Known as “Spider” to all his classmates and teammates, Erik was a proud 1990 graduate of Gonzaga College High School in Washington, DC. While on Eye Street, Erik was a scholar, a football player, a lacrosse player, and a trumpet player in the band. While in the band, Erik achieved the ranks of First Chair, Section Leader, and Co-Concert Master. A gentle giant with a kind soul and unique sense of humor, he also earned the rank of Eagle Scout and poured himself into all of the activities in which he participated.
After graduation from Gonzaga, Erik attended one year of prep school at Andover before attending the United States Naval Academy. Erik earned his varsity letter in heavyweight crew at Navy before graduating with an English major and French minor in 1995.
After several years of service, Erik knew he wanted to be a Navy SEAL but was told that he was too old and would not be able to make it. Instead of listening to those who told him he could not, he chose instead to work to achieve his future. After failing once to make the SEALs, he tried again. Overcoming injury and obstacles, Erik finally realized his dream and became a SEAL and joined SEAL Team 10 based at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek in Norfolk, VA. On 28 June 2005 in Afghanistan, Erik volunteered to lead a mission to help four fellow friends and SEALs who had come under heavy fire. The helicopter that he, seven other SEAL members, and eight Army Special Forces members were in was shot down. Erik was buried with full honors at the Naval Academy and rests among our nation’s heroes as one of them.
True to his love of learning, Erik had been awarded an Olmsted Foundation Scholarship and was to have studied at the Institute for Political Studies in Paris in 2006. In his honor, Erik’s family, classmates, friends, and those who were inspired by him founded The LCDR Erik S. Kristensen ’90, USN, Memorial Scholarship Fund. The fund seeks to assist a Gonzaga student whose family serves in the United States Armed Forces, and it will forever remind his fellow Eagles of what it means to be a Man for Others.
What’s in a nickname? An awful lot – often times it can tell you about a person’s character or a trait others think stand out. Even more importantly in Erik’s case, HOW he earned his nickname at Gonzaga tells so much about him.
Erik transferred into Gonzaga as a junior. He had learned much of the school through his cousin who had just graduated and two cousins who would become alumnae of nearby Georgetown Visitation. Growing up as the son of a Naval officer, Erik was used to going to new places and making friends. He hit the ground running on Eye Street. Erik was not small teenager. His height was as obvious from far away as it was close up. The first group of students he met were the players trying out with him for the football team. Under the blaring Washington, DC, August sun and in terrible humidity (that made temperatures feel well over 100 degrees), there he was, smiling and making friends.
High school boys can be a tough crowd. Bravado and ego cut a large swath, especially in football. Competition was fierce for roster spots that summer, and here came the new kid, gunning for a piece of the pie. But Erik was what everyone would come to know as his jovial self, never lording over smaller players, always helping guys off the ground, and just taking in his new environment.
While Erik was very tall, he still had some filling out to do. He had not yet added all the mass to his body that would make him one of the nation’s elite Navy SEALs. As a result, getting into low stances was at times challenging, and you could see him getting as low as he could. As he sank down, his knees and elbows would protrude into the air, and you could tell if Erik was the one in a drill as his great limbs clearly identified him. At one point, one of the toughest seniors sauntered up to Erik and asked, “Say, you don’t mind if I call you ‘spider’ do you?”
Indeed, he looked very much like a spider with his arms and legs supporting his core, especially in that low stance. And so, he became Spider. Erik loved his nickname – it was evidence how, extremely quickly, he was one of the guys, an accepted member of the Gonzaga family, especially among his fellow football players. More importantly, it evidenced how Erik, in all his friendliness, brought out the best in everyone. Even an older student who did not know him wanted to talk to him, be his friend, give him a nickname. Erik truly was everyone’s friend – studying in the classroom, playing in the orchestra, or playing on the football and lacrosse fields. He was true to himself in each arena. But at the end of the day, to his Gonzaga classmates, he was simply Spider.
Erik remains very much alive in the hearts of many – not just friends and family but also people who only met him once or simply know his story. Erik embodied the best of all of us: humor, intelligence, wit, perspective, friendship, and above all, love for life. The priority for many of us has been to keep all these qualities with us when we remember him and carry on his legacy.
While The Klassic is a way for his Gonzaga family to show our love for Erik, there are several other ways to get involved with his family and friend:
Erik and his cousins, Steve, Jen, and Allison, were less cousins and more four siblings. To celebrate Erik’s life in a way they knew he would enjoy, they have held a memorial softball game in Bowie, MD, three years running at Whitemarsh Park. The game itself is less about who wins or loses and more about making sure the younger ones get their “fair ups” and everyone enjoys themselves! A crab feast worthy of any discerning Marylander follows the game. Held in late June/early July, the game is a come-one, come-all affair.
One of the most generous and regular contributors to Erik’s scholarship fund has been W. Curtis Draper Tobacconist, located at 640 14th Street, NW, in Washington, DC. Proprietor Matt Krimm, along with business partner John Anderson, has celebrated the world of cigars at their Little Puff event for a number of years. The past three Puffs have contributed generously to Erik’s fund. If you are a cigar aficionado, you need to attend The Puff! For more information on The Little Puff go to their website or call them at 800-572-2382.
Both Gonzaga College High School and The United States Naval Academy dedicated their varsity eight shells in Erik’s name. While Gonzaga did not have a crew team during Erik’s tenure, the crew community showed tremendous thoughtfulness in naming their shell after him. Erik’s parents christened his shell at Gonzaga in September 2007. Additionally, Erik’s shell at Navy is fully endowed thanks to an effort lead by his classmate and friend Brooks McFeely, USNA ’95.
Gonzaga College High school established The Erik Kristensen Memorial Leadership Award in 2006. Each year the Memorial Leadership Award recognizes a graduating senior who distinguishes himself among his peers for those ideals that Erik put into practice each day: loyalty, honor, trustworthiness, leadership, friendship, and love of life and laughter. Through his dedication and service to his Nation, friends and family, Erik was a true man for others. Gonzaga gives the Memorial Leadership Award to that senior who has followed Erik’s lasting example.