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A year after his death, South Whidbey's Coach Carl Westling continues to travel the world
BAYVIEW — Carl Westling died, but the globetrotter in him never did.
In the final few months of his life, the former South Whidbey High School teacher and track coach had some ideas about his future.
He always loved traveling and wanted to experience more of the world view lost to him through a series of debilitating strokes he’d suffered over the past 10 years.
Though bedridden, Westling enjoyed recalling trips he’d taken with his wife, Pat. An inveterate traveler, he and Pat would take off for adventures whenever they could, including attending three Olympics in Los Angeles, Barcelona and Atlanta.
They decided together that there was no reason that, in spirit at least, his adventures on the road couldn’t continue. So after his death at age 65 on July 30 last year, Westling was cremated, and Pat invited friends to carry his ashes in small green pill bottles to the four corners of the world.
“Hey, I won’t even have to pay for an airline ticket,” he told Pat.
Since his passing, he has indeed traveled the globe.
He’s been on an African safari, traveled the Nile in Egypt, visited the forests of Germany, breezed along Italy’s Amalfi Coast, hiked the Arizona desert, climbed high up Mount St. Helens, trudged the snows of Alaska and managed to find his way to Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America.
And while traveling in Brenda Dawson’s backpack, he even ran a marathon in Athens, Greece.
“When someone is headed out on a journey, Carl wants to be there, too,” Pat noted.
From 1970 until he was felled by a stroke in 1997, Westling was a science teacher and coach at South Whidbey High School. He earned “Coach of the Year” honors in 1992 for his work with the girls cross country team.
Westling began coaching high school girls track in 1975 and his teams captured seven league championships and four state awards during his career. Four of his athletes went on to receive All-American honors in college.
He and football coach Jim Leirer were the first two coaches inducted into the high school’s Walk of Fame in 2007.
Although he’d been slowed by medical problems, Westling continued to be involved with the running program in recent years and was an assistant with the Falcon track team. From his wheelchair, Westling could be found dispensing words of wisdom on any given spring afternoon at Waterman Field, as student-athletes would come up in ones and twos to pick up valued pointers on timing and form.
Westling designed and, with lots of volunteer help, built the trails that bear his name in the woods at South Whidbey Community Park, one of the top-rated cross country courses in the state.
Westling did all he could to keep things on the lighter side as his health deteriorated.
“When he realized he wasn’t going to rally from his illness, he would joke that he wanted to be buried in Bayview Cemetery with his cane sticking up so he could wave to people passing by,” Pat recalled with a smile.
Adam Lind furnished Pat with a case of small green bottles and she put the word out to family and friends about Westling’s final wishes.
“We had a party where we reminisced as we filled the bottles with Carl’s ashes,” Pat said.
Soon, the adventures began. On the wall of Pat’s home hangs a world map punctuated by colorful push pins charting Westling’s widening global journeys.
“Friends, family, former students and colleagues have come together to see Carl’s wishes would come true,” Pat said. “He’s gone camping, fishing and ridden on the dashboards of a few cars and trucks.
“His ashes were sprinkled in Alaska, into a river with hippos in Africa and on three different Hawaiian islands,” Pat said. “David Liddell rode his bike all the way down to the end of the world in South America and poured his ashes into the southern ocean.”
Little trips and big, Carl didn’t care as long as he got to go along, Pat added.
His memory will get permanent roots this summer. Westling’s fellow teachers will plant a tree in his honor at the spot where the Carl Westling trail heads into the woods at community park. And a $500 science scholarship in Westling’s name will be given to a deserving boy and girl high school graduate.
Anyone wanting to take Carl on a journey can contact Pat Westling at 321-6308.
“There’s still a lot of Carl left,” she said.