Chris Snow walked into the Star Tribune newsroom for his first day of work on his 22nd birthday. He was right out of college, this being his first full-time job, and he was hired to cover the Wild and professional hockey in a state that adores the sport.
If one didn't know Chris, this looked like a gamble.
Chris died at age 42 on Saturday, more than four years after being told he had only one year to live after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). An aggressive form of ALS also claimed the lives of Chris' dad and several of his male relatives.
I knew after the day I met him he was special.
I was passing the baton to him on the Wild beat in 2003. I had covered the team as the beat writer that memorable 2002-03 season, but I was merely a stopgap until the paper could find a true hockey writer while I moved on to cover football.
Chris' first day was Aug. 11. It was a typical start to a first day. Introductions, a newsroom tour, a session with IT, some HR paperwork.
Then news broke in the afternoon: Legendary hockey coach Herb Brooks had died in a car accident.
Chris didn't flinch. He asked to help, even though he had been a Star Tribune employee for only a few hours and didn't even know how to access the computer system yet.
Editors assigned the two of us a reaction story talking to members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team that Brooks coached.
I was frantic. Then I looked over the partition separating our cubicles and Chris was on the phone with Mike Eruzione.
He worked the phones all afternoon, talking to as many "Miracle on Ice" players as we could reach. We had our interviews transcribed and notes combined and were ready to start writing the story. Then I got a phone call from my wife.
She told me our son had an allergic reaction at dinner. Being oblivious to food allergies and the seriousness of anaphylaxis, I didn't really comprehend the situation until she said, "And the paramedics are going to take him to the hospital just to make sure he's OK."
At which point, I stood up, looked across the partition and said, "Chris, I hate to do this to you, but I have to leave."
He was 22. First day on the job. A major news story breaks and now he is tasked with writing a story on deadline without even knowing how to log into the computer system.
"I remember not being concerned because his level of confidence was so high," recalled Mark Wollemann, Chris' direct editor at the time. "I didn't sense that there was anything that was going to rattle him at all."
Chris wrote the story on his personal laptop that he had brought with him. He finished well before deadline. Wollemann took him to a bar a few blocks away for a beer after leaving the newsroom together.
"I remember thinking, I hope he's old enough to have a beer," Wollemann said with a chuckle. "I can't imagine another first day of work that was as monumental as that one."
Chris handled it with poise and grace, just as he did everything in his life.
Chris and his wife Kelsie, herself a former Star Tribune and Pioneer Press sportswriter, shared his health battle with the public over the years, earning a legion of admirers for the strength, courage, love and hope that the family exhibited through terribly dark days.
An experimental drug helped prolong his life, but I believe steadfastly Chris outlived the doctors' prognosis because of his unwavering positivity. He found optimism in everything, always with a smile.
Goodness, that smile of his. It was so perfect that he could have been a smile model.
Strangers who only knew Chris from Kelsie's social media posts and podcast loved him because of how he handled that dreadful disease slowly causing his body to deteriorate. He faced it with an abundance of dignity and resolve.
I am one of the lucky people who got to call him a friend. And because of that I feel truly blessed but also heartbroken for his wife and two young kids, Cohen and Willa.
Chris spent Thanksgiving with me at my in-laws that first year in Minnesota and accompanied me when I drove to Madison to cover a Gophers-Badgers football game. He always made me laugh. And I admired how supremely gifted he was as a sportswriter. The job came naturally to him, though he worked ridiculously hard to be great at it.
Chris knew how to build sources without being pushy. He understood and wrote about analytics well before it became popular in sportswriting. And he could write with the best.
He was so talented and smart and inquisitive and had such a magnetic personality that former Wild General Manager Doug Risebrough offered him a job after watching Chris operate as a beat writer.
As Chris was leaving the Star Tribune to become the Red Sox beat writer for the Boston Globe — his dream job — Risebrough told him that he should consider a career in sports management if he ever decided to pursue something outside journalism.
"Two years later, he calls me and says, 'Do you have anything for me?'" Risebrough recalled in a conversation from Canada the other day.
Risebrough told him no initially, but thought about it more. He called Chris back and offered him a job doing special projects. "It was really good for me because he was stimulating," Risebrough said. "He would come in every day with a new idea."
Risebrough leaned on Chris' expertise in analytics and turned to Chris to solve problems of any kind. Chris would tackle them, with a smile, of course.
"He would deliver bad news with a smile," Risebrough said. "I started to realize, is this a tactic? Nah, that was just Chris. That's the way he was."
Chris' death will bring many tributes because he made the world better. Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder shared a message and song honoring Chris and his family during a concert over the weekend. The Snows raised awareness and money for ALS research. Kelsie's love and strength as his caregiver have been inspiring. Chris was an organ donor and Kelsie shared that her husband's final act was to donate his kidneys, liver and lungs.
I'll miss our text messages about our kids and his playful jabs about how old I'm getting. Chris' first day at the Star Tribune is a memory that will never fade. We shared a byline on a story in the paper the next morning. It was an honor.