Article image

by Ceil Blackwell

July 19, 2000

Would do all the distance events in a meet

Charless LeBourgeois first came into my life in about 1988 when he moved to the Raleigh area and joined my team, the Raleigh Area Masters. It was apparent from the first meet he attended that he was more than just an average swimmer. As I observed his progress, I was in awe of not only his speed, but the fact that he swam so many distance events in one meet. He would swim the 1650 free, the 400 IM, the 200 fly, the 500 free, etc. and he would swim five of those "distance" events in one day. He would not only swim those events, he would almost always place first, and his times in all his events would make the USMS Top Ten list. Another impressive thing about Charless was the fact that his times got faster every year. Charless would usually call me after he had returned from an out-of-state meet to give me his results for our team newsletter. He often was able to report that he had achieved at least one "personal best" time. As he progressed through the 55-59 age group, he kept getting faster. I was very impressed!

Charless was such an outstanding athlete. His charming wife, Penny, accompanied him to many meets. While he would sit away from the team at meets, he was very pleasant to everyone and a willing participant on team relays. He was always so calm at meets and would tease me because I would be so nervous. When I heard the news that he had taken his life, I was completely shocked. I would have placed him last on a list of people likely to do that. I will never understand what took hold of him in November of 1994. Charless death was a real loss to our swim team, to Masters swimming, and to all who knew him. I do have fond memories of Charless and am glad I had the opportunity to know him.


For reasons, that the rest of us will never fully understand, my husband, Charless, took his own life in November of 1994. Because of the nature of the self-inflicted head wound, he became a candidate for organ donation. When our family first spoke with the organ donor group, they expressed reluctance to consider some of his organs due to his advanced age; he was 60 at the time. However, I requested that they run all tests, pointing out the he had been such an active Masters athlete for so many years. Later that evening, once the tests had been completed, we met with them again. While they tried to remain restrained and respectful, they could not conceal their amazement and enthusiasm. All organs were not only suitable for transplant, they were comparable to those of someone half his age. I've since learned that, due to the gift from Charless, six lives were extended, and the prognosis for all was very good.

I firmly believe that Charless's participation in masters athletic programs (swimming, running, triathlons, etc) increased the quality of his life as he lived it. Programs, such as the February Fitness Challenge, made training more fun and gave additional meaning to the daily workouts, thus promoting the continuation of regular training. In addition, in his case, training not only provided many opportunities to compete successfully and reap a personal satisfaction from excellent performances, but his fitness also had a very positive impact on the lives of six others and their families. This fact has helped ease the pain my family has experienced following his death. I hope his story might also increase the awareness of the benefits of fitness training—not only for oneself, but perhaps also for others.

by Penny LeBourgeois, his wife