Butch Reimer has had a significant influence in my life. It was under his tutelage that my passion for cross-country skiing matured.
The summary reads, “Butch Reimer passes of cancer and is survived by Jill – his wife, daughter – Hannah and son – Jake.” Turning back the pages, one will always find a story deeper in content and substance. Butch’s story is one that touches many of us in the cross-country ski community. I am one of many people that have been deeply inspired by Butch’s leadership and motivation.
Butch’s influence in my life in nordic skiing is only trumped by my parents. Butch recruited and encouraged me to come to University of Wisconsin-Green Bay as an athlete, recruited and encouraged me to get involved in coaching at my alma mater and encouraged me to follow my passion as a coach with CXC and now with the U.S. Ski Team.
His legacy lives and grows within all us athletes he coached, and the sheer number of us that are still competing, coaching and involved in the sport. This is a great testament to the culture he cultivated at UW Green Bay. I learned of Butch’s diagnosis on October 1st while visiting former UW-Green Bay teammates Adam Swank, Josh & Kate Tesch. It was no irony that I would find out from them, for Butch fostered a strong team unity at UW-Green Bay that has developed into the closest of life-long friendships. Life-long passion for outdoor endurance activities, forging team bonds and maintaining optimism regardless of situation or outcome was Butch’s beliefs.
I was heading out the door yesterday morning to meet up with Garrott Kuzzy and Scott Wilson for a mountain bike ride when I checked my emails and discovered of Butch’s passing. Garrott inquired, “What did Butch teach you in your coaching philosophy?” I commented that I learned from him that the role of the coach is to support and not dictate. I added that it might sound minor, but it affects every aspect of coaching. Butch also taught me that coaching has a great deal to do with forging a personal connection between athlete and coach versus simply executing the fundamental training principles of the sport. Butch wanted athletes to make their own decisions and forge their own paths. In a sport like ours, we need to be self-motivated and self-driven. Butch encouraged us to steer our own futures.
Butch’s approach was motivating, but in a subtle manner. Butch was not a high profile individual. That wasn’t his style. Trying to sum up Butch in a sentence is difficult, but what comes to mind is a nice guy who always wanted to lend a hand.
Butch was not a full time coach. He had a comfortable position with the Pulaski School District. He coached because he had a passion to lend a hand. He stepped aside from coaching the UW-Green Bay Ski program for eight years, so he could invest more time with his family and children who were in junior high and high school at the time. He returned to coaching ski program once Jake and Hannah went off to college and I stepped aside. Personally, I feel I was just keeping his “coaching seat” warm in his hiatus.
He couldn’t stay away from coaching in his absence of the UWGB Ski Team. He became a soccer coach for his daughter’s soccer program & also helped coach the UW-Green Bay Women’s Fast Pitch Softball team. Few skiers knew that Butch was a professional fast pitch softball pitcher in his younger years. Then freshman skier – Matt Frost – learned of his accuracy and speed when Matt picked the wrong person to have a snowball fight with.
I had planned to visit Butch this Friday after my return from Lake Placid. I was going to stay with my college freshman roommate and former teammate – Ben Nysse who lived five minutes from St Luke’s hospital where Butch was being cared for. This August was the last time I saw Butch. I stopped by his house to say hi and to inevitably talk about coaching and skiing. I had to wait a half hour as Butch finished a rollerski. He looked fit, healthy and his normal enthusiastic self.
My mountain bike through the silent woods of Northwoods Wisconsin yesterday provided a unique opportunity to reflect on Butch’s positive influence in my life. The friendship he forged with me has developed meaning and purpose in my coaching. If anyone asks my thoughts on Butch; I would say that Butch was well respected and will be deeply missed.