The death of San Luis Obispo High School soccer player Alex Maier is one of those tragic events that devastates a family, shocks a student body and leaves all of us clutching our children just a little bit tighter.
It’s never supposed to happen this way, a young life snuffed out so suddenly.
And the sequence of events on Monday night proved particularly cruel, that in a matter of minutes a vibrant 17-year-old could go from sharing victory with his friends on the field to lying broken in the unforgiving glare of an emergency room.
If Alex had gone down with an injury in the game, play would have stopped.
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There, often the pain can be controlled.
But alone at night driving on Highway 101, he had no one to give him a hand up and no chance for a timeout.
No opportunity to argue the call of a higher power.
No time to dispute the random severity of fate.
For all of us watching from the sidelines, we are filled with a sense of powerlessness and grief. We can do nothing more than ask, “What if?” — as is always the case in tragedies such as this.
What if he had lingered for one more minute of conversation with his teammates?
Maybe the other lane would have been clear when he moved left.
What if the accident had occurred 50 feet farther along the highway?
Maybe his truck wouldn’t have spun and flipped, hitting a freeway sign and the guardrail in the manner it did.
What if the exact same scenario had happened one, five or 10 years later? Would more experience on the road have helped him to respond in a lifesaving way?
In the end, this is all useless speculation. It won’t bring Alex back.
But it does make us think a little more seriously about the treasured people in our own lives because it’s so easy to take what we have for granted.
The two youngsters in my house will be in high school one day, sooner than I’d like.
Of all the things they’ll learn and ways they’ll grow, getting behind the wheel of a car remains among the most frightening.
We will try to teach them well, but eventually, they will be out there on the road, alone, just as Alex Maier was.
When that time comes, we will be as hopeful and helpless as Alex’s parents were last week, crossing our fingers against such a devastating sequence of events.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the Maier family and all of Alex’s friends.
May the many joys you shared over the past 17 years in some small way begin to fill the void you face today.
Joe Tarica is the presentation editor for The Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.