In cross-country running, your team is only as fast as your slowest athlete. Slain Navy SEAL Charlie Keating IV took that to heart in his youth as a track star, turning around to cheer on his teammates after he crossed the finish line.
Those that knew Keating say it was that same force of character that motivated him in northern Iraq, where the 31-year-old was killed Tuesday in a gunfight with Islamic State militants. He was part of a quick reaction force that moved to rescue U.S. military advisers from attack, the Pentagon said Wednesday.
He is the third American serviceman to die in combat in Iraq since the U.S.-led coalition launched its campaign against the Islamic State group in summer 2014, military officials said.
Keating, a grandson of an Arizona financier involved in the 1980s savings and loan scandal, went to high school in Phoenix. Though known for his family name, he achieved his own status as a track and cross-country champion.
"He was my number one runner all four years, but he was always there cheering on and pushing the other runners," said Rob Reniewicki, Keating's former track coach at Arcadia High School.
"I always told the kids, run through the finish line, not to it. Charlie not only ran through it, he went back and got the number 4 and 5 runners and cheered them on!"
Reniewicki recalled returning to school from running practice with Keating on Sept. 11, 2001. The attack had a profound effect on Keating and the other high school sophomores.
"It kind of unfolded as time went by, but they really wanted to do something, they wanted to help out," Reniewicki said.
Keating decided at a young age he wanted to be in the Navy, hanging a SEAL poster on his bedroom wall when he was 8 or 9, said his mother, Krista Joseph. But he would only join if he were allowed to take a basic underwater training course, which would be his first hurdle to eventually becoming a SEAL, she said.
He didn't enlist until after he completed two years at Indiana University, where he competed on the track and cross-country teams.
Keating began SEAL training in 2007 and graduated the next year. He deployed twice in Iraq and once in Afghanistan, before serving as the leading petty officer of a sniper training cell. Keating was awarded several honors in his time in the Navy, including a Bronze Star, a Marine Corps Achievement Medal and an Army Achievement Medal.
"He was our golden boy, and he had a million-dollar smile. And he had the best luck in the world, and he always made it through everything, so that's why this is so shocking," his mother said.
“He was the guy that everybody looked up to, the guy everyone wanted to be around and the guy everyone wanted to be," said his cousin Liz Keating.