LAUREL — The last few years have been some of the longest of Leif Torgerson’s life.
“He was always with her, every day, all the time," said Leif's grandson Colby Martinez. "He couldn’t leave her.”
“She lived in assisted living in Great Falls, so he never wanted to be more than ear shot away," echoed Leif's daughter Lorie Martinez.
Leif’s wife Sheila got sick before Colby started high school, so the grandparents were never able to see Colby compete in person.
“We’d send lots of video and pictures and see them when we weren’t in the busy sports season," Lorie said, "but it’s been extremely hard on all of us not being able to have my mom and dad here.”
Sheila passed away April 14. As hard as the previous years were, these last six weeks have been even tougher for Lorie. A necklace she wears reads, 'My mother taught me everything, just not how to live without her.'
But family has always helped this group get through the toughest things in life, so Leif decided it was time to see his. That just so happened to coincide with the Class B state track and field meet in Laurel last week.
“The fact that everything allowed me to come down and spend it with my daughter and grandson is very, very important to me," Leif said.
“When he told us he’d be able to make it -- this is the first trip he’s had in at least four years -- it meant everything to all of us," Lorie added.
“I thought, ‘I have to do it for him,'" Colby said before Leif's visit. "That gave me extra motivation.”
Colby had five events on his weekend schedule, but his focus all season had been on long jump, much to his mom’s dismay.
“My mom said, ‘You can’t do it. I don’t want you to get hurt,'" Colby said. "And I was like, ‘I’m doing it this year if you like it or not.'"
“He’s had troubling knee problems for a long time, and the first week of track practice, he’s over at the long jump pit, and I’m like, ‘You’re not jumping,'" Lorie said. "He says, ‘I am jumping.’ We had a discussion about it and I lost. Now I’m glad he didn’t listen to me for once.”
Colby clearly had a natural talent for it, coming into state with the fourth-best mark in Class B. But on his final jump of the season -- with Grandpa looking on -- something gave him a little more.
“Usually I don’t hit the board," Colby admitted. "My marks are always bad -- I’m usually like a foot behind -- so I knew once I hit the board, ‘Oh, this is good.’”
It was -- a personal record 21 feet, 4 inches to put Colby into the lead. But there were still two jumpers left.
“That was brutal. I had major anxiety," Lorie said. "Before he did his jump, I said a prayer and felt my mom was with him. I truly think she helped him pull it off.”
Neither of the final two jumpers could catch Colby. When he realized he’d won, he did his best high jump audition, almost scaling the fence to celebrate with the ones he loves most.
“Big emotions for me too," Leif said afterward, "because I could see how much it meant to Colby. He performed so well.”
“We were able to have a good friend of ours take pictures of it all, and when I saw the picture last night I started bawling all over again," said Lorie.
Colby’s jump was the culmination of months of hard work, of the melding of all that natural talent and proper technique. But was it also something else?
“We were talking about that last night at the house with everyone," Colby said. "What are the odds that would happen when (Grandpa) was here? All of us said, ‘Exactly.’ It was a great feeling to have him there for it.”
“It’s been such a tough year, with COVID and my mom," Lorie said, "and for him to have that moment, it's just a moment none of us will forget.”