Robert Vasen 1985 - 2006
Robert was born April 16, 1985. As a young boy, he was always active and excelling at every sport imaginable: soccer, basketball, swimming, waterpolo, tennis. His favorite two - soccer and basketball - were where he performed the best, playing at elite levels in Bellevue's Premier League for soccer and Traveling Team for basketball. Robert attended Medina Elementary and Chinook Middle School, where he made lifelong friends. Those friends spent every day together - in school, in sports leagues, and passing the summer days. It is a very special group of people.
Since early on, Robert showed much interest in experiencing new cultures and meeting new people. He visited his grandparents in South America and was very proud of his diverse background: Brazilian, Chilean, German and Jewish, all mixed together. The exposure also offered perspective; he shared in a high school essay, “I traveled from a young age to many other countries, countries where the thought of owning even a bicycle meant you were well-off.”
During the summer before his freshman year of high school, Robert contracted a staph infection in his right knee. Because of the severity of the infection, Robert was faced with the reality of losing his leg, and if the infection spread to his bloodstream, losing his life. He spent over a month at Children's Hospital, where he received amazing care from his doctors and nurses. In order to start his freshman year on time, he had a permanent IV line placed in his right arm. He had to receive three infusions each day, which included waking him up at night and taking him to the car during lunchtime to receive treatment. His doctors told him he would never be able to play competitive sports again. So he got several more opinions, all of which recommended Robert cease his physical activity and try to salvage what little was left of a knee.
But Robert beat the odds, fighting with everything he had. He endured physical therapy five days a week for several hours at a time. Then at night, he used a large, loud machine that continually moved his leg back and forth in order to maintain the motion he was building. All this to try to regain some range of motion – one degree at a time. It took over 2 ½ years, but Robert made it back to the sports field. During his junior year at Bellevue High School, Robert made the varsity soccer team, scoring the team's first goal in preseason play. He had to spend two hours before each practice and each game stretching and preparing his knee, and then an hour after to ice and stretch. With soccer season over, he focused on his ultimate goal: to play basketball again. That summer, he stretched and exercised every single day in addition to his regular physical therapy sessions. That fall, he made the varsity basketball team, becoming a key role player in a very successful season. He gained a control over his disability so that, although much more limited than before, he was able to show his skill and competitive fire. All this despite the load of scar tissue in his knee, a very limited range of motion, and pain in his back and other knee that resulted from the stress to his body. The fight never did end. Robert had two more surgeries on his knee and, even recently, was still going through therapy, still trying to gain an edge. But he played on.
After Bellevue High, Robert attended the University of Washington, where he majored in Economics and planned to minor in International Relations. He had a very deep understanding of business and chose to augment his natural instincts with classes in Economics, Industrial Engineering and Business Negotiations. In September 2005, Robert began a study abroad program in Alicante, Spain. He spent four months in Alicante, living with a host family, learning the language, and experiencing the culture firsthand. He was a junior, expected to graduate from UW in Spring 2007.
Robert’s interests were varied. From the time he was born, he had a soccer ball on his foot, and he came to love many other sports as well. He really enjoyed music – everything from jazz to hip hop. Visiting the Gorge each year for one – or several – Dave Matthews Band shows was always the highlight of the summer. Robert was also very interested in natural cures and medicines. In his short life, he had more IVs and took more antibiotics than anyone should in a lifetime. He knew they helped him, but he started to research natural medicines and therapies, long before it became a trend. In general, he loved business, reading up on business articles and even creating two business plans of his own. And he loved to cook. He was good at it. Learning from his father, Robert was an artist in the kitchen and on the barbeque.
But his greatest interest was people. In high school, Robert helped start the Link Crew program which welcomed new freshman in order to make public school life a little less anonymous. In college, he volunteered at Children's Hospital, assisting with care for young patients in physical therapy – giving back to a place where he spent many weeks. In all aspects of his life, from childhood to manhood, Robert shared his heart and extended himself to help others. His friends have shared stories of how he counseled them through challenging situations in their lives, and many letters have come from others describing how he offered kindness and help to people well outside of his immediate circle.
He had a distinct ability to connect with people of all ages. His young cousins (ages 6-11) considered him an older brother; he attended their sports games and spent his time at family gatherings teaching them card tricks and creating games for them. At the other end of the spectrum, Robert's great uncle John (age 75) considered him a friend and confidant. They ate meals together, watched Mariner games, and passed the time by making fun of each other. Robert also had a special connection with his grandmother, Oma (age 89). Since Oma moved to Bellevue 12 years ago from Brazil, she and Robert became close friends, sharing weekly meals and personal stories of overcoming great challenges. Many have reached out to share how Robert made a personal connection with them: his friends' parents, his physical therapists, employees at his gym, the people at his favorite restaurant (Casa D's). He treated everyone with respect and offered friendship very naturally.
Robert’s life was not easy. When he was young, he had to wear an eye patch and train his brain to overcome a lazy eye that was not functioning properly. It was not discovered for some time, setting him back in reading, which meant he had to put in extra time throughout his school career. When the staph infection robbed him of his natural athleticism, he fought through sweat and tears to play sports again. Yet despite these challenges, he never complained, never asked for sympathy. Throughout his life, he showed resiliency, pride, and an incredible work ethic.
On March 29, 2006, a service was held as a celebration of Robert’s life. Preparations were made for 450 people. 1200 came, with less than 2 days notice. The rabbi who led the memorial said he had not seen anything like it in his 30 years of service. In addition, cards have been sent from all ages and all over the world by those who could not attend. This is not because of what Robert did on the sports field; not because he was a Class President; not because of the jobs he worked at or the grades he got. Robert did all that and he did it well. This outpouring has been because of the way he shared love. Because he lived every day with the intensity and care that it deserved. Because he offered respect and friendship. And because he offered a slice of genuine humanity. Robert's gift to this world was his humanity, his love, and his compassion. He was a true blessing to all who knew him.