The first time I met Tom Borrelli, I was completely scared of him.
Tom seemed to define the word "curmudgeon," loved to play practical jokes (of which I was never very good at) and at times enjoyed prolonging arguments about whether or not there should be a space in ESPNU.
Yeah, as a new reporter at The Buffalo News, I was intimidated by Tom.
But that quickly melted away.
I work with great people, but of those whom I knew without hesitation would have my back, Tom was to of the list.
Tom died Thursday after complications from a fall at All High Stadium. The news stung me deeply. I'm still a bit in a haze, not quite sure what I'm thinking or feeling at the moment.
So on Thursday I did the only thing I could think of -- I swam my workout. Well, part of my workout. I couldn't quite finish it. I was too upset. (To which, I can hear Tom, saying "What the hell for?")
Then I went to the grocery store to buy banana chips and Tofurky.
Those things make me think of Tom.
See, Tom was my fellow vegetarian in the sports department and this time of year, when everyone talks about turkey and gravy, Tom and I would get teased about our meat-substitute diet. Tom would defend me, and gladly take the brunt of the teasing so I didn't have to endure it.
He then turned me on to banana chips -- a snack his trainer at the Buffalo Athletic Club recommended to him. It became a staple of mine, particularly during the college basketball and hockey season when my diet became less about meals and more about grazing. Of course, every holiday he would give me a box of premium chocolate with the caveat that I would "burn it off in no time" with all the exercise I was doing.
Tom wasn't the fitness freak I've turned into, but we did talk about it often. Tom walked, sometimes as much as seven miles a day, for his health. We'd talk about the plus and minuses of local health clubs and jogging paths and he was always very supportive of my crazy fitness endeavors.
When I decided to do the 65-mile bike ride as part Ride for Roswell, he was one of my donors. But in the office one night, he sent me a message, saying he wanted to give me more money. See, he had just won some money in one of his fantasy leagues and thought it would be best spent donating extra to the cause. He then sent me a nice congratulatory email after the completion of my quest.
Tom's generosity was matched only by the humbleness of his spirit. He gave willingly and easily to the people in his life -- only in a very low-key way. It was just part of who he was and it's a life ideal I can only aspire to emulate.
He would hate all this attention, all this semi-mushiness going around about him.
But he was a lovable guy with so much to give and we all feel a void in our lives now.
He probably wouldn't want me to put on a show by saying that I plan to run the Buffalo Marathon in his honor, but suffice it to say, his memory and spirit will be with me on that day, through the nerves, the easy miles and the pain and doubt.
Tom was as supportive as they come, not with cheers and encouragement but with unwavering faith and admiration.
I treasure the moments when I was a recipient of that faith, admiration and generosity.