Tuesday, April 21, 2009

R.I.P. Shronk

Dallas, TX

Justin Shronk (1981-2009)
Image courtesy of Poker Road

I was sitting at an airport in Mar del Plata, Argentina after finishing up a work assignment when I got a call relaying me the tragic news of Justin Shronk's passing. We had exchanged emails on Friday afternoon when Shronk was hospitalize in Las Vegas due to a pancreatic ailment. He said that he was waiting to be released after a short stay and I took that as a positive sign. That's why the news of his sudden death completely blinded sided me along with his closest friends and the majority of the folks in the poker media.

I first met Shronk at Sydney airport in 2007. We were both hired by Poker News to cover the Aussie Millions. Although we both knew of each other by reputation, we had never actually met before. His previous employer had been a multi-media producer at Card Player and the Aussie Millions assignment would mark the beginning of a year long stint as the multi-media manager of Poker News. He produced and directed the earliest videos for Poker News when they launched their tournament reporting project and he would become an integral part of the 2007 WSOP coverage team.

During the two week long Aussie Millions assignment in Melbourne, I had the pleasure of getting to know Shronk. After all, when you sit next to someone every day for 12+ hours a day for two weeks straight, you really get a glimpse into what makes that person tick. And right away, one thing was obvious... the guy was hysterical. And his sense of humor was an asset especially during the lengthy grind of covering a poker tournament series. He definitely kept things light, particularly during the lulls and boring parts of the day.

It was in Melbourne that I learned of Shronk's fondess for Aaron Sorkin especially his work on The West Wing. He knew nearly every single line of dialogue from that long running series. Shronk had odd tastes for music and film and would often blurt out random lines from the BMX film "Rad." That pretty much summed up Shronk right there.

In Melbourne, I recorded an infamous video of a prop bet with Shronk... where he ate an entire packet of Vegemite. Check out the video here...

One of the funnier moments at the 2007 Aussie Millions involved Shronk's late night eating habits. He was often up until the wee hours rendering and uploading videos. He often ordered room service at 3am. There was a mix up with the our food allowance on that trip. The Poker Shrink and John Caldwell were given unlimited credit while Shronk and I got nothing. We worked around that obstacle and I would often charge beers and food to Caldwell's room while Shronk added items to the Poker Shrink's tab. When Shronk ordered late night room service, they often made an error and sent the food to the Poker Shrink's room instead of his. The Shrink would be fast asleep when there'd be a knock at his door. One night the Poker Shrink answered the door buck naked only to discover that Shronk had ordered a bowl of spaghetti bolognese and the kitchen sent it to the wrong room.

During 2007, I worked along side Shronk for several other international assignments (EPT Monte Carlo, EPT Barcelona, WSOP-Europe, and the Poker News Cup in Melbourne) and a few domestic ones as well (L.A. Poker Classic, WSOP Circuit at Caesar's Palace, WPT Championships, and the WSOP). Shronk admitted that he was a terrible traveler and hated being away from home, yet there he was traveling the globe while working for Poker News. He sacrificed a tremendous amount personal comfort out of sheer love of the game.

One of my least favorite stops on the tour was Monte Carlo. My French was tres mal at best and the snootiness of the entire concept of Monaco rubbed me the wrong way. Now, I thrived being on the road and costly in flux, yet if I had a tough time with being in the South of France, you could only imagine how much Shronk struggled. There was a small bar that served food next to the media room in Monte Carlo. Due to the long work hours, we frequently ate there out of convenience. Shronk loathed trying to order anything from the surly waiters and often pleaded with me to order his lunch or dinner. For the length of the Monte Carlo assignment, I frequently ordered overpriced food for Shronk and we both could believe that we were blowing though our per diem at a rapid pace.

"I have no idea what those French waiters are saying," Shronk said.

"That's because they are speaking French," I told him.

The road is a very unusual place, especially when you're on business trips. In Spain, we quickly learned how to avoided the local sausage and Shronk got a quick tutorial in how to use a European style shower after flooding his bathroom. And in London? Well, let's just say London was another headache for Shronk. We had been on the road for several weeks at that point (covering EPT Barcelona and WSOP-E back to back for almost a month straight on the road in Europe) and Shronk ran out of clean clothes. He had tripped on a slippery cobblestone and twisted his ankle pretty bad and unable to hobble to a laundromat. Instead, he opted to get his clothes cleaned by the hotel's laundry service. When he got his tab, the bill was over 400 British Pounds. At the time, the US dollar was at its lowest so that was work almost $800. Man, I wish I could have seen the look on the faces of the big wigs at Poker News when they read his invoice where he billed them $800 to clean his underwear.

The Tools of Shronk (Barcelona, Spain circa Sept. 2007)
His laptop and video camera when he sat next to me in the media room

Shronk eventually departed ways with Poker News and ended up as a producer at Poker Road and that seemed like the perfect fit for his talents and personality. He was genuinely happy to be a part of that gang as well as the eclectic group of people who make up the poker media.

Owen said it best...
"It's a world for the kinds of creative people who spent their teenage years feeling out of place and it's a haven. It's a welcoming environment in which individualism is encouraged and friendships are forged in hotel rooms and casino bars the world over.... It's a place where people like Shronk thrive."

The gang at Poker Road were deeply affected by his loss. Joe Sebok wrote a touching tribute to Shronk...
"He loved new media and I think, in many respects, he was able to live some of his dream by being a part of it in poker, whether that was for CardPlayer, PokerNews, or most recently right here at PokerRoad. He was an integral part of our family and we will miss him with all of our hearts. It had been our honor to call him a co-worker, and more importantly a friend.

BJ also penned something...
"But the humor I'll remember Shronk for is his sharp wit and his clever comments. Like his final forum post, he got maximum effect out of a minimal number of words. I know Shronk respected some of my technical skill as a writer, but that can be learned with time and practice. If I live to be 100, I don't think I'll ever have a wit as sharp as Shronk's."

Amy wrote...
"The tragedy of Justin Shronk’s death wasn't that he never lived his dream. He lived it every day. The tragedy is ours."

Needless to say, on those long nights during a tournament (especially during the insanity of the WSOP) Shronk kept me loose with his tremendous sense of humor and wit that BJ eloquently described. That's when I'm going to miss him the most on those late nights when the last thing I want to do is be sitting inside a casino, yet Shronk had the ability to make those brutal moments palatable.

Shronk, you were one of a kind. RIP, brother.

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