From The Olympic Fanatic Vault: Bruce Kimball and Second Chances

Article first published as Bruce Kimball and Second Chances on Blogcritics.

If you have made mistakes, even serious ones, there is always another chance for you. What we call failure is not the falling down but the staying down. – Mary Pickford, Motion Picture Actress

It was the summer of 1988.  The Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea would begin in September and the US Olympic Diving Trials were just a couple of weeks away.  The US had the potential to do quite well in Seoul.  1984 Gold Medalist Greg Louganis would be competing, as would the 1984 Platform Silver Medalist Bruce Kimball.  Diving was in Kimball’s blood:  His father, Dick Kimball, was a legendary diving coach.  The excitement among diving fans was undoubtedly palpable.

On the evening of August 1, all excitement was gone in an instant when an intoxicated Bruce Kimball plowed his Mazda RX7 into a crowd of young people near Brandon, Florida.  More importantly, the lives of two of those young people were forever extinguished, as they were killed when struck by Kimball’s car, which also seriously injured three others.  For the victims and their families, life would never be the same.  Nor, justifiably, would it ever be the same for Kimball.

While awaiting trial, Kimball was brazen enough to still compete in the Olympic Trials.  But with the pressure of his then-alleged act, he fell short of making the team.  During the 1988 Games, Kimball was almost forgotten about by the media.  The focus was placed on the heroes of Seoul as well as the great doping scandal of the Games.  When Kimball’s trial began in January 1989, it quickly and quietly ended when Kimball spared the victims’ and their families further pain and pleaded guilty.  He was given a 17-year sentence and an additional 22 years probation. (The St. Petersburg Times offers a thoughtful on Kimball here.)

Then a young teen, I remember hearing the news reports, horrified by the tragic deaths and injuries.  I also was terribly dismayed to learn that such a senseless act had been committed by an Olympian.  An athlete whose grace and strength had won him an Olympic medal was now one of the most reviled people in America.  Once positioned on the platform alongside Louganis, Retton and Lewis, Kimball was now plunging head first into a sea reserved for those athletes who lied, cheated, or even did worse.

Life moved on and as I grew older, more Olympics came and went.  Yet the memories of Bruce Kimball, fallen hero, stayed in the back of my mind.  Now an adult and blogging about my greatest passion, I decided it was time to re-visit Kimball.

In 1993 Kimball was released for good behavior after serving only four years.  During his incarceration, Kimball attending Alcoholics Anonymous and began intensive therapy sessions.  Upon release, he moved to Illinois where his girlfriend (now wife) lived.  He finished school, got married, and even became a father. In 2004 Kimball was granted the chance to apply for an Illinois driver’s license.  Kimball is now both a teacher and diving coach in an Illinois public school.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “If there is anything that a man can do well, I say let him do it. Give him a chance.”  What about second chances?  In the world of sports, second chances are often sought after by athletes, and their comebacks are celebrated.  What about in everyday life?  Kimball’s actions were a reminder to me–and all of us–that Olympians, athletes, celebrities…are human.  And human fallibility is inevitable.  Does such inevitability mean that second chances should automatically be given?

Bruce Kimball, the citizen, was granted a second chance.  A part of me is uncomfortable with this fact.  It’s an opportunity two of his victims were never given. Yet any of us in his situation would undoubtedly desire the same.  Perhaps the bestowing of second chances is a way for us humans to still strive for betterment.  Maybe it is permission for us to correct our errors and make every effort to live by the motto created by Coubertin: Swifter, Higher, Stronger.

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