Cedaredge's Reid Gates a great athlete and an even better person
Reid Gates was going to be so much more than he already was in an impressive first 17 years of life.
But he only got 17.
Accidental carbon-monoxide poisoning claimed the life of the Cedaredge High School senior Monday and left the usual family and friends shell-shocked, but the grieving went beyond them. Subsequent days revealed he’d touched the lives of many more people in his community and nearby communities.
He was an outstanding all-around athlete, but the common thread in the postmortem words of people who knew him is: Reid Gates was an even better person.
But athletics were prominent in his life and frequently served as the vehicle through which people got to know him and understand there was more to the young man.
He was an all-state defensive back and excellent No. 2 running back for the Bruins when they won the Class 1A football state championship last fall, along the way infusing Cedaredge with an enthusiasm for football unseen in the community in years.
He was an intense yet graceful forward on the basketball court who led the 3A Western Slope League in scoring last winter.
Then, in the spring, in the sport where his all-around ability really came to the fore, Gates qualified for the Class 3A state track and field meet in seven events. CHSAA limits competitors to four events at state, though, and among the four he chose, Gates won a state high jump title and placed third in the long jump.
His junior year was supposed to be merely a glimpse of what was to come athletically. A great senior year was in the offing, then it would be off to compete in NCAA Division I track and field, possibly at the Air Force Academy or the Naval Academy. Or, he hadn’t ruled out playing Division II football.
Instead, his junior season and a month of his senior year were the last best look at a special athlete and person.
What follows is a hodgepodge of anecdotes about Reid and the Gates family that his father, Ken Gates, shared in a 45-minute interview he graciously granted The Daily Sentinel on Thursday afternoon. They give some sense of who Reid Gates was and why he was special, but in no way does it come remotely close to encapsulating his totality.
The athlete emerges early
As a baby when Reid was in that stage before crawling where he was strong enough to roll over from his back to his stomach, Ken and Cheryl Gates hadn’t seen him actually crawl yet. So, they thought nothing of putting up gates by the set of stairs that went a few steps up from the sunken living area to the next level of their home in Colorado Springs.
After briefly leaving him alone on that living room floor one day, Cheryl returned to the room to find no baby. She looked all around the main floor and didn’t find him, so as impossible as it seemed, she headed to the second level to look for him, and there he was.
“His first crawling,” Ken said, “he went straight up those stairs. So, it wasn’t, ‘Well, I’ll crawl around a little bit. There’s something going up; I’m going up.’ So, from that point it was, ‘OK, the kid’s looking for a challenge.’ “
Tempering the competitive streak
Cedaredge track and field coach Kirby Henderson said last spring Reid Gates was the most competitive high school athlete he’d ever seen.
When asked to recall how far back he could remember being competitive, Reid said he wasn’t sure, so he turned to his parents and asked them. Then he responded, “They said they could tell that when I was 2.”
A great example of it, Ken Gates said, was when Reid was 3 to 4 years old and learning to play board games. If he wasn’t winning as the game’s end was nearing, he would make sure nobody won.
“Instead of risking not winning the game, he’d turn the whole board over,” Ken said. “And at that point — you know, Cheryl and I were competitors ourselves — we realized we were going to have to nurture that streak of his. I mean, just very deliberately we realized, ‘OK, we’re going to have to nurture this competitive streak of his, so he doesn’t grow up to be rude and mean and arrogant.’ “
Raised to value relationships
Ken Gates loves to talk about Reid’s athletic ability, but he emphasized the most important thing to him and Cheryl in the raising of their children — daughter Jheri, who is 21, recently got married and now lives in Kansas; Reid; and younger brother Shane, now a sophomore — is developing character and healthy relationships with people.
“What we really talked about at the dinner table,” Ken said, “was the character issue, and the No. 1 thing in your life is your relationships.
“And what we’re seeing over the last several days is it’s not about (Reid) being a great athlete; it’s about the people that he touched. And that’s what’s most humbling for Cheryl and I is just, ‘Wow, all these stories of the people that he touched.’ “
Ken said they talked a lot about relationships with their children because that’s the ultimate measure of who you are.
“When your time is done,” he said, “that’s what people are going to remember. And (Reid) did that really good.”
Experience taught acceptance
Ken and Cheryl Gates were Air Force Academy graduates and commissioned officers in the Air Force. Ken stayed in the Air Force as a pilot for 21 years before retiring, and once he and Cheryl became parents, she left the military to stay at home to raise the children.
As military families do, the Gateses moved many times. One of their stays was in La Paz, Bolivia.
Having to re-establish himself in a new city every few years, Reid learned the value of being accepted by others and why he should do the same.
“He was the new kid an awful lot,” Ken said, “and he even knew in Bolivia what it was to be the minority, so he knew what it was to be the different kid, the new kid, the minority kid, and I think that gave him a heart for everybody. He could relate to all kids because he’d been in a lot of different shoes.
“And he kind of had this athletic thing that gave him the confidence to be able to reach out and talk to people. The athletic piece gave him that platform to be gregarious and confident with other people and know that he could make positive impacts.”
Making a home in Cedaredge
That Reid Gates ended up in this neck of the woods was a deliberate decision by his parents, who moved the family to Cedaredge in 2008, when Reid was in the seventh grade. When Ken was faced with staying in the military, taking an excellent job with the Pentagon but sacrificing time with his family, or retiring, he chose to retire.
“I wanted to spend some more time with my kids before they all left the house,” Ken said. “And now I just look back at that decision, and, ‘Wow, that sure worked out good.’ “
Ken became a geometry teacher at the high school, but even then he admits he made it to a mere two of Jheri’s basketball games and one of her track meets. He realized he needed to do better than that.
So, when Reid was a freshman, Ken was his geometry teacher, youth group leader and freshman basketball coach.
“I went from, ‘I saw one track meet of my daughter’s,’ to, ‘Reid, you and I are going to spend some time together. I hope you’re ready for this.’ “
Christian foundation helps family cope
The Gates family consider themselves nondenominational Christians, Ken said, and, “That’s a huge part of our family story is our Christian foundation.”
Wherever the family lived, they would find good church families to join, and now in Cedaredge, they go to The Father’s House. Their church family has helped them cope with Reid’s death, said Ken, who served as a guest speaker at The Father’s House in recent weeks while the pastor was away. What he shared with the church members came back to him this week.
“My subject was: What does the Bible say and what does our community say about depression and getting through tough times?” Ken said. “So, I said a few things over the last couple of weeks, and some of the people that were sitting in the audience have been cheering us through this these last few days.”
And Ken and Cheryl have been steadfast in telling others not to mourn the loss of Reid. Rather, celebrate what a wonder it was to have him for the time they did.
“I’m really surprised that God allowed this to happen,” Ken said. “But my faith in Him is solid, and someday I will find out the reasons. For now, I just trust He remains all-powerful, all-loving.”