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Finding the sun behind the clouds: Harry, Chris and Dawn show us the way in troubled times

POSTED May 13, 2020
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson

                The baseball field sits green and pristine, lonely elegance like the stood-up prom date. The track is empty except for a steady stream of weight-conscious warriors or those just looking for something to eat up the endless hours. The tennis courts sit there playing host to a consistent wind and nothing else.

                There is no competition, no camaraderie. No sprint times, service aces, base hits. No uniforms to test the washer’s patience.  No fans to tease the official’s tolerance.  No wins, no losses, no smiles, no smaller picture tears, those having been reserved for the bigger picture.  No titles, no All-Stars.

                There is nothing. It is the lost season, never to be found.  Many will find another season. Many, the seniors, will soldier on into the future, the best part of their final scholastic dance academically, socially and athletically swiped from them by a thief in the night. Here today, all gone forever tomorrow.

                We who came before had our seasons. Maybe they were beyond our wildest dreams. Maybe they didn’t live up to expectations. But we had our time, we got to finish. We went to our proms and on our senior trips. We had our banquets and awards nights. We took our exams and walked across the stage for our diplomas.  Our transition to a new world included good-byes with plenty of emotion but less chaos. We didn’t always know where we were going but we knew where we had been.

                The Class of 2020 also carries with it the uncertainty of tomorrow but must mix what has been with a touch of what could have been.  It is all painful and while life will throw more unexpected and unpleasant curve balls down the road that will screw most people into the ground on a scale much grander, the very real sense of loss cannot be underrated or dismissed.  The impact is heavy with a wide scope that includes family, schools, fans and beyond.

                The good news is that there is much resiliency in our nature. We move forward because there is no other option. But there is a hope and strength along with smiles to be found in the examples of others.

                Harry Zabel is in his late-60s now, a Thomaston High graduate and a proud product of the 1960s with passion for fine music and a never-ending optimism that life continually challenges and in this case continually loses. He has withstood some devastating haymakers in recent years that would put George Foreman’s right cross to shame.

                First Harry lost his wife Nancy, that he lovingly referred to as the `Red Jet’ to cancer.  High school sweethearts - Samson and Delilah, Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra – had nothing on Harry and Nancy. They waltzed through life together as one never needing to be told to stop and smell the roses. They were each other’s rose.  No night goes by without Harry saying good-night to the love of his life. Passionate loneliness. Never were two more one.

                A short time after Nancy died, Harry’s house in California burned down taking so many tangible memories with it, never to be recovered. The intangible although always alive was scarred. This was where Harry and Nancy danced their dance of life.

                But Harry has always refused to give in. He perseveres on, still finding joy and optimism in a world that seemingly was spinning out of control. Money was raised, he now lives in Nevada in a sparkling new pad and he keeps on keeping’ on.

                Harry posted this May 11.

                “Everything comes together when you make your mind up to make it that way. I’m working on it. It’s a good life. I want this for everyone. I’ll be working on it. Grasp the value of life and the love for all. Cast away the stones. Enjoy the fertile life we can all share. Get together.”

                There is no better soul than Harry. He’s lost a wife and a home. But, you can’t knock him down. He can’t ignore the clouds but he always finds the sun.

                Torrington High’s Chris Samele  (15) and Dawn Storrs (16) were a couple of kids winging their way to do a little Christmas shopping  with some friends after getting out of school early Dec. 23, 1988. Chris was a basketball star on the rise and Dawn a passionate dancer and cheerleader and there was a game on tap that night.

                They never got to Waterbury, one of their friends, Shawn Collins never got to tomorrow. The car hit a patch of ice in Thomaston, halfway between Torrington and Waterbury and careened out of control and crashed into a guard rail.

                Three passengers were sucked out of the blown out back window.  About 50 feet ahead of the car, Shawn Collins lay dead. Samele about 25 feet away from Collins was conscious, looking at the lower part of his left leg which had been severed and was about 20 feet away.

                Storrs had landed on the guard rail, her right leg nearly severed hanging by piece of muscle tissue. 

                Samele would undergo five operations in seven days and remain in the hospital for 25 days . He left the hospital weighing 95 pounds, 40 pounds less than when he entered.  Doctors at St. Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury spent nine hours trying to save Storrs’ leg.  They were successful but told her it would be six months before it was known if she could keep her right leg. She would wear braces and go through rigorous therapy for two years.

                There is much more to the story of Chris Samele and Dawn Storrs. But know this. Samele would get a prosthetic device for his leg. On December 15, 1989, eight days shy of a year since the accident, Samele stepped back on the basketball court at New Milford High School and in an emotion-laden atmosphere scored 11 points. I was there, tears sharing that night with the pen.

                Samele would continue to play basketball and scored 17 points against Sacred Heart in one of his final games. He had a fine tennis career and earned the Naugatuck Valley League Most Valuable Player Award his senior year.

                Dawn Storrs went on to become a highly talented dancer in competitions and go on to become a dance teacher.  

                 Chris Samele and Dawn Storrs have unimaginable scars. They saw a friend die, they saw their bodies ravaged, they saw their futures altered. Like Harry they live with the pain every day. But they found out there is a tomorrow, they also found the sun.

                We learn lessons from people like Harry Zabel, Chris Samele and Dawn Storrs. We are inspired. We find out that it will get better, that the struggle is worth it. Seniors, it will get better. There are smiles to be had and good times to be found. Go find them and good luck.   

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