The first time I met Randy Starkman was at the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro. I didn't know the face behind the byline, so you can imagine my surprise when I learned the main voice of amateur sport in Canada had just introduced himself to me, the kid reporter from Canadian University Press.
In the days following his sudden passing from pneumonia at age 51, Canadian athletes spoke of the Toronto Star
journalist's kindness and caring nature just as much as his work. I didn't know him well, but I'd have to agree.
We were sitting in the stands watching the Canadian women's water polo team try to earn an Olympic berth against the U.S. when Randy got frustrated that the crowd of Canadian supporters wasn't cheering enough to motivate their team.
“C’mon, this is a major event! It's the Olympic qualifier for goodness sake!” he said before starting his own "Ca-na-da!" cheer.
I'd heard there was supposed to be no cheering in the press box. Clearly Randy Starkman was a different breed.
“The thing about Randy is that he didn’t just file the facts,” four-time Olympic speed skating medalist Kristina Groves of Ottawa wrote on her blog
. "He didn’t rely on web searches for information and he never asked basic, superficial questions. He took the time to get to know every single athlete and developed a relationship with them far beyond the call of duty.
“I’ve never met another journalist who cared like he did.”
The outpouring of grief from athletes and sports organizations across the country was a sign of how crucial his contributions were and the number of people he’d touched.
“Randy had an enormous heart filled with such passion and care for Canadian athletes that he proved by tirelessly carving out a niche for all of us in the giant media landscape so dominated by professional sport,” Groves added. “That we are indebted to him for the impact he has had on Canadian sport is an overwhelming understatement.”
The last time I met Randy Starkman was just a month ago in Montreal at the Canadian Olympic swim trials. I can't say there was any sign of the illness that was about to come. Every person working in the press centre had to say hi to Randy – to chat, and also because he was the go-to guy for knowledge on the amateur sports beat.
He again said hello to me, and I asked how things were going these days. He told me he loved doing his job, but was frustrated that his media company kept asking their reporters to do more and more.
That's a story I was familiar with from my time at community newspapers, I said, but my solution was to create my own publication. Randy was interested, and took a copy of the newspaper to read in his hotel room later. He praised me for having the courage to leave my job and start up something like the Ottawa Sportspage
. I can't possibly explain how much those words meant.
Print reporters with a true passion for covering amateur sport like Randy Starkman and the Ottawa Citizen
's Martin Cleary are few and far between in Canada. We now have one less. He is absolutely irreplaceable.
But he doesn't leave without having provided inspiration to another generation, and endless examples of the gold standard in Canadian sports reporting. Thank you Randy.