Times’ outdoors writer Terry Tomalin was bigger than all outdoors

in Sports/Top Headlines by

“Have you ever eaten squirrel?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said. “I’ve eaten squirrel.”

Terry Tomalin, survivalist, looked at me oddly. He wasn’t expecting to find someone who shared his taste for varmint. He reassessed things, and then he tried again.

“Have you ever eaten rabbit?”

I grinned. My father was a poor man in the South who hunted. Of course, I said, I had eaten rabbit.

He sat up a little straighter. And the contest was on. “You ever eaten turtle? Goat? Quail?”

Finally, he looked at me the way one gunslinger looks at another. His eyes narrowed.

“You ever eaten a grub?”

I laughed. No, I surrendered. I’ve never eaten a grub.

He flexed his shoulder in triumph. “I’ve eaten a grub,” he said.

He started to walk away. “Terry,” I said. “What does a grub taste like?”

“It’s bitter,” he said. “Chalky.”

“Then why,” I asked, “would you ever eat one?”

The why of it never mattered to Terry. It was about survival. It was the challenge of the wild. It was swimming with sharks or wading with rays or climbing the sky-high bridge in Sydney, Australia. You know the phrase “bigger than all outdoors?” To most of us, Terry was.

I always thought he must have been voted most likely to hunt bear with a wooden stake. I always thought Terry not only covered the outdoors; he brought it to its knees.

For years, Terry covered the Olympics with me. I would cover the competition, and he would cover the rest of the world. It was never too big for him.

For the last couple of years we were both with the Times, his office was next to mine. Our wives worked with each other. My daughter was in his wedding when he married Kanika, who always had a nice bond with her. Not long ago, we talked of her. For years, his family lived a few blocks away from mine.

Because of all of it, because of all the days we worked together, this hit his friends hard. None of us would have suspected Terry’s health would betray him. Terry, we were all sure, would be here when the rest of us were dust.

To Terry, the outdoors were a theme park, and the newspaper was his way of taking you along. He was a sportswriter, but the stadiums he visited were made of water and trees and rough terrain and everything else that constitutes being an outdoorsman in Florida. To him, a week at work was like a game of Survivor.

But the most impressive thing, and you will hear this from everyone, is the basic decency of the guy. I never saw Terry angry at anyone. I never saw him have a bad day at work.

He was impervious to pain. He would go to work days after knee surgery. Pain was a state of mind, he would say.

It’s an odd thing. When a friend dies, you are left with memories. They flood past you like a photo album, making you feel his smile, maybe you regret his passing. You feel for his family, for his wife and children.

He was a good guy. He was a good co-worker. He was a good friend.

And he left the rest of us much, much too soon.

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.