Obituary Nick Kaschik

Source: Nick Kaschik Eulogy

Patrick Dennis:

In 1994, Nick arrived on the Peddie campus directly from Houston sporting cowboy boots and two earrings. No one knew exactly what to make of him. On campus, he quickly became known as “Tex”. However, he wasn’t particularly fond of that nickname - one lunch while preparing ourselves for a grueling afternoon in the pool, Nick decided he wanted to give himself his own nickname. Thompson and Maslow were quick to point out that it didn’t actually work that way and that he had to rely on others to decide on his nickname. Nick didn’t relent - It was then that he declared to a table full of swimmers that he would be known as Nick “The Real Thing” Kaschik. Over the next 17 years, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Nick was the real thing - The real swimmer, the real fan, the real friend, the real brother, the real uncle, the real fiancé, the real miracle, the real inspiration.

Before arriving to Peddie, in 1992, Nick laid in a coma for 10 days as a result of a rare virus that infected that lining of his brain. As reported by the New York Times in a story about Nick in 2001, this was a virus that had affected 30 people prior to Nick and only 7 had been able to pull through, all suffering some sort of paralysis. Given the gravity of this early condition, there is no doubt in my mind that Nick got a second shot. And perhaps just as important, we all got a 2nd shot with him over the last 19 years.

As proud as Nick was, he shared this story with very few people to avoid receiving any preferential treatment. As a result of his previous medical condition, his early days at Peddie were a struggle and I know he considered packing it in more than once. What kept him on track was the thought of leaving behind where he was thriving – and that was in the pool, and more importantly, with his teammates. That was a special year for special Peddie swimming and there was no doubt in anyone’s mind who our most valuable swimmer was. Nick and I formed a unique bond during those early days, but I never imagined how fortunate I was to be a part of his life, nor how brief this time would be.

Nick’s success in the pool was easily how he could have defined himself. He continues to be the Peddie record holder in the 200IM 13 years later, 10th place at 1996 Olympic Trials in the 200IM, 1997 US Open champion and record holder, top swimming recruit in 1998, USC All-American, 8-time PAC 10 finalist and the only collegiate swimmer to grow 1 inch per year for all four years. To this day his USC swimming profile lists him at 6 foot, 3inches -- I think we all know that it would take more than a phone book to get him to that height. I could go on and on, but again, Nick wouldn’t define himself by his swimming accomplishments. I’ve spent the better part of the last three weeks thinking about this and Nick, more than anyone else I know, defined himself through his friendships and relationships with others. What I’m not sure he realized was the effect he had on everyone around him – his fierce loyalty, generosity, good humor and empathy have touched everyone here and will be his legacy.

What I should have emphasized more in the above was his “humor” – this has led to some fantastic stories. For years, we told Nick that he should write a book about the situations that only he could find himself in, and if all of us here today pooled our “Nick stories,” I think we would have just that. Amidst the tears over the last couple of weeks, I have both heard and seen that the tears quickly turn to laughter when friends retell their personal favorites. And as you would expect, I am no different. As my wife Kara says today, based on the stories we told about Nick, she expected him to be a 500-pound hulk, tearing through steaks without swallowing and throwing punches at everyone who glanced at me in the wrong way. However, when she, or anyone else, met Nick, they could immediately tell that while he wasn’t the swaggering “manaimal” that we all described him to be, he was in fact larger than life. More importantly, it was his genuine, thoughtful, ego-less personality that couldn’t be described in a caricature but was what has made him so unforgettable to all of us.

But perhaps what was must entertaining about Nick’s stories was actually hearing the story from Nick. He had no shortage of voices, Tony Clifton impersonations, routines, fake sounds and funny bulldog faces. One of my favorites was his “fake tripping and falling in front of a group of stunned strangers” routine. Likely during a taper when Nick and I had way too much energy, we would drive over to the stores in Princeton. Our plan was pretty simple; Nick would walk in and pretend to trip while pulling over an entire rack of clothes on to himself. I of course would be the straight man that would scream in horror while he lay buried in clothes. Our plan would quickly fall apart when we both would crack up at which point he would leap up, scream ‘it’s a miracle’ before we both sprinting out of the store. In Nick’s best man speech, he said “Pat is capable of making any normal situation one of the more memorable times of your life”. I think Nick was actually projecting his own gift - he made the ordinary extraordinarily hilarious and was able to extract more humor and laughter out of his life than people who live to be twice his age. Beyond anything else, as he looks down on us today, I think that is what he is most proud of. Amidst this tragedy, he is still able to make all of us smile.

As a few of you know, Nick didn’t come from a big family. With the foundation provided by his mother, Michael and Debbie, he created a family through friendships and loyalties. Somehow, intentionally, or unintentionally, Nick became a part of many of our families – if you ask anyone in my extended family how many sons Mark and Helen Dennis have, the answer would always be the same “Three: Matt, Pat, and Katie’s favorite brother.” I don’t remember how the “Katie’s favorite brother” contest started, but I do know that on any occasion that Matt, Nick, and I were together over the last 5 years, we would always set up a series of benign contest where the winner would be declared Katie’s favorite brother. No matter who the physical winner was, there are more than a few pictures taken to document Nick’s victory with his arm around Katie and that big stupid grin on his face. And while Katie, Matt and I always considered him a brother, Nick had many families over the years – Hill, the Toben’s, Thompson’s, Maslow’s, Sayko’s, Albano’s, Schwartz’s, Brende’s, Browne’s, and many more all had a hand in making sure that their front door was always open for Nick.

Building up to our wedding weekend, there was something that Nick was extremely excited to share with us and like never before, his enthusiasm was overwhelming. After nearly a year of hearing about her, we finally got to meet Sara. I have to say that it was somewhat of a nerve-wracking situation as it was obvious from early on that Sara would be in Nick’s life -- and by extension our lives -- for a long time. The truth is that I really had nothing to worry about: Sara was bright and beautiful, came from a wonderful family, laughed at all the right jokes, faces and funny sounds, and most importantly, was from Ohio. When I heard that Sara and Nick were planning a move to Ohio, perhaps selfishly, I was ecstatic. Finally, I thought, Nick had found the perfect match and was excited about his next steps. His text to me Aug 13th was pretty simple: “Hey bud, how do you feel about my wedding in Italy.” My response to him “If your wedding was on the moon, I would be cool with it” to which he responded, “That’s a bit much but we’ll take a look. We just have to make sure Schulte wears that silly green sweater”. To Sara, for better or for worse you are now a part of the Kaschik, Dennis, Peddie and USC families. Know that we will always be there for you. Nick was so happy to have met his mate and while it’s hard to understand the timing of this, know that we all love and will support you always.

On August 20th, the night of my wedding, Nick Kaschik, stood up at the altar in support of my marriage. Shortly after his best man speech, he collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. The pronouncement was acute heart failure caused by coronary artery disease, a condition in which the blood vessels leading to the heart become narrow through the buildup of plaque. It appears that Nick may have been predisposed to heart disease, and his condition had progressed to the point where his heart could have failed any moment. At the time of his death, his heart had grown to be 50-70% larger than a typical human heart. My interpretation of this was that Nick died because his heart was too big – the coroner didn’t realize how metaphorically true her pronouncement was.

Nick’s last hours are well-documented. There were three photographers walking around with cameras at the wedding. In these pictures, he is surrounded by the people he loved and those who loved him most. He is smiling, and more often, laughing, and hamming it up for the camera. In two particularly poignant photos, the photographer stood at the back of room while along with Matt, Nick gave his best man speech – every single person in the 150-member audience is wildly laughing. Nick, again, has that grin on his face.

Even three weeks later, it is nearly impossible to find sense or meaning in what followed, but the most powerful, the most meaningful way I’ve thought about it is that we gave Nick the best possible forum for his final minutes and those pictures of him holding court really capture the moment of Nick leaving us in his prime. Many people don’t have the opportunity to leave this world surrounded by their closest friends and their most loved family members, in a space that allowed these loved ones to form a common circle of humanity in support of one another. Nick did.

As I stand up before you today, I can assure you that his message would be pretty simple: celebrate life, laugh and enjoy your experiences with one another. My final words to Nick were right after he delivered his best man speech were “You took it easy on me, I love you man.” Until the day we meet again, from all of us here, take it easy Nick. We love you man.

Matt Dennis:

Just a couple weeks ago, I was spending the last hours of Nick’s life with him finishing up the final details of writing our best man speech for my brother. Today, I am reading a few words to honor the life of Nick and to try to communicate exactly how special he was to me, my brother, my family and all of his friends and family that loved him so dearly. It has been a very surreal and heartbreaking experience that I cannot quite begin to process or articulate.

On my trip home from Colorado, fighting back what seemed to be an endless stream of tears while waiting for our flight, right in front of me appeared a woman with a phrase on the back of her shirt that read ‘Quit whining… Get Inspired’. I can’t tell you how I knew, but am positive without a doubt that this was Nick’s way of communicating with me. It reminded me of his phrase ‘cheer up, it’s not a funeral’ and ‘I just do it’ after asking him how he wakes up early every morning early to go to the gym.

It will take us all some time to understand what the “get inspired” portion of his message means. And for each of us, it may mean something a little different. For Patrick and I, it means we want to ensure that the life of Nick lives on. Part of that will be to simply share all the Nick stories our memories allow us to remember.

• The tailgating and many football games

• The vegas trips

• Hearing stories of his many escapades fit for a movie screen

• Tony Clifton and the many other hilarious impressions

• The weekend phone calls to talk about anything and everything

The list goes on and on. However the more important part will be focused on building a charitable effort that Nick would be proud of. We kicked around lots of ideas including scholarships, learn to swim programs, and medical research support and we certainly welcome any ideas. The best I can say right now is stay tuned - and along with Sara, Michael and Debbie, we will be sure to keep everyone informed on our next steps.

Nick’s life was inspiring. More than once in his life, and even what led to his ultimate fate, he just wasn’t dealt a great hand. But it’s hard for me to think of someone who was more resilient than him. And while he had plenty of opportunities to carry a chip on his shoulder, Nick didn’t let a day go by without sharing his infectious smile, charisma and comic relief and beyond anything else, that is how I know he will be remembered.