It was around this time of year, seven years ago, that a good friend from college passed away at age 26.
Asaph Daniel Schwapp and I were born less than two weeks apart. We attended the same University, lived in the same dorm on the same floor in Siegfried Hall, were enrolled in the same classes, and had met my freshman year, first semester. “Ace,” as he was known, was also a fullback on the University of Notre Dame’s football team, and in addition to being a Finance major, he was on a full athletic scholarship. His jersey was #44. Every time we saw him playing live on the field (which was many times over the course of my freshman and sophomore years), we would chant, “forty-four.” His legs were so strong that he was unstoppable most of the time. During the many times that we would come back to the dorms on some evenings during the semester, his legs would be so sore that he’d take the elevator, even though we lived on the second or third floor. Sometimes, I’d ride up with him (and others from the football team who I had the fortune of sharing the same dorm with) and we’d catch up about each others’ days.
Ace stayed close to us even after he graduated from Notre Dame in 2009. He had a stint with the Dallas Cowboys, my hometown team, and then returned back to South Bend our senior year and lived with us through graduation. We loved having him around, and he wasn’t just lovable and energetic, he was also honest and real with us. He taught me a lot of lessons about loyalty in friendships and striving to be a better person, especially after I went into the adult world.
When he succumbed to lymphoma that spring of 2013, the entire University community and Fighting Irish nation of fans were shocked, and devastated. But for those who knew Ace even more personally, especially my group of friends, the loss was unbearably hard for some. It is tragic for someone who was as young, healthy, influential and exceptional as Ace is, to have been dealt such a cruel card in his short life on earth.
Ace had grown up in Hartford, CT and both he and his younger brother, Andrew, lost their mother, Evelyn, to cancer when Ace was just nine years old. He essentially helped raise his younger brother (who I had the fortune of meeting once) and graduated valedictorian of his high school. His life had been exceptionally tough from the very beginning. Yet, he cultivated so many connections in various communities, whether in South Bend or back in Hartford, during his short life. He served as a mentor for the youth of Hartford, feeling the drive to give back to the people who had invested in him and his success when he was growing up. It’s no surprise that Ace was working for Merrill Lynch as a Financial Adviser back in Hartford when he passed, given how much Ace loved working with people and empowering them with the knowledge, tools, and advice to help them to be setup for success.
We still talk about Ace all the time. He’s not leaving our hearts anytime soon. In fact, he’s currently flying around the world.
In July 2019, American Airlines partnered with Stand Up to Cancer by offering a unique opportunity to add the name of a loved one to one of their Airbus A321 planes. Any names of cancer patients who had lost, were/are currently fighting, or who have fought to remission were welcome as additions. I submitted Ace’s full name. A few weeks later, I received an e-mail from the foundation notifying me that Ace’s name was on an American Airlines Airbus A321 registered N162AA, delivered to the carrier on May 17, 2016.
It was great to see that the aircraft is still flying as we speak, in spite of the aircraft groundings thanks to COVID-19. It looks like it’s doing domestic hops between DFW and core cities like Denver, San Diego, Miami, etc. It was really delightful that Ace the Pilot (he liked to wear these stupid pilot goggles we had lying around) is representing aviation in this form while the rest of us remain grounded. You can check out where Ace’s plane is here.
The adaptation to the new normal in quarantine is one that requires digging deep into strength and resilience. I’ll readily admit, I am no stranger to the struggle of being quarantined and how much I miss life as it were before. That being said, even if there are fewer ways in which I can connect with the people or the routines that I was accustomed to pre-COVID-19, the more I find examples and stories that provide nourishment, in any form, the more I am able to have a few breakthroughs of clarity and take some time to pause and feel thankful for my health and other blessings.
Ace did not have those same health blessings. Yet, he still fought on with strength and resilience from day one. I’m beyond thankful that American Airlines and Stand Up to Cancer created this mission to memorialize those who have endured the intense battles with cancer. The aviation community, to me, has always felt like a small family, much like my Alma Mater and individuals like Ace, who were a big part of that, are family to me. Merging those things together in such a context brings joy to my heart that can’t even be expressed with enough gratitude in a single blog post. The small things these days matter more than anything, so here’s to #HonoringAce.
Further reading on Ace from ESPN.
Oh, and here’s some cool news: Ace’s cousin, Andre King, named his son, who was born last week on April 16, 2020, “Asaph.” H/T to @matt_fortuna.