What's even cooler about B.J. is how cool he is. People gravitate to B.J. Perhaps it's his 6 foot 7 inch frame; no matter where you're at in a crowd, you can see B.J.'s head popping up amongst the other heads. But his personality matches his tall frame.
Whenever I'm running in a triathlon with B.J., I watch as person after person comes up to talk with him and ask him about his race. He asks them about their race in return. He always seems just as excited about how well they did as he is about his own race.
At many races he stays after to help clean up or do any other manual labor they may need.
B.J. is also super good with kids. He's taught my girls the "snowman" handshake. When someone sticks out a fist to fist-bump you, you add one fist to the top of their fist, and a second fist to the bottom of their fist, and say, "Snowman."
He's just a really cool guy.
He wasn't always so cool, or so I thought. I remember going to school with him when he was a first grader and I was a third grader. He always had on a huge smile and would wave and say hello to me when we happened to be eating in the same school cafeteria.
"Hi, Cindy!" he'd practically shout.
"Oh, boy. It's my little brother and look at how he combed his hair today. I should hide," is what I thought.
I remember in sixth or seventh grade, he declared that he no longer wanted to be known as "B.J." I'm guessing most boys with those initials once they hit a certain age would like to no longer be referred to as that. But he couldn't shake his name. It has stuck with him.
My parents liked to name us after teenagers they'd admired. B.J. was named after two teenage boys in our ward named Bill and Joel. They're still our family friends today, and they truly are great men. I love that B.J. is named after them. (B.J.'s real name is Bradley Jay, though. But my parents wanted the initials of Bill and Joel.)
I probably brought more pain into B.J.'s life than help. In junior high, B.J. and myself both had the opportunity of riding the ski bus. Because of the heavy influence of an older sister in college and having cousins in Utah, I started getting into alternative music, and so did B.J. Getting into alternative music also meant dressing the part and getting a "waver" haircut: two things that didn't mix well in our Wrangler-wearing, boot-kickin' junior high. B.J. became the target of "cowboy bullies." (To this day, I have a healthy distrust of cowboys.)
On one of our ski trips, from my vantage point of the ski lift above, I saw my brother speeding down a hill while being chased by a bunch of cowboys from our school. (How did you know they were cowboys? They wore jeans and a baseball cap when they skiied.)
I was furious. When I got off the lift, I skiied as fast as I could to catch up with them. And when I found them, I gave them a serious shout down about messing with my brother. Gulp. Men everywhere when reading that took in a collective, "Oh, no!" In my adult years I have learned that an older sister defending a younger brother doesn't help matters; it hurts more.
I can see those little Nelson Munzes (the bully from The Simpson's) standing over B.J. and hitting him while saying, "And that's for getting your sister to fight your battles. And that's for your waver haircut."
When we entered high school together, B.J. as a sophomore and me as a senior, the tides had changed. Now it was me saying "hi" to B.J. in the halls while he pretended like he didn't know me. But the bullying hadn't stopped, at least not as a sophomore.
Once I saw B.J. running as fast as he could and hiding behind the English building. A few seconds later I saw a bunch of cowboys running in the direction B.J. was running. (How did you know they were cowboys? They wore tight Wranglers, short mullets, and a baseball cap.)
The tradition in our school was for the senior boys to find sophomore boys, pick them up, and throw them in the bushes. I'm not sure they ever caught B.J., but they tried. Maybe that's where the beginnings of his speed originated.
Because I wanted to get to know B.J. better before I headed off to college, and because I wanted to look good in my prom dress, I joined B.J. on the track team my senior year. It was a lot of fun getting to know him and his friends.
B.J. and his friends invented a game called the "tricky trap." One of his friends would kneel behind an unsuspecting person, while another friend would come by and gently tap the shoulder of the person behind whom the friend was kneeling. This would cause the person to take a step back, not seeing the kneeling person, and fall over. Then they'd all laugh and yell, "tricky trap!"
They tried it on me once. The neighbor boy Lynn Brown was the one kneeling. I think it was Thurman Heiner who gave me the gentle tap. I fell over, and the laughs ensued. I got up seeing red. I chased Lynn down and proceeded to wail on him. I still feel pretty bad about that. Sorry, Lynn! All in good fun. I can take a joke now, I promise.
At one of the last meets of the year, my dad, who made us breakfast every morning, sat us down to breakfast and proceeded to give us a talk that would live in infamy. Lincoln had the Gettysburg Address. Martin Luther King had "I have a dream." This was my dad's talk. I think I'll name it "You're not the only one running that race."
My dad's speech essentially went like this:
Later that day as I was running the mile race and heading into the last lap, I saw B.J. and his friends and I heard them shouting, "Do it for the family! Do it for Maytag! (He was our pet dog.) Do it for the Laudromat! (That's where we lived when we were younger.) Do it for the trampoline! (The trampoline was like a second home for us.)""Your mom and I can't make it to your meet, but I want you to know that while you're running that race, you aren't the only one out there. Your mom and I are there. Your siblings are there. Your grandparents are there and your great grandparents. Your teachers and Sunday School teachers are there. You aren't alone when you run; everyone who has ever supported you in any way is with you, too. Don't be like some athletes who claim they did it all themselves. You are representing those who love you. Represent them well."
I couldn't hardly breathe I was laughing so hard. After I got my composure, I picked up my speed and happily ran to the finish. On my shoulders was all of that, and I still managed to run a personal best of 6 minutes 18 seconds. (Slow, but fast for me.) I think those things weren't on my shoulders, but inside my heart fueling the engine.
So today, B.J. will be running in the Ironman Championships. In his heart, I hope he knows that we'll be there, too.
Do it for your family. Do it for the Hawaiian Style Cafe (a place we love to eat when we're on the Big Island). Do it for the state of Idaho. Do it for the University of Utah. Do it for the Salt Lake Running Company. Do it for the little kids who look up to you. Do it for the adults who look up to you. Do it for Will, who looks up to you most of all. Do it for the mountains. Do it for the sea. Do it for America. Do it, because that's who you are. And I love you, little brudda!
Some pictures to humble B.J.:
My dad always took a picture of us before going to school. The following picture isn't great, but it's a picture of me as a senior and B.J. as a sophomore. Proof that we were wavers. (And I think B.J. was a tuba player, and that's a tuba in that red bag.) Little sister Hetty is on the left and younger brother Wayne is on the far right.
I think I was in fifth grade in the following photo. B.J. would have been third grade, and Mary, on the right, would have been first grade. Hetty was at "Grandma-Pete school."
This last picture is of B.J. after the Spudman triathlon in July where he took first for the third time. Photo by Angela S. Nelson.