The great Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Never throughout history has a man who lived a life of ease left a name worth remembering.” In just a short sentence, the 26th President of the United States encapsulated for us the importance of leaving a legacy. He reminds us it won’t be easy, that few are willing to do it, but it’s worth it in the end.
The mid-section of September in Oklahoma is a melting pot of humidity and semi-cooler nights. A playful time when Summer holds a death grip on your sweat glands while the wilting rosebud reminds you Fall is just around the corner.
Stuck in this crossroads is the Oklahoma State Fair. Where 4-H kids grow 200+ pound pumpkins, and “gelding”, “arm jerker”, and “deep fried” might be uttered in the same sentence throughout your day. The historical necessity of State Fairs is a tradition across the plains, and continues to be just that, a tradition, to this day.
The talented people who live in Oklahoma are a committed bunch. From the seed planter to the starving artist to the amateur photographer – the term “arts” has never been painted with a broader brush stroke.
One such person, a fellow Okie, merged two worlds together for this year’s State Fair competition. Hockey and photography have always co-existed long before rabbit ears, FM radios, or HD televisions. In its purist of states, a photograph can demand your attention. Sometimes a photo can remind you, almost haunt you, of a place, a time, a person, and the world needs to see these images.
Entered in the People/Portraits category of this year’s Oklahoma State Fair was a photo of the late Kristians Pelss. The white iced backdrop, the slightly tilted head, the contrasting numeral on the back – you don’t see his face, but he seems important. When that particular photo was snapped, neither the photographer nor the world had any idea what would happen in the coming months. No idea that it would be one of the last still images our eyes would ever see of young Kristians.
And in some mysterious way, the judges of the State Fair knew the gravity of the snapshot. Placing fifth in a competition with hundreds upon hundreds of entries, it’s hard not to believe that the legacy of Kristians Pelss lives on.
Candace Riley, a photographer, a fan, a believer in the legacy herself, found her image subpar (in her eyes), but understood its importance when she submitted her entry. “I wasn’t happy with the white balance on the ice,” she says, “I wanted to enter it as a final tribute to Kristians, even though the judges probably had no idea who he even is.”
There’s no denying the photo is great, but the backstory just adds to the remarkable nature of this award. A tribute, that didn’t necessarily need to be rewarded, gets a special nod amid what has been a devastating situation for a family.
I can’t help but think back to the words of Roosevelt, and the hard work and determination that lands you on the right side of a legacy. Indeed Kristians wasn’t well known, but in his passing his legacy has blossomed. As a strong hearted player, a determined athlete, a great friend, and a guy worth cheering for. As the ribbons are handed out, I, along with Candace, swell with pride in the lasting legacy of a life that ended far too soon. And a huge congratulations to those who make an attempt to constantly remind us about the important folks in our lives, and boldly carry the banner for their legacy. You win.
Here’s a closer look at the photo via Candace Riley: