Oct. 14, 2012
By Jon Cooper
Aaron Freeman York would have been very happy on Saturday night, as Georgia Tech men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams both recorded wins at the GT Aquatic Center.
That kind of day made him happy.
Don’t know the name?
Chances are few Georgia Tech athletes or coaches knew York, a.k.a. Freeman, although he knew almost all of them.
Most fans probably didn’t know him, either, yet might have sat next to him, high-fived with him and yelled “Point Tech!” at volleyball matches with him.
The 1998 grad — he earned a degree in computer engineering — was in his glory and almost always in attendance if the Yellow Jackets were home competing.
“At Georgia Tech, all of the sports were his area of enjoyment,” said his mother, Mary. “He would say that the only time that he wasn’t a patient, intelligent, reasonable human being was when it was an issue about Georgia Tech sports, which he loved. [His time at Tech] was one of the best times of his life.”
That life was cut short in January, only weeks after his engagement, when he suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 36.
Chances are if you were fortunate enough to meet Freeman, with his boisterous personality, his love of life and all things Georgia Tech and his adventurous spirit, you never forgot him.
Those who didn’t will get to know a little about him now. That’s part of what this story is about.
This story also is about a Georgia Tech swim cap — a piece of equipment that costs maybe a few dollars, but to a young woman named Rebecca Gold — a close friend of Freeman — became priceless.
The cap was generously sent by Georgia Tech swimming and diving head coach Courtney Shealy Hart to “Becky” for her use in a triathlon in which she was participating.
Gold had been hit hard by Freeman’s death. So hard that she, as well as her entire circle of friends who reside in the Research Triangle of North Carolina — imagine how his devotion to Tech went over there! — took a harder look at their lives and their health. Running a triathlon had always been on her bucket list. With her friend as inspiration, she moved that to the top. Through a group called Try It For Life, Gold trained for the event.
“Freeman believed in living life and the more something scared you the more you should conquer it because he was so much about living and experiencing life,” Gold said. “When he died, it scared the heck out of me not only because of my health, but because there were so many things that I’m terrified of.
“I decided, ‘I’m going to do this,'” she added. “It was so hard, in terms of my physical ability, to do it. But I just kept saying to myself, this is a ‘Diesel-powered workout. (Freeman’s nickname was “Diesel”) I can do this. I can do this. At the end, it wasn’t about me finishing. It was about me doing something for him that I know he would be proud of.”
The Ramblin’ Rose Triathlon, a 250-yard swim, nine-mile bike race and two-mile run, won’t be confused with the Iron Man Triathlon (a 2.4 mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle race then a full 26.2 mile marathon run), but still required a major commitment for the mother of two, who dropped more than 30 pounds in training for the event. Every bit of inspiration helped.
As race day approached, Gold had found ways to honor Freeman during the bicycle and running portions, affixing Georgia Tech stickers to her bike and creating a visor in Georgia Tech colors with “Live Free,” the group’s credo to honor him printed on it. But there was nothing for the swimming portion.
Enter Coach Hart.
“I got an e-mail from a gentleman (Becky’s husband, Aaron), who told me the story about the young lady doing the triathlon and asked where there was a bookstore or someplace he could purchase a cap,” she recalled. “I said, ‘I’m the head swim coach. I can help you out.’ My sending him a cap for this young lady, I wanted to help her out.
“Georgia Tech has great alumni who are generous with their support both in showing up to events and financially,” she added. “Any time somebody’s a big fan I want to continue to be a good face for Georgia Tech and continue to show our support back to them. Any way we can help out I try to do that. If that means she needs a swim cap then that’s what I’ll do.”
“I was flabbergasted because I can’t imagine how many e-mails a coach of a university must get every day,” said Gold. “For her to take the time to do that meant so much to me. I was so excited when I got that swim cap and it was so nice because people asked me about it and I was able to tell the story of Freeman, what he meant to us and how much he loved Georgia Tech. I finally got some pictures of me wearing the swim cap and I’m going to send that on to [Coach Hart] and just tell her, thank you. It was such a wonderful thing.”
With Mary among the many supporters in attendance, Gold finished the event in one hour, 38 minutes and 50 seconds.
“There were like 667 women who finished the triathlon. I was 652, but I don’t care, because I still finished,” she said, with a laugh. “At the end, it wasn’t about me finishing. It was about me doing something for [Freeman] that I know he would be proud of.”
He would be equally proud of the scholarship that is being established at Georgia Tech in his memory by Mary and his friends. The parameters of the scholarship should be complete in the coming months.
“We will have a Georgia Tech scholarship in Freeman’s name and it will probably be presented in the athletic department,” said Mary, proudly. “I think it will be a non-big-money sports scholarship. His friends from high school said he dragged them to so many non-football, basketball things that you couldn’t count all of them.”
“Obviously, this young lady made a great friend in [Freeman],” said Hart. “She wanted to continue on that legacy for him. That’s a wonderful thing.”