The Gentle Giant

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The chubby fourth grader couldn’t contain himself. He peeled over in the grass, snot flying, spittle spewing with each throaty laugh. A crowd of his teammates surrounded the poor creature’s nest.

“Did her babies die?” a shaggy-haired boy on the verge of tears asked.

It took me a moment to register the massacre that had occurred. One second, this obnoxious kid had been up to throw the shot-put. Before I could do anything, he’d changed trajectory and…

Connor was already pulling the kids back as I gawked from afar. He hovered over the nest as the mother desperately chirped at him. We made eye contact. Connor shook his head.

My senses returned and I was ready to go off at the chubby bird-murderer. Come on, I’m pretty sure that animal cruelty preempts a career in serial killing. What twisted kid finds it funny, let alone worthy of rolling in the grass laughing himself silly, to kill baby birdies? He was about to get it from me. Coach Noah was pissed.

As I was plotting revenge for the deceased birdies, Connor acted. The kids had been brought back to the track to start a game of ships-across-the-ocean. And where was the little killer? Connor had pulled him aside to talk over by the fence. The snot splattered across the kid’s face remained, although now it seemed to be from blubbering remorse rather than humor. I couldn’t wait to see what Connor had in store for him. Laps? Pushups? Maybe he’d make him stare at the scene of the crime as the mother bird wailed.

A few minutes later they walked back together. The team ran over to hear the verdict.

“I’m sorry everyone…” the kid started. “I feel really bad. I just wanted to be funny. It wasn’t funny, it was mean.” His eyes had gotten watery.

A few minutes later the incident was behind us, and Connor and I were observing the kiddos play their game. It wasn’t a monumental moment, and I’m sure Connor didn’t think anything of it, however, it was there that a couple important things occurred to me. Firstly, as heinous a crime as crushing some bird’s eggs is, when the perpetrator is a fourth grader, there might be better ways to handle it than blatant punishment. It was surely more a cry for attention and approval than sadistic act. Secondly, it was in that moment a great admiration for my friend took root. In the tale of Connor, this story probably doesn’t even merit a footnote. However, to me it is one of the finest metaphors for the man that is Connor Rousemiller.

At six foot three and well over two hundred pounds, Connor gives off a presence reminiscent of the finest brick wall. He is a Division-I athlete, throwing for the University of Minnesota’s track team on scholarship. When he was seventeen, as a competitive weightlifter he set a state record in the snatch (233.3 lbs.) for his class. If you ever find yourself out to eat with Connor, you can bank on him ordering the establishment’s beefiest burger without any toppings or bread. All he wants is the slab of meat and a mountain of ketchup (which he will also use to drown his fries in). To the unfamiliar, Connor might come off as a cross between Arnold Schwarzenegger and a grizzly bear.

This is a character many can relate to. The carnivorous, testosterone-emitting behemoth. What makes Connor worth writing about, however, is the depth behind his misleading caricature. Yes, he has the power, but as seen in his dealing with the chubby fourth grader, power fails to seduce Connor Rousemiller. He deals in words, thoughts, and nuance, holstering his strength and intimidation with ease.

Beyond his literal incessant hunger, Connor also possesses intellectual cravings of the highest degree. Although it may look like an ukulele in his lap, he plays the classical guitar as well as anyone I’ve ever met (and even has tens of thousands of loops on Vine for videos of him covering pop songs). He fixes friends’ iPhones for fun, and restores broken motorcycles in his garage because what else would you do with a Saturday morning? He helped implement an engineering program at his former high school, understands electronics and computers as well as the best nerd in your calculus class, and you can even hire him to build your website (see his site at top of page). How many jocks do you know with that sort of resume?

You’re as likely to see Connor in the library as you are at the gym. He’s a contradiction that everybody needs in their life, as thoughtful of a human being as they come, and it is his thoughtfulness juxtaposed with his strengths that solidifies my admiration for him. When that obnoxious fourth grader acted out, Connor could have so easily taken control with his authority from being coach (and from being four times bigger than the kid), a situation that I believe repeats itself across Connor’s life frequently. He has shown me that although intimidation and strength are hefty tools, they are quite reminiscent of hammers. And as good as Connor is with hammers (it’s literally his event in track), he knows that not every job needs a blunt force. Quite often, nuance and attention to detail can do the trick. Tighten a screw here or there. Connor is fully capable of being Thor, but he recognizes the rarity of situations in need of a superhero. If you see him saving any damsels in distress, he probably won’t be donning a cape. No, you’ll see Connor with his ears open, and perhaps a thoughtful comment or two to share. He just gets it. Sometimes all it takes to save someone’s day is an uninterrupted moment of his attention, and maybe a bear-hug from the gentle giant himself.

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