As an eleven-year-old during the summer of 1982, I was excited to find myself seeded 10th in 11-12 year old boys 50 Meter Backstroke event at the Granite State Swimming Association Championships. As I sat in the bullpen, waiting for my heat, I struck up a conversation with a lanky kid from another team sitting next to me on the bleachers. He was seeded 9th, just a split-second faster than I was, and he said he was hoping to do well, but was quick to point out that Backstroke was not his best event. As a backstroke specialist, I was hoping that my best would be better than his on that day. Before we left the bullpen area to go to our lanes, I asked him his name.
“Pete Cadwell,” he replied.
“Good luck, Pete.”
It was the first time I ever spoke to Pete. I had heard his name before in swimming circles. Everyone in our age group pretty much acknowledged that Pete Cadwell was the fastest swimmer in the state. He had set numerous state records. Now I had finally met him and was about to race against him for the first of probably over 200 times over the next seven years. Pete beat me that day, and on every other occasion we raced each other.
A few years later, I joined the Nashua YMCA Prospectors swim team and became a teammate of Pete’s and got to know him a little better. This extended beyond the pool too. Pete’s mother Jane, was the awesome and ever-present team Mom and administrator. We all knew Mrs. Cadwell was very instrumental in our team’s success. To me, Pete’s sister Stephanie, a great swimmer in her own right, was the coolest “big kid” on the team as she treated all of her “little” brother’s friends with respect. (Steph, if you ever read this, I do realize that there is only a year separating us, but it seemed to be a lot at that age.) Pete’s Dad, Pete, Sr. was hilarious and Pete, Jr. exhibited that same sense of humor.
I remember a party at the Leonards’ house where several of our teammates were gathered around the television watching a movie. Pete had the idea to play a prank on everyone. A few of us sneaked outside and stood outside the window of the room where the others were watching the movie. Pete had taken the VCR remote control and aimed it through the window and started messing with the movie. It caused a minor commotion inside, but didn’t get the reaction for which he was hoping. Not deterred, Pete, in a ghostly sounding voice, said loudly through the closed window, “Goooooose is Deaaaaaad!” Our teammates turned and saw us outside and started yelling. Before the term “spoiler” became popular, Pete was yelled at for spoiling the movie Top Gun.
I was fortunate to be on several relays with Pete. Some of my fondest memories from those days are racing with Pete and knowing that no matter how far behind we were, we always had a chance with him on our team. You see, Pete was our anchor… unless he we needed a lead, then he would lead off. He was whatever we needed whenever we needed it. I was not at all surprised that Pete ran 25 miles last year to raise lots of money for Partners in Health after the earthquake in Haiti last year.
Pete and I often swam the same events and I recall one meet when I was talking to an opposing swimmer before a race and he said, “It must suck swimming with Pete, knowing you are always shooting for second place.”
“I am so glad he’s on MY team and not someone else’s,” was my reply.
For someone who was so freaking good, I could have never asked for a better teammate in every way. He excelled without attitude or arrogance and he was our leader.
It had been a couple of years since I had seen Pete when I saw him walk into Martha’s Exchange in Nashua on Halloween in 1997. I looked ridiculous in costume, sporting a “Juan Epstein” style wig, bell bottoms, wide collar shirt and vintage 70’s leather jacket. Pete flashed his ever-present sense of humor.
“No costume tonight, huh, Ian?”
It was the last time I spoke to Peter in person. Not many people can probably remember both the first time and the last time they spoke with someone, but Pete was that kind of a guy. He made an impression on me and on a lot of people. His untimely passing is so sad and he will be greatly missed by so many who knew him. I have never met his wife or his children, but would want them to know that Peter was loved by so many people. I am so truly sorry for their loss.