Conventional wisdom says you shouldn't judge a person based on one interaction. For the most part I think that's right. The sample size is far too small to get the whole picture of a human being. Still, when Mark Taylor passed away Friday, I couldn't stop thinking about the one time I'd met him.
I admit to feeling quite guilty that I waited until after his death to recount my meeting with Mark. He'll never read about our chance meeting and how much it meant to me. The best I can hope is that this sits alongside the countless other testimonies to the person Mark was.
It was a blustery spring day in Chicago during May of 2009 when I met Mark. We were both attending the CSCAA (College Swim Coaches Association of America) conference. To this day, I still have no idea why he picked me out but he saw me standing with another coach in the lobby of the hotel and said something to the effect of "I know an awesome place to get lunch, and you guys are coming with me".
As I've said, it's hard to judge someone off of one meeting, but Mark was the type of person that you met and you felt as if you'd known him your entire life. With in moments of starting the walk to lunch we were talking his favorite subject: coaching swimming. I was surprised to find out that Mark had spent quite a bit of time coaching in my home country of Denmark, and had more than a little success.
What followed was a round table of coaches (I believe there were five of us there that day: Chuck Noles from Pittsburgh, Mark, Bob Pearson from Macalester and Dennis Dale of Minnesota). I definitely would have felt like the odd man out, the Pennsylvania part time assistant. But Mark was playing host, and would have none of it. Lunch was way beyond my pay grade, and Mark didn't even let the check hit the table, snatching it from the waiter before any of us could get a look.
In many ways, the incident could seem mundane, but it lent great insight into Mark's character. He was clearly a man who loved what he did, but also the people he did it with. When you're a young coach your interaction with older coaches can often feel like you're pledging a fraternity. With the loss of Mark, swim coaches lost the kind fraternity brother who already treated you like you were part of the club.