In the midst of a pandemic and all of the chaos that comes with it, Thursday marks a moment of reflection on the one-year anniversary of the death of Australian and Hong Kong record-holding swimmer Kenneth To.
To collapsed in the locker room after warmup at practice on Tuesday, March 19th, 2019, before being taken to a hospital, where he later died.
To, who was raised in Australia from the age of 2, represented that country internationally before shifting his sporting citizenship to his native Hong Kong in late 2016. A record holder for 2 nations, and an underwater specialist, a year after his death, To’s swimming isn’t what we remember most.
For all of those who ever met Kenneth To, the absence of his personality still echos through swimming halls around the world. From his home in Hong Kong, to his adopted home in Australia, to his home when he did in Florida, and everywhere he touched in between, To is remembered first-and-foremost as one of the most likable people to ever don a cap and goggles.
And this isn’t the memoriam that is typically bestowed upon a decased celebrity, where we emphasize the good things that they did and ignore their problems, no matter how glaring those problems were. As someone who knew To, but who is generally a cynic about these sorts of things, I can wholeheartedly say that the legend undersells the man who created it.
Kenneth was humble, Kenneth was kind, and Kenneth was caring. When I try to imagine what Kenneth To would be doing in the midst of the corona-caused chaos engulfing the world, I imagine that he would be out there, trying to help everyone else stay relaxed, making sure his teammates were doing ok, and making sure his family and his friends back home were in good shape, and taking the swimming as it came.
So, in honor of this tragic anniversary, I invite you all to do the same. Continue to fight for your swimming, for your training, if you can do so safely, but amidst the fight with strangers on the internet over what should or should not happen, take a breath, and take a moment to check in with the people you know and love, your teammates and families and friends, and make sure they’re doing ok. Listen to their frustrations and fears, tell them you understand, and have a moment of love with the people who matter most to you.
Because in the end, strangers will remember your success in the pool, whether you made it to the Olympics or the Olympic Trials or that cut you were shooting for, but your legacy for those who you meet will be the way you cared, the way you loved, if you made them smile, and how you made them feel.