking lot.
When I was 17, he bought us shirts and hats that we proudly wore around school (Deter-Mina-Tion). He took pictures with us at prom.
When I was 18 and my two kneecaps popped out, he brought a tackling pad into the weight room so that I could rehab. When a sophomore couldn’t hold the pad, he did it himself. When I had one last lacrosse season left, he taped up two kneebraces every spring practice and game. I looked like Megatron.
When I was 19, I realized he was a better athletic trainer than what most colleges have.
When I was 22, he told me what car to buy and what tires to put on.
When I was 23, he made extra batches of chili and left it in my locker.
When I was 24, he told me about his new girlfriend. We all heard the name Shelly when her real name was Cheri and gosh it was cute. Ando and Cheri invited the old lifting club to their wedding.
When I started coaching, he told me what plays to call and what cornerback on the opposing team couldn’t cover man to man.
When I was 30, he came to my wedding. When Erin and I had our first daughter, he or Cheri dropped off a bin of clothes every few months that his own daughter had grown out of. For basically eight years straight it was like Christmas in July.
When it was anyone’s birthday, he’d always chime in. And the poor guy, even with less than a week to live, was still sending well wishes to others on Facebook.
With Yoshitaka Ando passing suddenly from cancer earlier this week, the first feeling I had was one of regret. Guilt that, 38 years later, I realize I hardly didn’t do anything for him. I didn’t make him any food, string any of his sticks, or help rehab any of his injuries. I didn’t say thank you enough, didn’t return enough favors, didn’t wish him happy birthday’s. That it took me so long to realize how lucky I was to have had him around. That, in retrospect, he spent his entire life giving to others, and I just took it for granted.
And yet, with Ando, that was the thing. He needed nothing in return.
Pains me that this is too late, but thanks, Ando. For the sandwiches, the pizza, the lacrosse sticks, the early morning weight room time, the shirts, the hat, the lax shorts that I still wear, the tape, the rehab, the chili, the car advice, the girl clothes, and the friendship. I’m a better athlete because of you, and a better person. We all are.
And I don’t know what the next time around will be, but one thing is for sure, I won’t wait so long to say thanks.
Note: You can donate to Ando’s Family Fund here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/ando-family-educational-fund