R.I.P. Mike Whitmarsh

Mike Whitmarsh was funny and self-deprecating and among the most talented and most appealing athletes I've covered in the last 30 years.

He was ridiculously gifted, a great-looking guy who had women draped all over him, a multi-sport athlete who had the world at his feet.

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I got to know him during the U.S. trials that preceded the first beach volleyball competition in the Olympics. The trials were in Baltimore's Inner Harbor in 1996, leading up to the Atlanta Olympics where Whitmarsh and teammate Mike Dodd would win the silver medal.

In beach volleyball, the athletes are from California except where noted, as they like to say. Whitmarsh and Dodd were the classics. Both had been basketball players at San Diego State (Dodd's shooting guard was Tony Gwynn), and Whitmarsh had been drafted by the Trail Blazers (they kept Jerome Kersey instead) and he played three years in Germany. He came back, got a tryout with the Timberwolves and swapped collisions with the big boys before becoming Minnesota's last  cut. He treasured a picture of himself defending Magic Johnson in the paint during that exhibition season.

Whitmarsh, all 6-foot-7 of him, drifted quite naturally into beach volleyball and he was a star for more than a decade. He slammed over the top while Dodd dug the ball out of the sand and the two of them were a spectacular team for quite a while.

I can't say I really knew Whitmarsh, but I can say that I envied him. He appeared to have it all, and that's a good reminder right now that we never really know.

Whitmarsh, at 46, committed suicide this week, inhaling carbon monoxide in the garage of a friend. He left behind a wife and two daughters.

It would be too easy to say that Whitmarsh, who retired five years ago from the professional volleyball tour, couldn't adjust to the second act of his life. Maybe it is far more complicated than that. Maybe not.

But Mike Whitmarsh, one of the greatest U.S. athletes of the last 20 years -- even if you never heard of him -- is dead by his own hands. That makes no sense.

Figuring that someone up there at the podium, someone who looks like they have it all, and is definitely happier in his or her life... that makes no sense, either.

Because you can't know. The most talented and most appealing among us can end up in a garage with an exhaust pipe. Explain that. I can't.

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