Thursday, September 01, 2011

Thursday, September 1, 2011

I first met Linda H. Austin over 20 years ago as a student in the martial arts school where I was training and assistant instructing. She was an older student (mid-40's at that point, I think) who took her training very seriously. While there were things she couldn't do nearly as well as many of the younger students, she worked harder than just about anybody else I knew, and as she moved up through the ranks served as a fantastic example to all the other students. Many students reach black belt and decide to become instructors soon after; Linda stayed as a student in class through her 2nd degree black belt, feeling that she didn't have enough to offer as an instructor. She was underestimating herself, of course, but I also suspect that since she'd spent many years as a high school biology teacher, just going to class and working out (rather than having being responsible for what was taught) was a nice change of pace.

feeding deer at in Japan, 2002

Seven years ago Linda was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She went through surgery and chemo like a trooper. It frustrated her that sometimes she couldn't work as hard as she wanted to, but she kept at it to the best of her ability. She also kept very active outside of karate, travelling all over the place and putting a lot of energy and effort into both the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life in the late spring and Caring Together, an ovarian cancer support organization which each fall organizes the Teal Ribbon Run/Walk in Albany's Washington Park. Eventually she felt that her physical abilities were sufficiently compromised that she could make a more significant contribution teaching karate and joined the ranks of the instructors. I don't think she ever totally accepted what an inspiration she was in ranks in class, but we were very lucky to have her teaching with us. It was no surprise to anyone that she proved to be every bit as good a teacher as she was a student.

cane self-defense seminar, 2007

One of the most difficult consequences of leaving the karate school back in 2009 was having to leave behind some very good people who I probably would have very little contact with from then on (to a large degree because the head of the school made it pretty clear that he didn't want students and instructors to have ties to those of us who had left, even in their personal lives.) I was fortunate to see Linda again in September 2009 when my schedule changed at the last minute and I was able to run the Teal Ribbon Run 5k as a member of her fundraising team. Since then I had heard through the grapevine and through limited contact with Linda that she'd gone through additional courses of chemo. Despite all that in the past year she tested for her 4th degree black belt - while I wasn't there to see her train and test, I have no doubt that she worked her backside off and truly earned that rank in a way that many others with greater physical abilities and fewer challenges have no conception of.

Linda's team at the 2009 Teal Ribbon Run/Walk

A few days ago we got word that Linda's latest round of chemo hadn't been effective and that she was home receiving hospice care. Unfortunately that news came too late to see her one last time - I received word this morning that she passed away last night. I'm glad that her struggle and pain is over. I wish there had been an opportunity to see her one more time and tell her what an inspiration she has been. If I ever face the kinds of challenges she did over the last few years I hope I can do so with even a fraction of the strength and positive attitude she had. She was a true teacher right up to the end, teaching by example when she wasn't in front of a class. Her passing leaves an empty place in the world that can never be filled; the best those of us left behind can hope to do is live by her example.

at the 2009 Teal Ribbon Run/Walk

I would encourage everyone who life has been affected by Linda to honor her memory by supporting the causes she worked so hard for. The American Cancer Society always accepts donations and needs volunteers and participants for their fundraising events. Locally, Caring Together's Teal Ribbon Run/Walk is in just a couple of weeks. Instructions for signing up for the run or walk can be found on the event page; donations can also be made online.

update: Linda's obituary can be found here.