Everyone envies the natural. Everything comes easy to the natural. While the rest of us claw and scrape to excel in a given field, the natural seems to breeze through the same task without breaking so much as a sweat. Mike Loll is a natural. He’s also been my roommate and teammate for the past four years at Oberlin, so I don’t have to look too far for reminders that I am not in fact a beautiful and unique snowflake. It’s all at once very humbling and a little annoying.
Aside from being roommates from day one of our Oberlin experience, Mike and I also played together on the football team. My job was to throw him the ball, his job was to catch it—and to make me look as good as possible in the process. As a quarterback, you get a fairly good idea early on who you can trust on the field. It’s a brutal sport, but my position is different. I am entrusted with getting the ball to the right people (see Mike) while trying to avoid big, sweaty, ornery guys, who’d like nothing more than to take my helmet off (preferably with my head still in it). So you can see that I need to have people I can rely on. It’s not quite a serious as the president’s cabinet, but for three hours on a Saturday afternoon, it’s all about the same to me. I knew I could trust Mike from the very start.
Football is the first team to arrive on campus every year. We sweat out three weeks of knocking heads under the mid-August sun while doing our best to bond with each other. For a scared and homesick freshman this formula is, of course, absolute and utter crap. It’s light on the awkward male bonding and heavy on the long phone calls at night with Mom. For a few agonizingly long days in the late summer of 2005, this was my life. I was that scared freshman.
I don’t know if my roommate felt the same way. To tell you the truth, it seemed like nothing ever really fazed the tall and lean Flint, Michigan native. While I racked up my phone bill bothering my mom, he would ease into his bed and play video games well into the night. I told myself that he would pay for it in the morning with the 6 a.m. wakeup call for breakfast. To my dismay, he would roll out of bed chipper and spry, ready for another long day of football with strangers. At breakfast he would mindlessly munch on a donut and pound down some milk, while between bites of soggy cereal I would debate exactly why that mustached senior strong safety kept staring at me.
Then it was onto the field, where any and all doubts about whether my roommate was just trying to act the part were removed. Standing at an even 6’4’’ he looked as if he were gliding on the field. There he was snatching the ball away from our all-conference cornerback. A minute later he was blocking that same player into the bushes. He knew all the plays. He knew where to be at all times. He moved effortlessly through the logjam of the field. He was a natural.
But this sort of grace and ease has not been limited to the gridiron. Mike has had one of the more decorated basketball careers at Oberlin, setting numerous records. On the football field he has bailed me out too many times to count, and the baseball team wanted him to play for them (he was an all-everything shortstop and pitcher in high school). But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. He’s also one helluva racquetball player (as resident Oberlin whiz and equipment manager Larry Ramey can attest to). He’s also an accomplished archer. He consistently dominated swimming and running challenges for football conditioning. He plays volleyball. He fishes. He also enjoys long walks on the beaches. Again with those damned reminders.
However, for as naturally talented as he has proven himself to be at any and all competitive endeavors, I’ve found that the most impressive side of Mike is the man that he’s become and the profound influence that he’s had on me. The Mike that was unfazed during those first football days is the same Mike that treats his younger brothers like they’re kings. He’s the same Mike that made other lonely freshmen after us feel at home. He’s the same Mike that treats everyone equally, especially the ones who get ignored the most. The same Mike that was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma earlier this year. The one who is now beating that cancer inch-by-inch, day-by-day. The same one who plans on returning to the field this fall. The same one who helped me know that I had chosen the right place to go to school.
Mike is a natural, but it’s these unseen and under appreciated traits that truly make him such. Not the touchdowns or highlight-reel dunks or late night video game dominance. He is an inspiration to more people than he knows. He’s my roommate. My teammate. My friend.