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Mike Duroe made this world a better place

Mike Duroe at the Freestyle World Cup (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

The last time I saw Mike Duroe was in the final month of his life.

I was walking briskly down a hallway while covering the Final X wrestling event last month in Lincoln, Neb., and I heard my name called out.

"Sesker!" the voice boomed. "Aren't you going to even say hello to me?"

I quickly turned around and there was Duroe, grinning ear-to-ear.

He was weak and frail, and was walking with a cane, but that same Duroe spirit and enthusiasm was on full display.

"How you been, Craig?" Duroe asked. "I miss you, man. Great to see you."

"Great to see you, too," I responded. "How are you doing?"

"Well, I got this brain cancer that's trying to take me down, as you know," he said. "I already made it farther than they said I would, so I might as well keep living."

We both shared a laugh before Duroe said: "I need to find Gilman and tell him something before his next match."

That simple exchange was a microcosm of the amazing man that was Mike Duroe. A great sense of humor, a strong wit, a caring persona and a coach who was always trying to help his athletes. Even when he knew his days on this planet were numbered.

I received an early morning Facebook message today from long-time Cornell employee Dick Simmons informing me that Mike had passed away.

Duroe had a huge impact on wrestling not only in the United States, but on the international level as well.

I traveled all over the world with Duroe, eating breakfast with him in Russia, finding bracket sheets for him in Turkey and having a cold beverage with him after a tournament in Brazil.

He has always had a huge passion and commitment for the sport of wrestling. He coached at the Division I level, he helped coach the U.S. women to their only world team title and he made significant contributions as a coach for the Hawkeye Wrestling Club.

Duroe was in the corner coaching Tom Brands when he won an Olympic gold medal in 1996 in Atlanta.

For the past 13 seasons, he served as the head coach at Cornell College and excelled at the NCAA Division III level. He's the winningest coach in Cornell's storied school history.

It was shocking to hear the news late last year that Duroe was battling brain cancer. Even though he was in his early 60s, Duroe was as physically fit as someone in their 20s with a strong, chiseled physique.

Mike was one of the best people I've ever met in wrestling. He was as competitive and as fiery as anybody, but he was a genuinely good, honest, decent man who was very friendly and respectful.

He was an intelligent guy whose opinions were never in short supply. He was not afraid to speak his mind and fight for something he believed in.

Five minutes into the seeding meeting at the 2012 Olympic Trials at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Duroe got into a shouting match with another coach about where a wrestler should be seeded. When the meeting ended, I spotted the same two coaches standing together while telling stories and laughing.

As we all know, cancer is a cruel, unforgiving and awful disease. I lost my father to pancreatic cancer 11 months ago.

It breaks my heart to think of what Mike and his family have endured. He has two children under the age of 10.

Duroe's legacy will live on. He was a guy who never took a day for granted and had a huge zest for life. That is something I will always remember about him.

Fittingly, the last night Duroe served as a coach he was successful. He was in Lincoln in early June to support Thomas Gilman, who made his second straight world team that night. Duroe also was in Paris last year when Gilman won a silver medal at the World Championships.

Gilman possesses the same type of fight, heart and spirt that Duroe did.

When I wrote an article back in December that broke the news of Duroe's condition, one of the first people I heard from was Mike Duroe himself.

He called to thank me for the heartfelt article I had written on him. We talked for about 30 minutes and I remember him delivering a message that stuck with me:

"They say that I can't beat this, but I want to make history and be the first to do it," Duroe said with a laugh. "I'm going to fight like hell to beat this. I've got too much to live for."

When I saw Duroe six months later in Lincoln, he was still as positive and upbeat as ever despite his physical condition worsening significantly.

As we parted ways that night, I extended my right arm to shake his hand and Duroe swatted my arm away and opened his arms.

"Give me a hug, brother -- I might not see you again," he said. "You're a good friend and you make this world a better place."

Those are the words I would use to describe Duroe.

He was one of a kind. Even in his darkest days, he could make everyone around him feel better.

Duroe was one of the most passionate, intense and driven people I've ever met. And also one of the most likeable, kind and generous.

I'm among a countless number of people who he's had a positive and lasting impact on. It is an honor and a privilege to call him a friend.

Mike Duroe definitely will be missed.

But he certainly won't be forgotten.

Craig Sesker has written about wrestling for more than three decades. He's covered three Olympic Games and is a two-time national wrestling writer of the year.

Comments

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Jdans (1) about 3 months ago
Excellent article.