‘An amazing passion for life’

SNOHOMISH — David Balbirona’s family wasn’t ready to let go.

He was a perfect husband who made snowmen with his kids. Once, he slaved for hours over a custom towel rack for his mother-in-law, Sheila Hittle.*

That’s when he wasn’t fishing, rowing or sparring — or doing archery or extra reps at the gym.

About 100 friends and family members, including many from his rowing and church communities, gathered Thursday night to say goodbye.

They described the father of four as an accomplished athlete, devoted rower and constant volunteer. The memorial vigil was held at Bauer Funeral Chapel in Snohomish.

Balbirona, 41, of Lake Stevens, was killed Aug. 19 in a boat crash on the lake. A ski boat driven by a Lake Stevens boy, 17, hit his racing shell. Balbirona went into the water and never resurfaced. Crews found his body the next afternoon.

Lake Stevens Police Chief Randy Celori said the investigation into the crash won’t be completed until late next week — at the earliest.

The accident occurred near the lake’s north cove. The location was just outside the no-wake zone that stretches 875 yards out from shore, officials said.

At the memorial, Robert Shipman used the word “amazing” several times to describe Balbirona, his carpool and gym buddy.

“From the moment you first met him, there was just something amazing about him,” he said. “He had an amazing passion for life.”

Shipman shared a story of a time when his love for his friend was tested. He was on the floor lifting weights and Balbirona, while spotting him, accidentally drooled on his face.

The friendship survived, but it was only within weeks that Shipman was waiting at Lake Stevens for news of his buddy. He knew David Balbirona as a man of precision, a man who made everything perfect — and amazing — for those around him.

“If anyone would make sure that everything was OK, it was David,” he said.

Shipman turned toward his friend, lying in a coffin.

“I love you, man,” he said, “and I know everyone in this room does, too.”

Balbirona and his wife, LeeAnn, would have celebrated their 16th anniversary next week.

A slideshow of his life showed an always smiling man who gladly donned matching family outfits for special trips. In the beginning of their courtship, David and LeeAnn Balbirona were shown smiling in robes for a Renaissance fair. In another picture, they proudly posed after a tae kwon do ceremony in their matching white martial arts uniforms.

Balbirona’s mother-in-law, Hittle, said he was a perfect match for her daughter, a little bit of an oddball, but that was overlooked when his face lit up, which happened every time he looked at LeeAnn.

Balbirona also enjoyed tae kwon do and golf. He took up rowing in recent years and became a master rower with the Lake Stevens Rowing Club. He was practicing with the rowing club the night of the crash.

“He was talented at everything he picked up,” said his sister, Karen Harding. “He found joy in his kids. He was at the most perfect place in his life.”

The club is planning a memorial row for Balbirona in the next few weeks, said Tony Scoringe, a club spokesman.

A funeral Mass will be celebrated for Balbirona at 11 a.m. today at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Snohomish, with a reception to follow. Church officials expect several hundred to attend.

When the coffin is carried outside the church, 16 members of the rowing club plan to salute their lost friend with raised oars, Scoringe said.

The club has left Balbirona’s wife and children room to mourn since the crash, he said.

“They’re just taking it one day at a time,” he said.

* Correction, August 27, 2010: Sheila Hittle is the mother-in-law for whom David Balbirona made a towel rack. This article originally used an incorrect name for Hittle.

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