Sunday, January 6, 2019

I Have a Story: Will Lutz

For eight years in the military I worked in the stockades guarding prisoners. In the early 70s it was a bit wild still. Some nights we'd have ten or twelve guards spread out around the stockade with upwards of 200 prisoners. Twenty to one odds were something we got use to. I always knew and I hope they did too that if there was trouble I'd be there for them. Occasionally we'd lose somebody and just as often the prisoners would lose a few. Ten or fifteen years later we had a reunion and it had just barely started when it all came back how deep our relationship was counting on each other and I knew then that all this time later I would still take a knife for any of them.

Years later I founded a company called Let's Play Sports, an indoor soccer company. Those were wild times too, a different kind of wild. We were building and acquiring all over the place and at a fast pace. I got us in trouble more than once expanding too fast. I was on the road for years, building, acquiring, and doing start ups or turnarounds. We picked up partners in various locations, all good people. In Oklahoma City, Gerald and Carol Lutz put their properties into the mix. In time their son Will became a large part of the company. In family businesses the kids just seem to get pulled into the business and family relationships become even deeper. We signed personally on millions of dollars worth of loans. If things went bad we were all going down. It was a trust issue. Would we all work the long hours and do anything we had to do to make it successful. There couldn't be any weak links and there weren't. Everyone came through. Over and over.

Sleeping in the building because you just didn't have time to go home or grab a hotel. A little shower rigged up in the hot water heater room or outside hose was your hygiene. The bleary eyes, tired feet, and the look, the look of having just been through another 100 hour week for the 100th week in a row were your trademark. We all had the look.

Once a year we had a meeting where we all got together and exchanged stories and that bonded us together. We were out working our competitors. They were falling one after the other. One of those years we all got together at Base Camp.

Some of us had done a night kayak the previous evening and with morning I had three more that wanted to go. Pete Spanos from St. Louis, Jim Amos in Sacramento and Will Lutz from Oklahoma City.

As we got in the river just outside of Moab for the four hour kayak to Base Camp we saw boats circling not far from us. There had been an incident where a local had assaulted a woman, was out on bail prior to court, and went fishing with his friend, or so the story was. The friend reported that the accused fell into the river and never came up. Not many thought the story true since the accused was likely about to do major time. Probably he had taken off somewhere and his friend was covering for him.

The boats were circling because the missing had been released and returned to the surface. It was true. Also true was the story that the river never likes to be lonely and she rarely is for long. If she releases someone, she seeks a new relationship. As I took my first paddle just feet from the circling boats I didn't know I was about to become her new focus.

At Gold Bar the Colorado River takes a hard left turn. Best to go to the left of the islands. That spot is like a baseball bat of sorts. The bottom of the bat is going slow because it doesn't have far to travel but the top of the bat is moving many times as fast to keep pace. We had headed for the campground on the wrong side of the islands and suddenly we were traveling five or six times as fast as we had been. I was paddling as hard and fast as I could and it was useless. The river threw Pete and I up on cement, completely out of the river. Will and Jim were thrown into the embankment and were fighting to get to shore. The kayak shifted slightly and moved back just a couple inches and that's all the river needed. She took us, threw us up the air and into the water.

I got sucked under an overhang. The current was strong. I doubled my legs up and pushed off the rock wall and was able to make it to the surface and get an arm up on the overhang. I could see Jim and Will on the river bank pulling their kayak in and then heading for Pete and I. I couldn't see Pete. Our kayak was upside down in an eddy and doing small circles. I assumed Pete was in the eddy under the kayak somewhere.

My arm slipped off the overhang and swept me down the river where I managed to latch onto another overhang. I looked over and saw Jim and Will pulling Pete up onto shore just as I got sucked under again. One more time I pushed off and got my arm up on the overhang. I saw all three of them running towards me. As my arm started to slip down the overhang I looked down river and there weren't any more overhangs. I held on here or the Colorado River was going to get her wish and have a new companion.

I felt like I had a few more seconds left before my arm was off the overhang. Will grabbed an arm, Jim grabbed an arm, but the river wouldn't release me. The fight dragged on. Both sides determined. Somebody was going to get tired and it wasn't going to be the river. Pete took the arm Will had. Will said "What do you want me to do?" I said "I'm out of arms, get creative." Will who had the longest arms reached out over my head and into the water, grabbed my shorts from behind and started pulling me up. He lost his grip for a moment, re-reached for me and I came out of the water.

We all laid there exhausted. It had been a close call. Very close. Nobody talked. Everybody had the look, it was a different look, deeper.

The river didn't stay lonely long. At that same spot a tourist was taken. He didn't have a Will, Jim, or Pete with him.

Last week Gary called me at 4:30am. Will, our friend, a warrior, had passed. I drove up to Salt Lake and caught a flight to Oklahoma City and on Friday at noon we had a memorial for Will. We all shared Will stories. All our hearts go out to Gerald and Carol. When I came through the door Carol saw me, came over and our tears flowed. You’re not suppose to bury your children.

There were new people in the company that I didn't know and didn't know me at the memorial. There were some warriors left from the early days, with the work ethic, with the knowing of sacrifice, and with the look. We're a better company and we're better people for having known Will and we owe him a lot.

I, have a debt I can never repay, I owe him my life. Thank you Will.

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