COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado--As the nation mourns the death of Police Officer Garrett Swasey, the figure skating community is grieving the loss of one of its own.
Swasey, who died in the line of duty Nov. 27, 2015, while responding to a live shooter at a Planned Parenthood office in Colorado Springs, was the 1992 U.S. junior ice dance champion, teaming with Christine Fowler-Binder to earn the title in just their second year together.
|Garrett Swasey and partner Christine Fowler-Binder won the 1992
U.S. junior ice dance championship.
"Garrett was selfless, always there to help me, always my wingman," Fowler-Binder said. "He was my brother and my partner. I could always count on him. This is just so tragic and senseless."
It was their partnership that brought Swasey, 44, to Colorado Springs in June 1991, where he became a fixture in the community and a University of Colorado-Colorado Springs police officer in 2009. Swasey, a husband, father of two and church elder, continued to skate and teach ice dance at Sertich Ice Center.
Doreen Denny, a World champion ice dancer and member of the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame, said Swasey taught ice dance at Sertich on his days off from police duty, which were Monday and Tuesday. He worked with one student, Marilyn Roe, for 16 years.
"We just had so much fun," Denny said. "We were two peas in a pod. I can't imagine what it's going to be like without him being out there with my ladies. Garrett was a great person."
Fowler-Binder learned Swasey had been killed late Friday via email from former PSA President Gerry Lane while she was in Baltimore for her brother's birthday. She and her family, who live in Irvine, California, were keeping up with the story on CNN.
"I just started crying as I read it," said Fowler-Binder, a former UCCS student. "My kids were sitting with me and my daughter said, "what's wrong?'"
Iraq War veteran Ke'Arre Stewart and Jennifer Markovsky, a mother of two, also were killed. Nine others, mostly law enforcement officers, were wounded during the five-hour ordeal. The suspect is being held in the El Paso County jail without bond.
Two-time Olympic medalist Nancy Kerrigan, Swasey's close childhood friend, was "devastated" after his father, David Swasey, called her with the tragic news hours before it was released to the public.
"It's so sad," Kerrigan told the Boston Herald. "He has two young kids and they run to him when he comes in the door."
Olympian Jerod Swallow, who trained with Swasey and Fowler in Colorado Springs under coach Sandra Hess, said he and his wife, Liz Punsalan Swallow, were shocked when they heard the news late Friday night at their home in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.
"We saw the picture of Garrett, read the name and then it took a second to register," Swallow said. "My heart just sunk when we realized it was him. I'm just sickened by this. My heart goes out to everyone, especially his wife and children.
"Garrett was a good friend. Liz and I were talking about him this morning and sharing memories. He was kind of the glue that held everyone together. Garrett was always the nicest, most supportive person you wanted to be in your training camp. He was always in a good mood and was always pulling for you to do your best."
The Early Years
Swasey started skating as a young boy growing up in Melrose, Massachusetts.
"His father was an integral part of his skating," said his mother, Sheila Swasey. "He was the real support."
In the early years, David Swasey drove his son and Kerrigan to the rink each morning in suburban Boston.
"We were together a lot as children," Kerrigan told the Boston Herald. "I would ride my bike to his house and we'd hang out at the pool. We were together all the time, whether skating or not.
"I called him 'Ugh'; he called me 'Yuck.' We were always teasing each other like a brother and sister."
During one U.S. Championships, Kerrigan remembers Swasey yelling out "Go, Yuck!" through the hushed crowd before she took her starting pose.
"I could feel the energy and excitement of him rooting for me," she said. "It made me laugh. Instead of listening to music, I found that humor helped. It was good for me and it helped push me to do better...I am very thankful for having him in my life."
But while Kerrigan pursued a career as a singles skater, Swasey trained as an ice dancer.
In 1990, Fowler-Binder and Swasey began their career together under coach Keith Lichtman, skating at the Boston College arena. While it was near Swasey's hometown, Fowler-Binder moved from Towson, Maryland, to form the team. In Boston, they became good friends with ice dancers Rachel Mayer and Peter Breen.
Looking for a change, Breen said he and Swasey tossed around the idea of moving to Colorado and training under Hess and with Gorsha Sur and Renee Roca, who together would become two-time U.S. ice dance champions. While Breen said the decisions were made independently, the four friends packed their bags in 1991 and moved to Colorado Springs. For two seasons, they trained under the shadow of Pikes Peak, mostly on the Air Force Academy's ice.
"Garrett was hilarious," Fowler-Binder said. "We would literally lean on each other during run-throughs, because you know altitude is not fun."
"It was a new adventure for all of us," Breen said from his home in Beverly Hills, Michigan. "It was great, having instant roommates and training buddies. Rachel and Christine lived together and Garrett and I were roommates. We became close. As time went on, the two of us remained lifelong friends."
The move from Boston to Colorado Springs certainly paid off. At the 1992 U.S. Championships in Orlando, Fowler-Binder won the U.S. junior ice dance title; Mayer and Breen earned silver medals at the senior level and were named to the U.S. Olympic Team.
Swasey was popular with other Broadmoor Skating Club athletes, largely due to his kind nature. Swallow recalled how Swasey and Breen frequently reached out to skaters who lived far away from their families.
"If it was someone's birthday or a holiday, Garrett would host an event," Swallow said. "He and Peter would host Christmas gatherings for all the kids out of town. You have to have a very welcoming personality to invite people into your home like that."
Fowler-Binder and Swasey remained close through the years. They attended each other's weddings, shared pictures of their children and texted often. They had lunch each year as she came to Colorado Springs for the Broadmoor Skating Club's Pikes Peak Classic. Last year, she had lunch with his parents (who moved to Colorado Springs in 2010), wife and children.
Looking back, Fowler-Binder said she was fortunate to have Swasey as her partner.
"I drove him crazy and made him work eight sessions instead of four," she said. "And the coaches loved him because he had tons of expression when he skated. Sandy adored working with him because of the character he showed on the ice.
"We were like brother and sister, but so different," she continued. "I drove the clean white car and he drove the dirty black car. We both went to school. Our parents were dear friends. We just couldn't have gotten along better. He put up with me and my talking.
"Garrett was always patient with me. We really loved each other."
Breen recalled how easy-going Swasey was even as a competitor. As intermediates, Breen's eventual partner, Mayer, skated with Swasey. After the 1986 season, Breen said Garrett wanted to focus on singles skating, so coach Lichtman paired Mayer with Breen. Garrett would return to ice dance, pairing with Fowler-Binder. Both Fowler-Binder and Mayer chose to retire in 1994, leaving both men again looking for partners.
"Garrett tried Kate Robinson, and Sandy looked at them and said to him, 'She's too tall for you. Peter, go skate with Kate...Now that's a better match!'
"Garrett looked at me and said, 'You stole my partner the first time and you did it again!'
"So, yeah, twice I kind of stole his partner."
Swasey teamed with Hillary Tompkins for the 1994-95 season, competing at the senior level.
Life After Competition
After his competitive career, Swasey stayed near the ice. He had coaching stints in Wisconsin and Colorado Springs, where he worked at the downtown Plaza of the Rockies and Chapel Hills Mall ice rinks, both defunct. Both rinks held a special place in his life.
Denny contacted him at Chapel Hills and asked him to coach with her at Sertich.
"He would double up and teach with me," she said. "And he would get a hue, a blush, if I complimented him. But he was very good at it. He was a great technician and would study it to help me with my older ladies [between the ages of 45 and 82]."
|Garrett Swasey is survived by his wife Rachel, son Elijah and
But it was the Plaza of the Rockies that changed Swasey's life story.
"He met his wife, Rachel, there," Denny said. "Garrett would be working there, doing the Zamboni. She went down there to skate and was with a group of friends. I guess he had said to the security guard, 'Oh she's cute!' And the security guard said, 'Want me to set you up with her?' I don't know if he did, but they met that day."
A Life Of Service
Looking back at the young man they knew, none of his training mates was surprised by Swasey's decision to become a police officer. Fowler-Binder was happy for his career choice.
"When he started working for the university, it was the perfect fit," Fowler-Binder said. "He loved it, giving back to so many people. He was a very righteous man. Don't get me wrong. Garrett was a free spirt but he always had a sense of right and wrong, so it didn't surprise me when he decided to become a police officer. We need more people like him protecting us each day."
"He was so engaged in what was happening around him," Swallow said. "I'm not surprised at all he chose to serve his community [as a police officer]. We knew Garrett as a musician and someone who really loved music. He was always playing an instrument, often the guitar. When Liz and I left Colorado Springs, we figured he'd go to music school, but this suited him."
"Garrett went into real estate for a brief time and then decided, 'I'm going to be a cop,' not that that surprised any of us," Breen said. "He was a give-the-shirt-off-his-back kind of guy. Anything day or night, he'd be there. For him to enter into police force is not a big stretch to imagine. Run into action? Of course he would. He was that kind of guy. He never thought twice. If someone needed help, he was there."
Denny, who met Swasey well after his competitive years, said he was a proud police officer.
"I just saw him Tuesday. He was just as happy as a lark and liked what he did," Denny said. "He had his badge even when he wasn't working. He always thought of other people than himself. He was like a son. Such a wonderful person."
In the hours since Swasey's death, Fowler-Binder says she has been comforted by the support received from the greater figure skating community.
"From Michael Weiss, Renee Roca, Peter Breen, Damon Allen...it means the world to me that they are calling and we can share memoires," she said. "I hope the Swaseys know how much everyone adored him."
Fowler-Binder plans to travel to Colorado Springs for Swasey's services, which have not been announced.
Garrett Swasey is survived by his wife, Rachel; 11-year-old son, Elijah; and 6-year-old daughter, Faith. Elijah's birthday was Sunday, Nov. 29.
To read U.S. Figure Skating President Sam Auxier's statement regarding Officer Garrett Swasey, click here.
Donations are being accepted for the families of the three shooting victims who died Friday in Colorado Springs.
Officer Garrett Swasey. Click here to donate.
Ke'Arre Stewart. Click here to donate.
Jennifer Markovsky. Click here to donate.