Update 5/11/2017, 11:23 PST: A GoFundMe has been established to assist Ed Lunnen’s family in defraying the costs of Ed’s funeral services. Donations can be made here.
Ed Lunnen, who died Monday after an extended battle with colon cancer, was an AVP player whose wit, personality and positive attitude made him one of the most liked guys on the qualifying tour.
Lunnen, 39, was first diagnosed with colon cancer in October 2013, but was declared to be in remission following six months of chemotherapy in May 2014. Sadly, he was re-diagnosed with stage four cancer in August 2016.
Lunnen competed on the AVP tour from 2005 to 2016, primarily in qualifying, but made the AVP main draw three times, Manhattan 2009 and 2013 and Huntington 2010.
“He had such a contagious personality that the whole community started to talk like him,” beach Olympian Jake Gibb said. “He had a way of speaking. He’d say things like, ‘I ain’t ready, son,’ or ‘Let’s do this, player.’
“All of these terms and one-liners that are so fun and endearing at the same time that it’s just contagious, it’s infectious. I knew him in Utah. He roomed with my twin brother for a couple of years. We were just always close. We used to play Frisbee golf together and laugh a lot. He’s a dear friend and I’ll miss him very much.”
Casey Patterson was very fond of Lunnen.
“Ed is one of the coolest guys on the planet and I think that’s why there’s such an amazing amount of appreciation from him on social media from so many people, some of whom I didn’t even know knew Ed,” Patterson said. “That was what was so special about Ed, he had such a rad energy, he was always excited and stoked to be at the tournaments, he was a competitor, he worked hard, but his attitude and his incredible energy.
“He loved the game and he had an organic ability to talk trash in a fun way. He was never like ‘In your face’, but always in a fun, comedic way. He was a comedian on the court when he was talking trash. ‘Don’t pull on me,’ that was from me and him playing back in the day, I took that and used it on the AVP and these hash tags and things he used to say made him so much fun to be around and to train with.
“The guy was just a special dude. Those are all the fun memories. The guy would always be late, he was never on time, whenever I would text him, ‘Hey, dude, we’re playing at Huntington tomorrow.’ he’s like, ‘Don’t worry dude, I’m sleeping in my outfit under the pier so I’ll be there on time.’ That was our running joke.
Patterson credited Lunnen for accelerating his entry on the tour.
“Ed and I were very good buds. Similar to Jake’s path to beach volleyball, I learned how to play beach volleyball in Utah, in between semesters in college. They had a really good league there, UOVA (Utah Outdoor Volleyball Association), similar to CBVA, but all the college kids, all the adults, would all play in these tournaments. Ed was one of those guys who played in those tournaments. I played against him, but I really didn’t get to know him until I moved to Huntington Beach in about 2006.”
Patterson said it was only natural that they became close.
“He was a guy that was at the beach all the time, he had all the same friends, he was good buds with the same guys in Utah, so we ended up partnering kind of organically and playing everywhere,” Patterson said. “All these tournaments, the pro-am events that Ryan Mariano ran, we won two of those back to back, and that was at a time when I wasn’t even very relevant, even in the qualifier.
“I was thinking about that the other day, that Ed kind of spring-boarded my career on the AVP, because winning the pro-am event back then, it was a big deal, and a lot of the pros that were playing with amateurs contacted me after that tournament to play with them.
“I was in the qualifier, and trying to grind my way through, but after playing with Ed and winning the pro-am, I was getting calls from guys with a lot of points, almost enough points to get me into the main draw.”
Patterson said he, Lunnen, Gibb and Sean Rosenthal trained and played together all the time.
“We would never stop playing. He loved it, and was so invested in playing, it was such a cool friendship and relationship that we built in that four-five-six years playing together.
“We talked about how cool it would be to be on the AVP and win tournaments. Playing with him was a real fun time for me.
Patterson said that Lunnen would bike or take the bus to pratice.
“He was so dedicated. Somehow, he was never on time, but he would always show up. We’d call him when he was late, and he would say, ‘I’m almost there,’ and we would laugh, ‘Yeah, right, you just woke up.’ A lot of jokes back and forth like that where you loved him for it.
“You would never say we’re not friends anymore, because he was just so rad, that was part of the experience when you played with Ed. You knew he was going to be late, you knew he was going to come with his boardies and a little bag with some sunblock and water, if he had water, and he was going to play all day for you. He would hustle, work hard, make it fun, and talk trash, entertain everybody.
“That was Ed Lunnen. Real cool dude.”
Gibb, who lives and trains in Huntington Beach, echoed those sentiments.
“It’s hard to describe the effect that Ed had on people,” Gibb said. “He had an effect on the Huntington Beach volleyball community in a way that’s kind of crazy for a guy that came out of Utah and hadn’t spent that much time here.”
AVP standout Ryan Doherty also referenced Lunnen’s charisma.
“He’s one of the great ones. He’s the most charismatic guy,” Doherty said. “When I first moved down to Huntington, he was playing volleyball, he was the king of the one-liners. He’s that guy that says stuff that doesn’t make sense that makes you laugh and is just super-fun.
“I remember he started the whole ‘Don’t pull on me’ trash talk. I remember that he would say, ‘Can a brother have a half-rotation?’ when someone called his set. The volleyball community really lost a great person and a kind soul and we’re really going to miss him. Especially that Huntington beach crew. That’s a really big loss for us.”
Mike Maghy competed with Lunnen in much of 2013.
“We played all the AVP qualifiers together in 2013. I had so much fun playing with him,” Maghy said. “He had the ability to make everyone laugh, whether he was on your team, or the other team. He was also having fun, able to make everyone smile, and was just a tough competitor on top of that too. He was a unique player and personality.
“We played in the Huntington AVP qualifier in 2013, just before his cancer diagnosis. He had mentioned that morning, and a couple days before, that his stomach had been hurting a little bit, but that he would be fine, and we played in the qualifier. I couldn’t notice any difference at all. He played great as always, and he never complained at all, but we discovered after the tournament that he was playing with a ruptured appendix and colon cancer. Pretty unbelievable. That shows how tough he was. Ed was probably the toughest person I’ve ever known.
“Ed had the ability to make volleyball fun for everyone. That’s what I’ll remember most, is just having a lot of fun, playing volleyball, and the time we spent on road trips traveling. He was just such a funny person it was impossible not to have fun around him.”
Matt Hilling competed with Lunnen in 2015.
“Ed was the kind of guy that you would always want around at the beach when you were on the court with him, or even next to him. He was always lifting the spirits of the day,” Hilling said.
“If you’re having a bad day at practice, or not playing well, you’ll still have a fun time around him. Playing with him in tournaments, win or lose, it was always a good time. There are no bad memories with Ed.”
Lunnen’s brother, Steve Feld, posted this heart-felt memoir on Facebook:
“It brings me great pain and sadness to type these words, but my dear brother Ed Lunnen passed on from this earth on Monday evening. I am still incredibly raw and in the midst of processing everything, but I felt compelled to put together this summary of Ed’s beautiful life:
Some of you knew Ed as a talented beach volleyball player with a mean spike, others as a charismatic restaurant server who was cherished by regulars and co-workers alike, and still others as a dear friend whose sense of humor and positivity was legendary. He was my big brother.
Born on June 10, 1977, Edmund Ryan Merrill Lunnen was something of an anomaly from the beginning. He had unusually long fingers and toes, which prompted the doctor to remark “you’re going to have a tall son!” Throw dark hair and tan skin into the mix and you have just the right ingredients for a champion beach volleyball player – but I’m getting ahead of myself.
As a young boy, Ed practically owned the block. He was notorious for “rounding up” the bikes and hot-cycles of the local neighborhood kids, which he proudly displayed on our front lawn as a badge of honor. If you were to ask any of the locals who the coolest kid in town was, I’m confident that nearly all of them would blurt out Ed’s name. Do the same some 30 years later, and I still think you’d get the same answer. Sometimes he had to fight for his turf, and that meant having the occasional pot of spaghetti dumped onto his head from over the wooden fence by the local neighbor boys. I can’t be sure, but that may be the precise moment that he became known as Eddie Spaghetti.
Growing up together, I remember taking trips to the local card shop while perched atop the handlebars of Ed’s Huffy bicycle. It was as a young child that he developed his love for collecting sports cards – a love that he held onto into adulthood, even during his final days. I’ll never forget his uncanny ability to rehearse statistics such as batting averages or rookie years for virtually any card that I flashed in front of him.
Ed was a complex character in many ways. He had a maturity and an inherent wisdom about him – particularly after being shaped and chiseled by four years of battling cancer – and yet that maturity and wisdom was wrapped in child like innocence. During his last couple of months while he was staying with my mom, I asked him if I could bring any of his possessions to him and one of the few things that he requested was his wooden chest filled with sports cards.
As a teenager, Ed was as popular as they come. It was an era of oversized basketball shorts, XXL Fila and Adidas t-shirts, and bleached hair tips; and it was an era that Ed ruled well. His chariot was a white 1990 Chevy Lumina, an unwieldy boat of a car which Ed managed to pilot from the passenger seat using his unusually long arms and legs. It was a trick that mystified the occupants of nearby vehicles who probably thought they were witnessing the world’s first “self driving car”. It never failed to bring hearty laughter to all who witnessed it.
It was also as a teenager that Ed cultivated his love for volleyball. In fact, while Ed was staying with my wife and I this past winter, I heard a knock at the door one evening and was surprised to learn that it was Ed’s high school volleyball coach. Even after more than two decades had passed, the impression that Ed had made on this man was still as tangible as it was in 1996. In the coach’s own words: “Out of the thousands of students and players that I worked with, there was none quite like Ed.”
After waiting tables at JB’s restaurant in Salt Lake for a time, Ed embarked on an LDS mission to Argentina, but his time there was cut short after learning that our oldest sister Lisa had been diagnosed with brain cancer and didn’t have much time left. Tragically, less than two years from Lisa’s passing, our sister Doree was also taken by cancer. Not long after that, Ed’s dad passed away.
To say that Ed’s world had been turned upside down would be an understatement; and yet because of the person that he was, he managed to pick up the shattered pieces. He loaded his car with only a handful of possessions and drove west to California in order pursue his dream of playing professional beach volleyball.
While pursuing his dreams of volleyball by day, Ed waited tables at night at a restaurant called BJ’s – which was ironic considering that the restaurant that he had worked at prior to that was called JB’s. BJ’s was a place where he met some of his dearest friends, and legend has it that he met a few girls there as well – but I have a feeling he would jokingly deny all such allegations.
Ed spent a decade chasing, jumping, and diving after his dreams there on the sands of Huntington Beach, and though he never made it to the Olympics, he played alongside and was respected by Olympians. Though he never made a fortune playing volleyball, I’ll never forget the excitement and pride in his voice when he called to tell me about a bit of money that he had won in a tournament. I responded with equal excitement, stating that “whenever something good like this happens to you, I feel like it’s happening to me too!” As brothers, we shared that special bond.
How many of us can say that we spent a decade of our lives relentlessly pursuing our dreams, even if it meant living a humble life of simplicity, interspersed with periods of public transit, shopping at thrift stores, and eating leftovers at work?
How many of us would jump right back into that life, just months after completing a grueling six month course of soul-sucking chemotherapy; all because your drive and hunger to succeed at your life’s passion was THAT strong?
I can’t even begin to tell you how much I admired that about my big brother.
Sadly, less than two years after being declared to be in remission, Ed’s cancer returned with a vengeance and this brought him from the sandy beaches of California, back to the mountainous hills of Utah.
In a trip that Ed himself deemed to be “legendary”, Ed and I hopped into a pickup truck and made the trek from Utah to California in order to gather together Ed’s humble collection of belongings. The drive there and back consisted of precious hours of talking, playing our favorite songs for one another (Ed always wanted to be a DJ), and stopping at a handful of gas stations and fast food joints along the way. Oh, and an overnight stay at ‘Whiskey Pete’s’ – a hotel and casino located near the California & Nevada border. What I wouldn’t give to have just one more night at that 2-star hotel with my brother, talking until three in the morning, with the A/C rattling on in the background.
One of the first stops that we made once we hit civilization in California was In-N-Out Burger, which was one of Ed’s all-time favorite places to eat. About two hours later we made it to Ed’s apartment in Huntington Beach, and for the first time in many years, I got to see Ed’s life in California.
I can’t really explain why, but walking into his bedroom for the first time nearly brought tears to my eyes. Somehow it helped paint a more complete picture of my brother, connecting the dots between “California Ed” and “Utah Ed”. As you might expect, virtually all of Ed’s possessions managed to fit inside that small room, and consisted of a TV that our family had given him for Christmas some years ago, an older laptop which was covered in Jack’s Surfboard stickers, an old Xbox 360 which he watched Netflix on, a wooden chest full of sports cards, a water jug partially filled with coins, a dresser filled almost exclusively with board shorts, boxer shorts, and t-shirts – and finally, Ed’s most prized possession of all – a California King bed that he picked up for a hundred bucks at an estate sale. He loved that bed so much that he insisted on strapping it to the pickup truck and hauling it back to Utah.
We spent a few days there in Huntington Beach, and I continued to learn more about “California Ed”. He took me to one of his favorite places – 24 Hour Fitness – which he treated as if it was his own private castle. He walked me through his workout routine (you would never believe that he had Stage 4 cancer based on the way he pushed through those preacher curl sets), then we soaked in the jacuzzi, and finally, we made a dash for the steam room, where Ed emptied out nearly an entire bottle of Eucalyptus Oil into the steam vent – as was his custom.
After the gym, he took me to what he called a real health food store – Whole Foods – and showed me his favorite way to load up a plate at the buffet there. All throughout that trip, I felt as though I was a young student following the master sensei around, soaking up his way of life. I’ve always looked up to my brother and have viewed him as a role model, and even into adulthood that never changed. I would venture to say that a man is nearly as influenced by his older brother as he is by his father, and I pray that Ed lives on through me now that he’s no longer walking this earth.
I rejoice in the fact that he’s no longer bound to a hospital bed, but the realization that Ed is no longer physically here among us is still too raw and painful to wrap my mind around. Part of me refuses to believe that the man who drove countless miles with the gas light on was captured by death’s snare. How did the luck of the man who somehow always managed to be the last one to board an airplane, somehow run out?
Perhaps the reason that I can’t fully accept my brother’s death as being true, is that in some sense it’s not true. Consider this quote from Lord of the Rings, of all places:
“Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?” A great Shadow has departed,” said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count.”
I choose to believe that one day Ed’s death will come untrue, and that I’ll find myself wrapped in his tanned, sand sprinkled arms again someday. Maybe, for the first time in history, he’ll accuse someone else of being late to an event. I believe that Ed is sitting at the feet of Jesus, along with our sisters Lisa and Doree, reminiscing about all the great memories that they had together here on earth; just as myself, my mom, our sister Angie, and Ed had done while huddled together in his hospital room less than two weeks before his passing.
Ed wasn’t an overtly religious man, but he had a very powerful, childlike love for God. More often than not, Ed spoke his faith through his actions and how he lived his life, rather than through words. Not once did I hear him curse God during his battle with cancer, and when I asked Ed if he was upset with God, he promptly responded “Of course not, it’s just part of the deal of being on this earth.” Watching Ed handle cancer with the grace and the nobility that he did was both humbling and inspiring.
Cancer may have cut short Ed’s life here on this earth, but he lived more during his 39 brief years than many people who live for 99 years. He truly lived out his philosophy of being poor on material things, while being rich on life. Ed’s legacy will continue to live on through the hundreds – or dare I say thousands – of us who were blessed to have known him well enough to realize just what a treasure he was. We’ll continue to tell stories about his big heart, his love for his friends and family, his hilarious antics, his hard earned volleyball skills, and his relentless hope and optimism which persevered until the very end.
“I see you player.” And I can’t wait to see you again.
Quick facts about Ed:
Favorite Foods and Drinks: Thai Food (especially Tom kha), Sumatra Coffee, In-N-Out Burger, Nielsen’s Frozen Custard, Cafe Rio, Del Taco, Scrambled Eggs and Toast.
Vehicles: Chevy Lumina, Suzuki Sidekick, Volkswagen Jetta, Jeep Wrangler, Honda CRX, Toyota Tundra, Old School Cadillac, Hyundai Genesis, CTA Buses, and a Mountain Bike.
Passions: Beach Volleyball, Hip Hop, Mixtapes, Working Out, Collecting Sports Cards, Sports, ESPN, Car Audio Systems, Epsom Salt Baths.
Quotes: “Okay player”, “I see you player”, “Son!”, “You ain’t ready!”, “I’m on the way, I’ll be there in five minutes” (said from the comfort of a bathtub located 30 minutes away from the destination), “Du-du-du-dude”, “Dudesons”, “Noiiice!”.
For those of you who wish you could have visited Ed during the final months of his life:
As Ed’s cancer began to overtake his body during the final months of his life, he became increasingly adamant about not allowing people to come and visit him. I am convinced that this was for three reasons.
First, I believe that Ed found the prospect of saying goodbye to so many that he loved to simply be more than he could bear. One of the things that he told my mom is that “If people don’t already know how I feel about them, then they aren’t going to know by visiting me one last time.” Ed wasn’t a fan of goodbyes. In fact, we never said goodbye to one another. The last words that we spoke were “I love you bro” and “See you in a few days”.
Second, I believe that Ed wanted people to remember him as he was before he was sick.
Finally, I believe that it was Ed’s way of protecting those whom he held so dear from having to witness the suffering that he endured during the final stretch of his life. Is this any surprise, considering the size of Ed’s heart and how he so often placed others ahead of himself?
Finally, if you find yourself deeply wounded by Ed’s passing (and who isn’t?) and are questioning how a supposedly loving God could allow such a terrible thing as cancer to exist, I would encourage you to read this blog that I wrote last week: https://naturaldeals.com/why-does-god-allow-cancer-to-exist
For those that wish to honor Lunnen’s memory, the family has this statement:
A viewing will be held for Ed this Friday, May 12, from 6-8 p.m. at the Nelson Family Mortuary, located at 4780 N. University Ave. in Provo, Utah.
A second viewing will be held on Saturday, May 13, at 1:30 p.m., followed by a service at 2:00 p.m., also at the Nelson Family Mortuary.
Ed will be laid to rest immediately following the service, and will be placed beside his sisters Lisa and Doree at the Sunset Gardens Cemetery, located at 1950 East 10600 South in Sandy, Utah. All are welcome to attend these celebrations of Ed’s beautiful life.”