High school friend says Manyang was a teddy bear
The defining feature of Ater Manyang was his smile. Ask anyone who knew him; it’s probably one of the first things listed when they’re asked to describe him.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Ater Manyang died on March 18 at Community Addiction Recovery Enterprise in St. Peter. Manyang set the school career scoring record in boys basketball before graduating in 2012 from Rochester Century High School. Authorities confirmed it was a suicide.
The defining feature of Ater Manyang was his smile. Ask anyone who knew him; it's probably one of the first things listed when they're asked to describe him.
Through that smile, he exuded a type of positivity that you couldn't help but want to be around. And once you were around him, he would more than likely envelop you in one of his trademark bear hugs.
He was, in effect, a Sudanese teddy bear with hands that would surely dwarf yours. Ater elevated everyone around him because his energy was so infectious.
Gives you warm feelings just reading it, doesn't it? I know it does for me.
He fit in with everyone. It didn't matter the grade or age, high school social hierarchy be damned. Countless nights were spent gathered in a friend's basement goofing off and watching sports.
His head sometimes rested on my shoulder as we sat on the couch talking about whatever high school kids talk about. I can still hear his great belly laugh, a lot of times in response to a joke that wasn't even funny.
I'll always cherish those memories.
Then I graduated, leaving him to dominate Rochester sports like I knew he would. And he did. The record board at Century will long bear his name.
Then, one day, I heard word that he'd stumbled. His basketball career had taken a direction nobody had expected, especially Ater. And, like any stumble in life a person goes through, what lay ahead was difficult to predict.
Every athlete knows the struggle with self-identity when it comes time to hang up that jersey once and for all. Years are spent pouring love into a game that suddenly isn't there anymore.
For those who enjoy a particularly high level of success in their sport, the potential emotional comedown is even greater. A titan made mortal overnight.
Some are able to bounce back from that loss, diverting passion elsewhere. Some aren't.
When the news of Ater's passing broke, I, like everyone who knew him, was shell-shocked. I still have difficulty grasping the fact that I'll never see that smile again.
We were left with a crater-sized hole in our chests, pondering the question: What could I have done? That question will probably never be answered, which is hard to grapple with in the throes of grief.
The halls that he passed through will now feel sadder. The world now feels a little darker. But Ater wouldn't have wanted that. He would've wanted us to hug each other the way he hugged us.
So, as we as a collective whole begin the healing process, remember this: remember the way Ater made you feel, the way he made you laugh, the way he made you smile.
Carry that energy with you wherever you go, because you never know when you'll run into someone who needs it. That way, he will never truly be gone. He'll be with us in the laughs we share.
And if you didn't know Ater, I really wish you'd had the opportunity. He was the man.