Friday, February 15, 2008

I am engaged to Jim's cousin, Bill Newman from Bangor. Jimmy had happily agreed to be part of our wedding this coming September, along with his brother, Justin. Words cannot express our sadness that Jim will not be there in body, but we know that his spirit will be with us.We appreciate having the site to learn more about Jim's life as a doctor, colleague and friend to so many.I have included an article that I came across on a New Jersey sports site while reading so many articles and comments posted by Jimmy's many friends. I don't know the author personally, and I hope he doesn't mind my sharing it with you. But I thought it was another wonderful tribute to Jim that others might enjoy reading.

Take care,


* * * * * * * *February 15, 2008
The following essay on former Rutgers University wrestler Jim McLean, a college teammate of South Plainfield coach Kevin McCann, was submitted by James Zinsmeister of South Brunswick.Current Rutgers University coach Scott Goodale has hung this essay up in the Scarlet Knights’ locker room.James’ essay is eloquent, poignant and beautifully written. The Home News Tribune is elated that James shared it with us and now we’d like to share it with our readers.Whether you knew Jim McLean or not, this essay is worth reading!

IN APPRECIATION: JAMES P. McLEAN, M.D. (1974-2008)It’s been posited by psychologists and other students of the mind that we humans can’t conceive of three non-linear points in space without imagining a triangle. I usually remember this theory when someone significant in my life passes away. What we call “a life” is, in one sense, really a concatenation of moments—of points in time; and when someone dies there is a tendency, if only for practical reasons, to reduce one’s memory of the deceased to a relatively small number of moments shared. We become attached to these and, when we’re inclined to, use them as prompts to help us recollect more completely the life of the one we miss.
In late January, I once again had occasion to ponder this sad geometry. While scanning the state’s largest daily newspaper, I happened upon a small photograph, bordered in black, of a familiar smiling face accompanied by the expected surname.It suddenly occurred to me that the news I was about to read was not necessarily good. In fact, it was devastating. After the headline confirmed my worst fears, I spent many long moments recalling my acquaintance with an extraordinary person known professionally as “Dr. James P. McLean,” but as ”Jimmy” or “Jim” to his seemingly innumerable friends.Long before I met Jim, I’d heard quite a bit about him. As an ardent follower of New Jersey’s scholastic wrestling scene, it would have been difficult not to have. In the early 1990’s, the team Jim competed for, the mighty Falcons of Jefferson High School in Oak Ridge, had finished not only first in the state rankings, but atop the national public high school rankings as well. As a junior, Jim had established himself as amongst the state’s best by winning a Region I championship at 145 lbs. up at unforgiving Wallkill Valley, before reaching the semi-finals of the N.J.S.I.A.A. tournament—a feat that he duplicated at 160 lbs. in his senior year. After graduating in 1994 as Boys’ Scholar-Athlete for Morris-Sussex, Jim characteristically set his sights on other, loftier academic and athletic goals.Jim continued his wrestling career at Rutgers University where, as a captain and winner of four varsity letters (1994-1998), he won accolades as a fierce but well-respected competitor. His 87 career wins place him amongst the school’s elite, tied for 14th place of the hundreds of grapplers who have taken the mat for Rutgers since the program’s inception.In both high school and college Jim was renowned for his masterful employment of the front headlock. To acknowledge, first and foremost, his considerable strength is not to ignore his other attributes. To achieve success at any level—but certainly at the N.C.A.A. Division I level—a wrestler needs superior technique, speed of reflex, kinesthetic awareness, prescience, confidence, endurance and cunning, in addition to strength. Jim possessed all of these and supplemented them with grit and heart. Whether he won or lost, he always had the appearance and demeanor of a champion.
I saw Jim wrestle many times at the College Avenue Gymnasium—and a few times elsewhere—but the very first time was particularly memorable. The match occurred during a midseason dual meet, but it had both the ferocity and excitement of a championship bout. It was back and forth from start to finish, but in the end it was the young man in scarlet and black whose hand was raised—and who’d won my admiration for as long as he chose to wear a Rutgers singlet. It now seems safe to say that he’d won it forever, even if I didn’t know it at the time.After a dual meet late in Jim’s career, I stayed after to congratulate him and some of the other wrestlers. As I approached him, I was shocked to discover that one of his knees was a grotesquely swollen mass of black and blue and green; and I could scarcely believe that he had just wrestledon it. When I questioned him about it, he replied, matter-of-factly and without a trace of bravado, that he was “OK,” that the knee was prone to “a little swelling,” and that, in any event, he’d be ready to wrestle again by week’s end. And not surprisingly he was.In his first season at Rutgers, Jim received the team’s Wilfred-Cann Award, bestowed annually upon its “Most Inspirational Athlete.” As a sophomore, he was recognized for his academic achievements as the recipient of the team’s “Scholar-Athlete Award.” Despite the rigors of high-level intercollegiate competition, Jim graduated from Rutgers in 1998 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering.Jim’s years beyond Rutgers were a veritable blur of transitions and achievements. As his brother Justin—who was also his teammate at Jefferson—said succinctly, even perfectly, “If (Jim) wanted to do something in life, he did it.” After completing his residency at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Jim accepted a fellowship to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago in preparation for work as a physiatrist—a specialist in sports medicine and rehabilitation.Jim’s desire to heal people took him not only to a number of locales across the country, but even to South America—to Ecuador—where as a volunteer he provided medical care to the inhabitants of impoverished villages.
In the final year of his short, eventful life, Jim was employed as both a staff physician at the University of Kansas Medical Center and an assistant professor at the University of Kansas School of Medicine. He had only recently been chosen to direct the hospital’s newly-established Spine Center, which was expected to become an internationally renownedfacility under his leadership.To keep himself not merely physically fit but utterly challenged, after retiring from wrestling Jim played rugby, ran marathons, and trainedfor and completed an Ironman Triathlon. He also, fatefully, took up snowboarding.The second-to-last time I saw Jim was some years ago, after late morning mass at Saint Peter the Apostle Church in New Brunswick. He hadregularly attended this service while at Rutgers and I sometimes saw him in one of the back pews, a little banged up after having wrestled the night before. He had just begun his studies at UMDNJ and, feeling as if I owed him a debt of gratitude for the inspiration he’d given me during his wrestling days, I’d gotten him a gift—a belated graduation present, actually. It was a copy of one of my favorite books, Alfred Lansing’s Endurance, the classic story of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to traverse Antarctica several years after the Amundsen and Scott expeditions had deprived him of the glory of reaching the South Pole first. It’s a story that played out under unimaginably harsh conditions over 30 months—and which will fascinate and encourage adventurers and strivers forever. When I presented the book, inscribed with some sentiments, to Jim, I explained to him that I thought the book very appropriate for someone as familiar as he with the quality of endurance. Of course, Jim was not merely familiar with the quality: throughout his athletic and academic lives he had exemplified it. Indeed, he had embodied it.Although I think it would be presumptuous of me to consider myself amongst Jim’s friends—I simply didn’t know him well enough for long enough—I can say with confidence that, based on our sporadic meetings and conversations, Jim was as intelligent and decent and magnanimous as he was durable. Whether I saw him just after a match, in church, or on the streets of New Brunswick, he was always ready with a smile, a good word and an ear.
My brother was a young psychologist and educator, as well as an excellent athlete, when he, too, died tragically some years ago. Jim was one of the many kind people who condoled with me at that time. It was on some or another Sunday in the dead of winter. Jim’s sympathy was genuine and, since it came from someone I greatly admired, especially meaningful. In retrospect, it seems both strange and poignant that it was the last time that Jim and I would ever speak—in fact, the last time I would ever see him alive.Of all the expressions that have come down to us from the ancient Romans, perhaps my favorite is “Audere est Facere,” which is usually translated, “To Dare is to Do.” This could well have been Jim’s motto.In a world of trepidation and talk, here was a person of courage and energy and initiative. Many of us shuffle through life. Jim had focusand resolve. He dared and did.It wasn’t so long ago that Jim competed as a Falcon for Jefferson High School; and, not unlike a falcon’s, his movement through this world was swift and true. He was, indeed, a rara avis. And he will certainly be missed.

1 comment:

Gary P. Chimes, MD, PhD said...

Just saw this post now- very touching, and much appreciated. It's always great to hear about Jim from the time periods when you didn't know him. No matter what phase of life, he was always the same great guy