Father and son thrown a second chance
Brian Sinclair called 911 and saved the life of his father, Tom, in 2007. Now the Lake Washington senior is coached by his dad and they share a passion for the javelin.
Seattle Times staff reporter
KIRKLAND — The alarm jolts Brian Sinclair. He pulls himself out of bed.
He thinks about football practice. He is nervous, a sophomore making the jump from middle to high school, a baptism by blocking sleds.
Then he hears noises coming from his parents' room.
His mother and brother have already left the house. Even before he opens the door, he knows the sounds are coming from his father, Tom. Then he sees him, convulsing and incoherent.
"Dad!" shouts the teenager as he runs toward his father.
He tries to wake Tom up. No response. Brian runs into the kitchen to grab the phone. He stays calm long enough to call 911.
Suddenly the bedroom is full of paramedics asking questions. Is he a diabetic? Where is the medicine kept? What is his date of birth?
Sinclair tries to answer. He can't concentrate. He can't take his eyes off his father, who is suffering a ruptured aneurysm.
Several years later this moment is an all-too-vivid nightmare, a vision that still doesn't seem real.
Tom's chances of survival were slim, but he is still alive.
By being the only one home, by calling 911, by persevering through the pressure, Brian Sinclair saved his father's life.
It was a moment Tom still can't remember, something Brian will never forget, an instance that forever changed the relationship between a father and his son.
It is a picturesque afternoon, a pleasant change of pace during this soggy spring season. As the sun paints Lake Washington with a late-afternoon shimmer, Brian and Tom Sinclair finish a workout behind the visitor's bleachers at Lake Washington High School.
At 53 years old, Tom is no longer the teenager who set the state javelin record (239 feet, 1 inch, old-style implement) or the University of Washington standout who won an NCAA title in 1979. He is a man living his second chance, blessed with a renewed passion for track and field.
Brian, now an 18-year-old senior with one of the top throws in KingCo 4A this year, is in the final months of his senior year. He enjoys these spring days where he can learn from the man who doubles as coach and father.
"It's something that we just do and can share," says Brian, who was a three-year starter on offense and defense for the Kangaroos' football team. "It makes it unique."
Father and son sit down on a bench, and Brian looks back to 2007, to that August morning when he grew up faster than any teenager should. Brian tells the story, and Tom relives the moment he can't remember.
Elizabeth Sinclair gets a call from paramedics, and her first thought is that her husband, Tom, tumbled while trying to change a light bulb at the top of the stairs.
Craig Sinclair receives a call from his brother, Brian. He assumes the sophomore forgot something he needed for football practice.
"It's like you're living your regular life and being taken to another planet," Elizabeth says. "It's like being plunged into some whole other parallel universe."
Tom is taken to Overlake Hospital Medical Center and later Harborview Medical Center. The family is told he might not make it through the night. He lives.
There is a chance he won't make it 48 hours. He survives.
There is the possibility he won't wake up. He not only wakes up, but the experience stirs the passion that began to fade when a shoulder injury forced him to stop throwing 30 years ago.
Tom undergoes surgery and ends up in the ICU. In the days that follow, Brian goes back to football practice. He keeps a cellphone in his pocket just in case his mother calls with news.
One day, while pushing a blocking sled, he gets a text.
"Dad's up, awake and breathing," the message reads, "and asking where the remote is."
Brian says, "It took a huge weight off my shoulders."
Tom and Elizabeth Sinclair fell in love in the weight room. Tom was a track and field standout at Washington, and Elizabeth spent some time on the crew team.
"You know how those hormones get going on in the weight room," Elizabeth said with a laugh.
She was drawn to his passion for throwing.
"He was so good at what he did and he was so passionate about throwing the javelin," she said.
The couple built a life and a family in Redmond. Tom, an investment adviser, coached Little League and, through sports and church, they developed a close social network.
When Tom suffered the ruptured aneurysm, that network rallied behind the Sinclairs. Even after the family's freezer was full, food continued to arrive at their doorstep.
Now, several years later, Tom feels normal. He doesn't remember much from the experience. He woke up in a fog and felt an inexplicable urge to fight toward the front of a line.
"What line? I had no idea, but I had to get to the head of everybody else in line," Tom said. "I was pulling tubes out of myself, trying to get up and get ahead."
Elizabeth said she has noticed the change.
"We're one of those lucky 12 percent, but Tom is different from he was before," she said. "He's more impatient. Sometimes I say it's a lot like being married to someone who is exactly like Tom, but not quite Tom."
One thing did come out of this experience: Tom started throwing again.
He had been coaching the throwers at Lake Washington, but he couldn't demonstrate the techniques because of his bad shoulder. After three surgeries, he can throw again. Competing in Master's meets, he finished last year with one of the top 10 throws in the U.S. for his age group.
"It was a wake-up call," Elizabeth said. "He was drawn back to that thing that had sparked that passion in him when he was younger."
Tom and Brian threw against each other twice last year in competition. Brian beat his father twice, barely.
"That was big," Brian said. "We were jawing back and forth the whole time."
"You were lucky," Tom replied.
"I was not lucky," Brian said.
When Craig, a senior at Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore., returns home from school, the nights spent by his father's bedside in the ICU seem like a dream.
Everything feels normal again. He thinks back to that beautiful summer morning in 2007 and remembers a day that never felt right. He wonders what would happen if he had left the house 10 minutes later. He could have been the one to find his father.
Instead, it was Brian.
"It's really terrible that your 15-year-old son who is on his first days of high-school football practice, on his way to leaving junior high and starting high school, has to all of a sudden grow up really, really fast and deal with those kinds of issues," Elizabeth says.
One thing everyone agrees on is they were lucky Brian was home.
"I'm just really grateful he was there, because I wouldn't be here if he wasn't," Tom says. "I owe my life to him."
When he finishes his thought, Tom looks over at his son. They share a moment of silence, punctuated by a fist bump.
Mason Kelley: 206-464-8277 or firstname.lastname@example.org