Friends remember Zeke Zdechlik, a Frisco local, ski coach and father
July 22, 2015
Known as a Nordic athlete, coach, father and husband, Frisco resident Jon "Zeke" Zdechlik died on late Saturday night after a three-year battle with lung cancer. He passed away around 11:30 p.m. under the care of Bristlecone Hospice, according to a Summit County Coroner's report.
"I'm still very sad about the whole thing. I still can't believe it," said Jon Kreamelmyer, a close friend of Zeke's who coached with him for several years. "When he was diagnosed, I knew the odds were against him. I knew that he would fight, and he did."
Zdechlik was diagnosed with stage-four, small cell carcinoma, or lung cancer, shortly before Thanksgiving in November of 2013. The diagnosis came as a shock — Zdechlik, an active cross-country skier, had never smoked a day in his life.
But, he wouldn't let the cancer keep him down. Despite the constant chemotherapy and radiation, he continued to work as a general manager for Frisco's Adventure Park, where he had worked for three years, up until last week.
"He worked right through it. There are days that I'm sure he felt terrible, and he fought through it and kept going," Kreamelmyer said. "That was his nature. He was a hard worker, and I think that was his therapy — to continue to work and be the best he could be."
An active local, Zdechlik grew up in Summit County, first meeting Kreamelmyer, his seventh-grade English teacher, before they worked together years later. A talented athlete, Zdechlik skied for the U.S. Nordic Combined team after high school before attending the University of Vermont, where he studied recreation management.
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"The first time I met Zeke, he and Sherri were here at the high school," Claudia Kreamelmeyer said. "That was the beginning of a long connection, dancing at their wedding and celebrating the birth of all of their kids."
Zdechlik and Jon Kreamelmyer met again in the '90s, when they both served as Nordic coaches for the U.S. Paralympic team, working with fellow coach Scott Peterson to form "the three amigos." As they traveled between competitions, the team brought home gold multiple times.
"We were very fortunate," Jon Kreamelmyer said. "We had an amazing group of athletes … A lot of that was due to Zeke. I thought I had the best coaching staff in the country, and I know the athletes did, too."
Their trips always involved a fair share of practical jokes. Jon Kreamelmyer said that as they waxed everyone's skis, sometimes they would switch waxes on Zdechlik.
"It would not be uncommon for one of us to grab one of his skis and put the totally incorrect wax on one of them to slow him down a little bit," Jon Kreamelmyer laughed.
He remembered this last Saturday, when he visited Zdechlik, grateful to have another moment with his friend.
"I said, 'I'm gonna wax your skis and put a little special red (a type of wax) on them.' And, he looked at me and gave me a wink," Jon Kreamelmyer said.
He also recounted a story when Zdechlik was young, practicing a jump off of a 40-meter ski hill, the tallest in the county at the time.
"His ski came off in the air. He fell and bounced right back up and went back up to the top," Jon Kreamelmyer said. "Which is Zeke's nature. He's a hard guy to hold down … He was a huge part of my life, and I think I was a better coach because of him."
Zdechlik is survived by his wife, Sherri, and their four children. A memorial service is planned for this Friday, July 24, at 1 p.m. at Saint Mary's Catholic Church in Breckenridge.
"It's open to anybody and everybody (who) would be willing to come celebrate with the family," Claudia Kreamelmyer said.
A reception will be held afterwards at Beaver Run Resort. The family requests that instead of flowers that contributions be sent to the Jon Zdechlik Memorial Fund through Wells Fargo Bank, #7307456702. More details can be found through Zdechlik's CaringBridge page.
"He was a tremendous man, a dedicated husband, and a dedicated father," Jon Kreamelmyer said. "It doesn't get much better than that to be honest with you."