“Live Your Life on a Different Level”: What I Learned from Will Green’s Wakeboarding Teammates

 

On Saturday, June 27, 2015, I again realized how influential a life lived through Christ can be. On that lazy Sabbath afternoon, I was touched as I watched Will Green’s funeral, livestreamed from Calvary Assembly in Orlando, FL.  I was touched as I heard, over and over, how much of a positive influence Will had on others. I learned Will’s life, how he approached it and how he treated others, apparently was a reflection of where he spent a lot of his time: reading his Bible. “And this isn’t one of those situations when you realize all of this once somebody has passed. We all saw this in Will the moment we met him. It has always been very clear”, said Dixie Smith, a University of Florida Wakeboard teammate of Will.  

One of the touching moments of the service was members of the family read notes sent by Will’s teammates. Will, a member of the University of Florida Wakeboarding team, before his untimely death, played a vital role in UF winning the 15th Collegiate Wakeboard National Championships. Often, members of sports teams form close relationships, creating their own unique families that can last a life time. Adventist Athletes was able to contact some of Will’s teammates who were eager to share about him and his life.

It was Will’s amazing wakeboarding talent that drew his teammates to him even before they actually knew him. Spencer Sinclair, the president of this year’s wakeboarding team, only met Will this year in Orlando as they were organizing the team, “I had never met him”, Sinclair said. “I just knew Will was this legendary rider that didn’t actually go to UF”. Will lived in Orlando and attended UF through online classes. Adventist Athletes had heard through others that Will was a really good rider, but it is saying a lot when other wakeboarders talk about your skills. “All of our older riders knew him because he had gone to nationals last year…I just knew basically stories of him, like this amazing rider that rode for us but didn’t live in Gainesville”, said Sinclair who will be a junior in the fall. Will’s expert riding and skills obviously preceding him. “I actually knew of him before I even met him”, said Heather Bouchard, a teammate of Will who just finished her freshman year. Bouchard, from Massachusetts, taking the time to interview from working at a summer camp in New Hampshire said, “I had just been hearing so much about him before I actually even met him.”

It was obvious Green was not just an ordinary rider. Wake World had Green rated #3 on their Collegiate Wakeboarding Top 10 for 2014/15 (released on 4/13/15). Among many other superlatives about Will, Wake World said this about his riding: “Will has a smooth style and great consistency on his tricks”.  Bouchard, who had just met Green last fall at a regional competition, had similar assessments of Will’s riding, “His riding just completely blew me away. We used to kinda joke around and call him a ballerina on the water. Everything he did was soo smooth and also perfect. It was really fun to watch him ride.”  As legend would have it, Adventist Athletes also learned that before Will was discovered by the wakeboarding world, there were stories of how he landed tricks that some of the participating winners could not land. However, the legend also was you never heard him talk or brag about it but others would when the topic came up. And will green 2if he took you out on the boat, he wouldn’t show off his skills unless you asked him over and over and over. It was also pretty legendary to that Will didn’t compete in a lot of events because many are on Saturday. Will, a 7th day Adventist, chose to worship God on Saturday as a reflection of his beliefs. Because of that, it is interesting how the eventual #3 wakeboarder even came to ride for University of Florida.

Dixie Smith, another teammate, had a role in recruiting Will. Dixie’s boyfriend, James, president of the Wakeboard team at the time, was driving from Gainesville to Orlando weekly for an internship at Orlando Watersports Complex. Smith recalled, “He saw Will riding and noticed he had a Gator sticker (our mascot) on his board, so James starting talking to him about UF. James was mind blown to figure out that Will was also a student there, and didn’t know we had a wakeboard team since he attended the Orlando campus.” And so the recruiting of Will to UF began.

This is where the story turns that makes it such an awesome story. There was something else about Will, besides his awesome riding skills that also became evident.Eventually I saw Will ride at OWC for a boat contest (wake games I believe) and begged him to compete for the team. He made it clear that he wouldn’t ride any contests on Saturdays, but we were so impressed with his riding and persona that we started switching up all the contest riding orders so he could compete!”,  Smith said. That something else was his persona or character which turned out to be as legendary as his riding. Talk to anyone or listen to someone talk about Will and his personality always comes up. Adventist Athletes asked Bouchard, “Was he a preacher type person?” Bouchard replied, “No. Never really heard him speak about his religion.”  As Bouchard was ending her reply, Adventist Athletes asked, “He just lived it?” Bouchard responded emphatically, “Exactly!” Bouchard continued, “He was just always so nice. You would complement him and he was just smile like he never heard the compliment before. ….he just really cared about anything you were saying. Anything you were asking. He would just take the time to get to know people”. Smith, who graduated from UF in May with a B.S. in Biology, also added about Will, “He also was the most humble yet one of the best wakeboarders in college, so everyone really admired him. Will always hung out with everyone and made no judgements, never forcing his beliefs, which was pretty cool. His presence was very strong but also super gentle… Very interesting character from the start. He had something in him that I had never seen before, and it was that light in his eyes…true happiness.” 

It seems it was this spirit about Will that people liked and wanted to help him compete when they could. But not just his teammates but at times his rivals as well.  UF hosts the USA Collegiate SE Regionals for Wakeboarding and had control over the schedule allowing Will to compete. Smith said, “Last year (2014) was a bit hectic because Will was set up to ride Men’s B, and then our Men’s A rider got injured so we had to bump Will up a division. This meant we had to change the entire schedule up again, so Will took the courage to ask the guys in his heat if they were cool to ride Sunday instead of Saturday for their finals run. Everyone loved Will, so they were happy to do so!”

 

As Will’s teammates reflect on what they could take away from Green’s young life, there are lessons we can learn and apply to our lives. Bouchard reflections were to  “…Be kind to everyone, get to know everyone you are around. I know a lot of people at our school didn’t know him personally but after hearing about him are so touched by him. It just amazes me how many people you can touch without personally knowing. Smith added, “Will taught me a lot. Although only 23, he was a hero and had so many successes…  The biggest think I take from it is to be a little bit more like him, because he was honestly a perfect human being.” Sinclair revealed it was during the nationals in Louisiana where he really got to know Will as they rode the 14 hours together in Sinclair’s car and stayed together in a hotel room.  That weekend in May they spent a lot of time together. Sinclair, in reflection said, “Aww man. What don’t you take away from a guy like that? I mean he really gives you a new perspective on how to approach everyday life. He woke up and he would already be smiling and he would already be ready for the day and be ready to go out and take on everything that was in front of him. He really displayed a motivation that was, probably no one had ever seen and it certainly was inspirational and it makes me, makes everyone around him do as much as they can; live your life on a different level.”

Adventist Athletes is proud of Will Green for his athleticism and his character. The life he shared with us on earth personifies what God inspires for each one of us: To allow God’s character to shine through us to others.  In Galatians 2:20 it says, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” When we spend time with Christ, He will be reflected and not ourselves. Christ will be reflected through us and then our lives will be lived on another level.

 

I hope this article can be an inspiration to everyone. As Christians, this story reminds me that Christ’s character can be reflected through us when we live by faith. As athletes, I hope this article inspires us to remember, worship, and praise the God who gave us the athletic ability. As 7th day Adventist athletes, who may be struggling with athletics and the Sabbath, I hope this article encourages you to stay faithful in your beliefs. “Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass” (Psalms 37:4, 5).

 

 

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Kevin Pride is Assistant Dean of Men at Southern Adventist University and a basketball coach for CAYA boys in Collegedale, Tennessee.

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