Adam Havrilak usually had a golf club in his hand, swinging it as he walked from room to room, launching imaginary drives that flew straight and true off the tee and landed far down the fairway, perfectly set up for a shot at the green.

He lived life that way, too.

A big, sunny kid with golden locks, a great grin and a passion for adventure that had taken him to Hawaii and China by the time he was 21, Adam attacked life like someone always thinking about the next shot, and having the confidence that it would be another good one. So his death last month, in a traffic accident in China where he was teaching English, learning Chinese and narrating travel videos, exploded through the lives of his family and friends in Minnesota.

It just couldn't be true.

Adam's mom, Beverly Egeland of Hopkins, had just received her visa to visit her son in China when she got word that Adam's motor scooter had crashed into a truck in Haikou City, the capital of China's island province of Hainan. The news wasn't good: Adam had a broken neck and was on a respirator. But the reality turned out to be worse: Adam was on life support and wasn't going to make it. The accident happened Jan. 10. Four days later, with Adam surrounded by Chinese doctors and his father, Bob, at his bedside and his mother and sisters, Emily and Barbra, listening and crying on the phone from Minnesota, Adam was taken off life support, and was gone.

It still doesn't seem right.

Adam would've graduated from Hopkins High in 2004, but he got an itch to get going on life. He quit school his senior year, passed his GED, grabbed his golf clubs, flew to Hawaii and never looked back.

He plunged into life in Honolulu, enrolling at the University of Hawaii, working on his golf game until he was just a stroke or two from becoming a pretty good scratch golfer. Then, he took up the triathlon.

Like everything else he did, Adam threw himself into the sport, working out in the gym at a frantic pace. He won his first triathlon. After that, he competed as an elite athlete. In 2007, he was the youngest finisher among the top 25 in the Lavaman Triathlon, a sport where athletes don't reach their peak until the late 20s. He was just 21.

'Life more fun for everyone'

One of his training partners, Ben Collins, recalled meeting Adam for a 4:30 a.m. run up a long, steep mountain grade at Diamond Head. "How many times we running up?" Adam asked, making Collins laugh.

"Adam was one of the most inspiring people I have known," Collins wrote in a tribute on his blog. "Hanging out with Adam was like acting in an Improv group. You never knew what was coming next, but you would expect it to make you smile. There was not an ounce of shyness in Adam's blood. He could make a conversation in a room of strangers, or make a silent crowd clutch their stomachs from laughter. There was a twinkle of adventure in his eyes, and it made life more fun for everyone around him."

His mother agrees, recalling the time young Adam and his dad went shopping for a Mother's Day present. Squirming at dinner the night before, Adam couldn't keep the secret: "It's diamond earrings, Mom!"

Adam fell in love with Asian culture in Hawaii. He went to Shanghai to teach English and study Chinese. He was a quick study, tackling Chinese with the abandon he had used to master golf and the triathlon.

Soon, he had a job making travel videos about China for a Chinese TV audience, narrating 20-minute films about a country he had come to love.

He had begun dating a Chinese woman; he told his mother she was beautiful. Adam was having the time of his life. And then it was over.

"I don't believe he is dead," says his grieving mom. "He was so full of life, I can't believe his life is gone. I think he's in a spirit world, and has just taken on a different form. I feel he was needed somewhere. I can feel it in my heart. I just can't get it out in words. Adam was the prince. He was just bursting with a love for life. He showed kindness to everyone and was open to everyone. I loved him as much as a mother can love."

Adam was cremated, with his remains divided in three -- a third for his beloved China, a third for Hawaii and a third for Minnesota. Last Tuesday -- his 23rd birthday -- there was a happy celebration of his life at the Hopkins Center for the Arts.

Almost 400 people came. There was chow mein and Chinese tea for everyone.

"Everywhere he went, people brought him home with them," Beverly says of her beguiling son. "He made a difference in people's lives."

You might live to 93, but no one will ever say anything better about you than that. • 612-673-4400