|Larry Heaton conquers Savage Mountain in Orlando, Florida - August 2011|
Larry always did that. He loved letting other people shine and even when he wasn't extending any uncommon courtesies, it just felt good to be around him. I looked forward to our fireside chats every year. He would recount his latest adventure in humble tones, passing off such mountainous hurdles like summiting Mt Rainier or whittling away at the Appalachien Trail while carrying large rocks in his pack, as if they were mere tasks on a to-do list. There's a wall in the Heaton house that is littered with medals and artifacts of his adventures and when old enough, his sons, Daniel and Matt came with him.
At 55 years old, this past November, my uncle Larry had just completed an ultramarathon. He ran 55 miles from 8:00 in the morning until 1:30 the next morning, only resting for twenty minutes. When I asked him what kept him going, he said that for each mile, he recalled each year of his life and relived the miles of memories with his high school sweetheart Betty, his sons, work, and friends. His commanding presence and brick build were secondary only to his fortitude as a person.
Larry's motto in both personal and business life was simple: "Leave on a good one." Don't walk out of the room, come off the mountain, or turn the light off before knowing you had given the day your best.
Only two weeks after we all held hands and said a blessing for the future of family over Thanksgiving, Larry died in a car accident. Hundreds attended his funeral; so many that they had to set up televisions in the basement of the church he helped build so other friends could watch the service. People traveled from all over the country to pay their respects.
I realize now, that as I grew up, my childish adoration and reverence for Larry never really matured. I always felt physically and emotionally adolescent next to him, but in a way that made me want to push harder, so I too would have something to talk about when we sat by the fire.
I will forever remember him as the mountain who conquered mountains and the Superman who proved to the world that a body is merely a vehicle for great things.
|Larry with family Daniel, Betty, and Matt Heaton at Thanksgiving in Collinsville, VA - November 2012|