Friends, coaches remember 20-year-old OU wrestler who died Tuesday
Former OU student and wrestler Ronnie Balfour lost his yearlong bout with acute myelogenous leukemia Tuesday morning at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He was 20.
Junior OU student Nolan Kraszkiewicz said he began sobbing in class when he heard of his friend’s death via a text message.
“I broke down in the middle of class,” Kraszkiewicz said. “In the middle of class, my head just dropped, and I started sobbing.”
Kraszkiewicz and Balfour had been friends for six years, dating back to their days on the rugby team at Tulsa Union High School because Balfour had been kind to Kraszkiewicz when others were not.
“I was an outcast, but he would always say something nice, always had something good to say,” Kraszkiewicz said. “He would always acknowledge me.”
Their friendship solidified when the former Junior National All-American wrestler enrolled at OU. Even after Kraszkiewicz learned from Balfour that he had contracted leukemia, Kraszkiewicz continued to be amazed by his friend’s generosity and demeanor.
“He was the type of person who even when you were trying to give him support, he would ask you how you were doing,” he said. “He was always worried about the other person and not himself. He was an amazing guy.”
Balfour won the 2010 6A state championship in the 171-pound weight class as a senior at Tulsa Union High School. He was the sixth-ranked recruit in the nation after finishing his prep career with a record of 118-13.
“He’s going to be missed by multiple amounts of people because of his capability of being able to touch people at different levels and make their day even better,” Union coach Kevin Crutchmer told the Tulsa World Tuesday. “He will be missed by the Union wrestling family.”
OU wrestling coach Mark Cody said he walked into practice and found his team congregated in prayer.
“I hope they can use his death to help them appreciate what they have,” Cody said.
Former Oklahoma wrestling coach Jack Spates recruited Balfour before retiring last season. Spates remembered Balfour as a gentle soul and a tremendous talent.
“I think he was greatly under the radar as a wrestler,” Spates said. “When he got to OU, he immediately demonstrated the ability we were excited about. He was looking like a world-beater.”
But during the middle of the 2010-11 season Spates said Balfour’s conditioning and focus began to dip. Spates, in his 18th season as OU’s coach, thought competition could reignite a spark in Balfour.
“I took he and some other guys to a tournament where he was even more disappointing,” Spates said. “Of course, we had no clues as to why. Later, (Balfour’s cancer) explained everything.”
Spates said he spoke with Balfour two months ago and thought he was well on his way to beating cancer.
“He even expressed an interest in wrestling again, and I told him I would help him,” Spates said.
But late Monday night, it became apparent to Spates that Balfour wouldn’t finish his collegiate career on the mat.
“I found out at probably eleven o’clock last night on my Facebook that he was nearing the end of life,” he said. “You could’ve knocked me over with a feather. I was calling him this morning, and I got a text saying he was gone. It just breaks my heart.”