This post is to pay tribute to my friend Yu Chen who left us tragically while windsurfing on Lake Mendota, May 31, 2017.

Yu was one of the few people I knew who excelled in everything he did. Among other things, he was

  • a dedicated scientist who developed radiation oncology products to benefit cancer patients
  • an impassioned windsurfer who also devoted his time teaching others the sport that he loved
  • an avid runner who ran four times a week and could finish a full marathon in 3.5 hours
  • a skillful skier and snowboarder who successfully took on the challenge of the most difficult routes
  • a natural leader who organized many hiking and ski trips, sometimes for over a hundred guests
  • a powerful body builder
  • a graceful skater
  • an incredible singer
  • a regular blood donor

While Yu was a highly achieved scientist and all-around athlete, I knew him best from windsurfing. In fact, I joined the Hoofer sailing club because of his passionate advertisement, as many others did. In the summer of 2011, we met almost everyday on Lake Mendota. Even on windless days, we would checkout shortboards for standup paddling to train body balance. Yu didn’t treat his hobby casually. He read books and articles, watched videos, and periodically wrote notes to summarize his experiences and points to improve on. Little wonder that he became one of the best wind surfers on Lake Mendota and started teaching it as a volunteer instructor in 2012, three years after he joined the club.

Unlike many talented people who can become engulfed by their own ambitions, Yu focused his energies on those around him. Whenever we windsurfed together, he would stay within visible range to make sure we were alright, instead of enjoying the wind by himself. Afterwards, he would give feedback to help improve our skills. He noticed any small improvements in us and was never stingy with praise, even though those improvements were nothing compared to what he was capable of. He was a friend who cared about you, who cheered for your achievements.

After I left Madison for a new job, Yu and I kept in touch occasionally but I always looked back on our windsurfing days with fondness. His sudden death brought me back to that wonderful summer in 2011 when I first met him, and as more and more letters and tributes emerged, I learned that his passion and dedication for windsurfing extended to all areas of his life. I learned what an amazing son he was; what a genuine friend he was to all those who knew him (in one example, driving hundreds of miles every year to run an annual marathon with a college friend); and a true civil servant, giving back to his community always. His legacy has inspired me to live a kinder, more meaningful, substantial life.

Below is a video of Yu windsurfing. In loving memory of Yu, his family and friends have established a memorial fund to continue his legacy of caring and passion for life, such as supporting pediatric cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy and awarding Chinese scientists in the States working on radiation oncology.

Hoofer sailing club also set up a Yu Chen Memorial Sailing Outreach Fund for the following purpose: “The Hoofer Sailing program will use the available yearly funds in community outreach by offering free lessons for non-members of the club with windsurfing instruction preferred. A portion of the available yearly funds should go towards providing lessons for underprivileged youth in conjunction with the Hoofer Sailing Club Outreach Program. The Yu Chen Memorial Sailing Fund’s distribution is flexible and shall be determined jointly by the Hoofer Sailing Club Windsurfing Captain, the Hoofer Sailing Club Commodore, and the Hoofer Sailing Club Head of Instruction.”