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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Steve Christilaw: In the real world, losses can be permanent

In the world of sports, we like to track losses.

Oh, we like to talk about winning, but the only context we have for framing a discussion about wins is to contrast it to losing.

We love to talk about “snatching victory from the jaws of defeat,” about the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” and in some circles, the greatest insult is to simply call someone a “loser.”

On the sports page, for every winner there is a corresponding loser and we throw out terms like “tragic” to describe a loss. I wish we could lose some of the phrases we use so casually – things like “sudden death” to describe overtime and calling pivotal times in a game “life or death” situations.

Sadly, I will retire long before these overwrought cliches do. Thankfully, they have fallen out of favor for most of us and have long been considered, if nothing else, trite.

Real life has seen to that.

In the real world outside of sports, the losses are too often painful and permanent.

It’s one thing for the Washington State Cougars to lose yet another Apple Cup football game.

It’s quite another to have the young, fresh-faced quarterback with a world of promise ahead of him commit suicide in his off-campus apartment.

The football team has moved on from the death of Tyler Hilinski. Spring practice sessions came and went and a new quarterback will be picked before the start of the 2018-19 season.

But the loss of a young life stings still.

Last week was a rough one – a continuous tumble through what has become a national epidemic that saw almost 45,000 deaths by suicide in 2016. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, suicide is the third-leading cause of deaths amongst teens in the United States.

The deaths of iconic designer Kate Spade and globe-trotting storyteller Anthony Bourdain have at least brought this epidemic into the collective conscious and will, it must be hoped, shine the light of understanding on it.

It is impossible to know what demons these people are staring down in their darkest hours. Obviously, outward appearances never offered much of a clue.

There was no cyber-bullying to blame. Depressed was never an adjective used to describe any of these people.

Quite the opposite.

We like to think the star quarterback is sitting on top of the world. Hilinski was celebrated for engineering one of the greatest comebacks in Cougar football history last season and Cougar Nation was eagerly looking forward to this fall, with the 21-year-old from Claremont, Calif., at the controls of the team’s Air Raid offense.

Spade and Bourdain seemed to have it all – wealth, fame and high acclaim.

Which serves to remind us that we need to do a better job of checking in on each other. We need to put down the personal devices, look each other in the eye from time to time,, and ask one another, “How are you doing? No, really. How are you doing?” And then we need to listen with our hearts to the answer.

We need to make sure that everyone knows this number: 1-800-273-8255. That is the phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The world of sports may have shown us the way forward with each other.

A high school playoff baseball game from Minnesota is a shining example of how we can take care of each other – how we can care for each other.

Totino-Grace and Mounds View came down to the last out, with the winner advancing to the state tournament and the loser going home. Ironically, two childhood friends faced each other. Ty Koehn was on the mound, looking to close out a 17-10 win. Jack Kocon was at the plate.

“We were very close friends,” Koehn said. “I knew him all the way back to when we were 13. We were on the same Little League team. It was tough when we went to separate schools, but we kept in touch.”

A hard-throwing left-hander, Koehn dropped a called third strike on the outside corner to end the game, then raced toward the plate. His catcher came out to start the celebration, but Koehn ducked the embrace and continued to the plate where is friend stood, stunned. That was the hug he needed to give, to console his friend.

It’s what friends do for friends.

“I knew the game was going to keep going, or it was going to end right there,” Koehn said. “I knew I had to say something. Our friendship is more important than just the sill outcome of a game. I had to make sure that he knew that before we celebrated.”

We can learn so much about priorities, about friendship and about taking care of one another from Ty Koehn.

So, how are you doing? No, really. How are you doing?