Hickman of Flossmoor is remembered with the success of Race to Mackinac

My circle in elementary school was small and decidedly unpopular.

Yet over the past decade and a half, as the age of social media began to spread and infect almost every aspect of life, I became “friends” on the internet with many of these acquaintances. from over 40 years ago.

A few old friendships were rekindled by new familiarity, and a few were left friendless after I learned what kind of people they had become.

But a guy who lives in my earliest memories mostly through eight years of awkward class photos at Flossmoor had become someone I wanted to get to know better, even if I didn’t really have an excuse for that to happen. Direct messages to someone you barely knew as a kid are more awkward than those old class photos.

Finally, as the famous Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac wrapped up last weekend, I had my excuse to learn more about Brad Hickman. But by then, it was too late to become his true friend.

A founding crew member of the sailing team of the cruiser Mise En Place based at Chicago’s Jackson Park Yacht Club, Bradford, as he was known as an adult, had competed in 10 Mackinac races. He acquired his own boat and recently took a trip from Chicago on the Mississippi River to New Orleans, updating his progress with video posts that sparked my interest in his social media feed. Here’s an interesting guy doing interesting things.

Then, a few weeks later, in January, I learned through the same channel that he had passed away because of distressed messages from friends who loved him. The angst gradually turned to tributes and eventually silence, until last week when Bradford was tagged in a post by Robert Davis, who was offering the ‘angel share’ to his friend at a bar on the island Mackinac.

Davis, an award-winning social studies teacher at George Westinghouse College Prep High School in Chicago, had sailed with Bradford on Mise En Place in the Mackinac race nine years ago, finishing fourth in his class – and then on the podium. Bradford stayed with the team, but Davis moved on to other crews, but the two remained friends.

As the first Mackinac race since his friend’s death approached, Davis asked to join Team Mise En Place for another trip up Lake Michigan, and they accepted.

“From day one, doing the Mackinac for me was about honoring Bradford,” Davis said. He had helped Bradford learn the ropes of sailing years ago, and this year’s trip would be “the perfect connection.” For both of us.

Their connection wasn’t just through sailing, though that’s how they met 15 years ago when Davis needed help getting a boat from Florida and Bradford, a friend of his. cousin, offered to help him despite the fact that he was a novice.

An accomplished interior designer who had also established an art gallery in Homewood where he imported and exported pieces internationally, Bradford helped Davis with a home improvement project, which began as a business deal and grew. ended in a stronger friendship.

On the boat, Bradford “took on one of the toughest jobs – working on the foredeck,” Davis said. “That’s where the sail changes take place and also where people get the wettest. He took on a huge challenge, but he enjoyed it.

Year after year, Bradford returned to help the crew of Mise En Place as they attempted to return to the podium on Mackinac Island some 300 miles after leaving Chicago.

“When you talk about sailboat racing, it doesn’t get bigger than that,” Davis said, adding that it takes a big commitment. One year he was on a boat for 96 hours trying to finish, even though his fastest runs were around halfway. He had not sailed the Mackinac for six years.

“It’s a grueling race,” he said. “I enjoyed a different kind of racing – where I was back home the same night.”

Davis hadn’t raced in the same crew as Bradford since that 2013 race, and with his friend’s death leaving an opening in the team, he felt the time was right to come back for another shot.

As the race began, stormy weather threatened to make Lake Michigan an unpleasant place to ride. But Davis feels like his friend was with the team in spirit.

“I clearly remember being surrounded by thunderclouds, rain and lightning on Friday, and there was this little hole in the clouds where the sun was shining perfectly and stayed there for about a year. hour,” he said. “We were all like, ‘This is Bradford watching us in the storm and making sure we’re okay.'”

The routing strategy employed by the crew of Mise En Place has paid off, and the boat is enjoying the winds of the storm, while staying ahead of the worst of the rain and chop. They were having a good time – so good, in fact, that they would have a chance to return to the Mackinac podium for the first time since 2013. They doubled down to win, skipping scheduled rest times and meals .

But when they reached green buoy No. 3, the only beacon in the race where boats must turn, they paused for a moment to honor their friend, paying one for the founding team member who didn’t couldn’t get on board this time.

About 25 miles later, Mise En Place made it to the finish line in third place in the cruiser division with an “incredibly fast” time, Davis said, of about 47 hours, good enough to ride again. the winner’s podium.

Then Davis “went to the first bar we were going to when we got off the boat and ordered two drinks.

“The bartender thought I was ordering for the girl sitting next to me. I was like, ‘No. It’s for my friend – he’s there, but he’s not there,” Davis said.

It was the “angels share” he posted about, tagging Bradford and getting my attention. “It was my last drink with my friend,” he said. “I left and the drink was still there.”

For Davis, it was part of the grieving process, and he saw others during the Mackinac race who were still in the initial stages. Bradford’s death hit many people hard.

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“His personality, his friendship — he never changed who he was,” Davis said. “He was always happy and lucky Bradford.

“When he died, the reason we were so hurt was because Bradford was the one who lived the life we ​​wish we had been daring enough to live. … He was doing the things he loved. That’s what we all want to do, and we all want to live through (him). This is one of the most important things that we will miss.

This legacy of adventure continues through the Jackson Park Yacht Club’s Bradford Hickman Sailing Program Fund, a scholarship program for adults learning to sail.

“We are all so grateful to have witnessed and participated in Bradford’s life. A life lived to the full. His boundless strength, optimism and determination will live on,” his family said in a note to the site. Club website announcing the fund.

I’m not a big fan of social media these days, but it opened a little window into the man my grade school associate had become. And for that, I am also grateful.

Good luck, Brad.

Landmarks is a weekly column by Paul Eisenberg exploring the people, places and things that have left an indelible mark on Southland. He can be reached at [email protected].

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