Sadly, our friend Leah Delancey Chang passed suddenly from a very aggressive cancer. Her husband and sister held a bittersweet memorial a couple of weeks ago that brought together over 100 people who knew and loved Leah. I was asked to share a few words. For those who couldn’t be there, I thought I would share them, again, here.
The picture above was taken in Interlaken, Switzerland. (left to right, Ann Parsons, Dan Parsons, Leah Delancey Chang, Kenny Chang, Jamie Dulick, Annette Stalker, Jim Stalker).
Background – How we connected.
Way back when, I was fit, and for over a decade, daily, I raced from gym to gym in Southern California, engaging in that most peculiar group exercise activity, high-impact aerobics.
Today high-impact aerobics is essentially a forgotten footnote to the broader story of the 80’s fitness boom – that’s still going on – quite successfully, I might add.
But, make no mistake – in its day, the high-impact class was where it was happening in the fitness revolution. Ground zero. Inside the new mega-clubs minted in Southern CA and beyond were dance exercise rooms. These rooms were the shrine for this recent group exercise phenomenon whose great sound systems and springy floors had people lining up to have a go at challenging choreography created by charismatic instructors (like me). It was the most fun anyone had ever experienced exercising before or since, and people became addicted. They were taking class after class, day after day. It became part of many folks’ daily routine.
But there was a dark side. Along with forming pre-Facebook social connections, the classroom mercilessly established a Darwinian pecking order where people could position themselves in the exercise room. Take somebody’s “spot” – and a rumble could bust out. Don’t laugh; I’ve seen it happen.
Leah Delancey was one of those who came to my class and found her spot. Leah quickly established herself as THE person in the front of the room. Yeah, she was one of THOSE. And then, she started coming to all my classes. Within a short time, leveraging her unbeknownst to everyone else in the class, and her experience as captain of the color guard for UCLA, Leah became the undisputed top banana in class. If you couldn’t see the instructor, people would look to Leah’s flawless execution of spins, kicks, turns, and the infamous single-single double to follow along.
And did I say Leah was serious? Remember, she was a USC Law School grad. Don’t “F” with Leah (or her space), or you risk being stared down as she out-aerobicized your sorry ass.
Leah’s influence on me and others.
Soon, she had her sister, Ann, coming to class. Ann wisely stayed in the back, leaving Leah’s real estate intact. Soon, I met my wife in class. Leah met her husband, Ken, through my class. Ann was already married to Dan. Then somehow, we all became friends. Weekends hanging out. We would rotate parties between our starter houses as we bought them in the South Bay. We all took a vacation to Switzerland. Then came the kids.
When our kid came, we moved away to god-awful Granite Bay. I tried to keep the aerobic thing going, but it wasn’t the same teaching in Granite Bay. After all, there was no Leah in the front row.
So, in short order, I hung up my dance belt… for good. No more high-impact classes for me. No more magic. That became a memory.
But, in the South Bay with Leah, there was still magic. Leah had picked up aerobics where I left off and continued teaching classes to the true believers of high impact. Leah took it all further with richer choreography, trickier moves, and longer routines. She taught over a thousand classes to hundreds of people who were all in need of an exercise fix. Many of those people are here today at this memorial.
You are here, I suspect because when someone is at their best with something they are genuinely passionate about, the impression they create is often unforgettable. You’ve all been touched in some way by Leah.
And I can tell you; it is a fantastic gift to be able to touch people with a passion for exercise as it gives back tenfold (or more) to the giver. That’s why those who do it, keep doing it. That’s why Leah did it. Plus, it was just plain fun.
I share this not so we can create a metaphysical scorecard that makes this horrible and unjust passing OK. It’s not OK.
But I share this because I want us to remember Leah for what she was, passionate. As an introvert, this wasn’t always apparent, even to those who knew her. How many of you knew that she had a wicked sense of humor?
Then, isn’t that one of those great mysteries of life? Who are we, anyway?
I know that Leah was passionate about her kids, Matt and Anya, her husband Kenny, her parents, Chuck and Janet, her pit bulls, and her dear sister Ann. For them, the loss we reflect on today will be immeasurable.
But as a friend told me, when we think of those who have gone too soon, we want to think of them, always, at their best. Hold that vision. Let it wash over all the other ones.
So for me, I’ll never forget Leah, in the front row, confident, throwin’ down to all the posers who tried to take her mantle – with a “good luck chump” vibe that was hard to ignore. Leah was also raising the bar for me and everyone else in any classroom she was in.
Leah, rest in peace. The rest of us. Keep moving.