By Ian Snowdeal
Andy Endress was sitting on a grey couch watching a Formula 1 race with his family, a typical Sunday afternoon affair.
His phone rings, it’s a former high school friend, one he hadn’t heard from since graduation. He tells his family he’ll be right back.
He has a weird feeling, so he walks up the stairs to his nicely lit yellow bedroom and answers the call.
Endress, now staring out of his window, listens.
“Hey, Caleb (Holmes) was found dead this morning. He overdosed on heroin, they think it was laced with fentanyl.”
His first thought was, “How am I going to tell my family? How am I going to manage this?”
Making the walk back to the living room, he knew that he had to tell his family the news.
Keeping it short he said, “That was Jess, she just told me that Caleb was found dead. He had overdosed on heroin.”
Immediately, Endress’ mother and sister, Aubery, began to cry uncontrollably. His girlfriend of seven years at the time sat there and didn’t know how to process what just happened.
“My dad and I, we just managed. I don’t think I really felt anything, I just managed,” Endress said.
It wasn’t until the day of Holmes’ funeral that he dealt with the fact that his friend was dead.
“I stopped managing and dealt with the fact that Caleb was gone, and that was the first time I cried,” he said.
Later that same day Endress’ life took another hit.
His girlfriend of seven and a half years broke up with him and moved out of their apartment above his parents’ garage.
“I realized how crazy fragile lives are that day. My girlfriend of seven and a half years just left and everything was fragile and changing. I just sat there thinking all the things I said to you all the things my mom said to you, all of that was in my head and I didn’t know,” he said. “That was when the Buddhism really came and that was the moment that this iteration of Andy that you know was created.”
Endress had been around Buddhism for much of his life, and began studying it heavily throughout high school. During his sophomore year, he began to meditate nearly every day, and then would go weeks without it.
“It was kind of a cycle,” he said.
When his senior year hit, Buddhism became more and more a part of his life and his daily routine.
“It became a real way for me to feel connected to the world in a way that wasn’t anxiety-producing,” he said. “I don’t think I could’ve made it through those times.”
The philosophy allowed him to handle such a difficult situation with a calm demeanor. He wanted to be there for his family and that’s why he kept managing until the funeral.
Now, at Springfield College, Endress uses many of his Buddhist practices to help his friends and former teammates.
Endress didn’t have a typical path in his education. He went to the Hartsbrook School in South Hadley, Mass., a Waldorf school where the mission is “to develop pupils’ intellectual, artistic, and practical skills in an integrated and holistic manner.”
While at the Hartsbrook School, he had a hard time learning and working with his teacher.
“At the Waldorf school you have the same teacher from first to eighth grade which can be problematic. They butted heads a lot,” said Endress’ mother Amy Stephens.
Stephens ended up pulling him out of the Hartsbrook School in the third grade following an incident between him and his teacher. She decided that it was ideal for her to start homeschooling her son.
At this time Endress was still having problems reading, and the two would have a tough time working together.
“What I began to realize is that his sense of self took such a beating that he felt that he was a bad kid, he was not good, and that he was stupid,” Stephens said.
Entering fifth grade, Endress and his mother made the decision that he would enroll in public school. When he arrived at the school, they had no idea of his background. They were unaware of his problems at the Hartsbrook School or his difficulty learning to read.
“(On the first day of school) he showed up and they gave him a test, and at his old school they never gave him tests,” Stephens said. “They said they needed to test him because they had no idea what was going on.”
When the results came back, it showed that Endress was dealing with processing issues. On some parts of the tests he look he would score very well, and on other things he would have issues. After the tests, he was given an Individual Education Program (IEP).
During the early part of his IEP, they would remove him from his English class and send him to another room to learn. It was a tough time, but one that taught him to overcome obstacles and challenges.
“There were times when it was hard, but the harder I worked at it, the more I bore down, the less I had to be taken out of class,” Endress said.
“(Eventually) he just started to make leaps and bounds where he just started getting stuff right, and I feel like that’s when he started gaining confidence,” Stephens said.
In fifth grade, Endress began participating in athletics. He joined the Belchertown lacrosse team and was added to the B team. It was kind of a blow to Endress’ confidence, but he and his parents tried not to let it get to him.
“I told him it doesn’t matter what team you are on. On the B team you’ll get more time to play and there is going to be more of a leadership role for you,” Stephens said. “That’s when we saw his ability to rally people together as a team.”
He began to excel both on the field and in the classroom. By the eighth grade he was taken off of IEP services, enrolled in honors classes, and was working hard on his academics.
He was also producing on the field playing lacrosse year-round.
“This is when I had several people looking at me as a college recruit in eighth grade. That was cool, it gave me a lot of juice, I was excited about it,” Endress said.
He began to run cross-country in the fall to help with his conditioning, and then a family friend suggested that he pick up swimming so he could build more muscle mass and make his passing and shooting faster and stronger. His mother approved of the idea as her other children were on the same swim team.
At the start, Endress wasn’t a natural. He took open turns, and had poor technique, but he was still fast.
His competitive nature allowed him to thrive in the pool, qualifying for the regional meet in his first year.
“The big change was I found people who worked the same way I did, the more you put in the more you put out,” he said.
Endress started to find a love for the sport, and began to realize maybe lacrosse wasn’t what he wanted to do. He wasn’t getting excited about it anymore. He wasn’t looking forward to the season, he just wanted to swim.
Being the type of person who acts quickly on his emotions, he decided to quit lacrosse and turn his focus to swimming.
Endress knew at that moment that he wanted to swim in college, and that he was going to work his hardest to achieve that goal. His decision came as a shock to his family. His father was the president of Belchertown lacrosse, and his mother was a big fan of the sport. It was one of the first big decisions he made without consulting anyone.
“He ditched lacrosse and that was one of the first decisions he made and just didn’t talk to us about it, and that was his statement,” Stephens said.
Endress found success in the sport he had grown to love, and was still succeeding in the classroom. By his junior year, he had joined a USA level club and was swimming with some of the best swimmers in the area.
“I’m seeing where the ceiling of swimming is,” he said.
In his senior year, Endress added on 25 pounds of muscle after working out every day following a shoulder injury that made him unable to swim for months. He went from 135 pounds to 160 pounds over the summer and was ready and determined to get back into the pool.
After dealing with a negative relationship with his club team coach, Endress decided that he would swim independently against the club at the next USA level meet.
He knew he had improved and was ready for the test.
When he arrived, he was determined to get in the pool and swim his heart out. He placed 16th in New England, second in the region and second in states, and beat everyone on his former team. It was a big moment for Endress because nobody knew about the time and effort he put into rehab and improving his skills.
After a successful high school career, he received five offers to swim at the collegiate level, one being from Division I Evansville. He verbally committed to Arcadia University outside of Philadelphia to swim and for their Physical Therapy program.
During their visit, Endress’ family fell in love with the coach.
“He was super sweet with our kids and asked our daughter about her times,“ Stephens said. “We were super excited.”
Endress’ family left him for an overnight stay, thinking everything was sealed up and their son was committed to Arcadia.
However, that was not the case.
“I got this gut feeling like maybe this isn’t the right place for me right now. Not so much because it was wrong, but because it was the best option,” Endress said. “On paper, this place looked perfect, but when I was there I had the feeling it was the wrong idea.”
That was the second big decision Endress instinctively made. He decided that he would live in the apartment above his parents’ garage with his girlfriend and become a personal trainer. His family was again stunned by the decision, but supported him.
“One thing I know about Andy is he is super-resilient. People tend to really like him and he can sell anything if he wants to, and if any of my kids weren’t to go to college he was the best bet that he could make his way,” Stephens said.
He began working at the YMCA in Holyoke, Mass. as a personal trainer and lifeguard. It was a quick rise for Endress at the YMCA.
“I started doing personal training and lifeguarding, suddenly that turns into me working in the gym, then somebody needs something else and now I’m a swim instructor and then somebody needs something else so I give tours and that turns into the front desk, and then I’m asked to manage the building. Now I’m in a managerial position as a 19-year-old,” he said.
It was a quick turn around, but he was succeeding and doing something he enjoyed.
About a year after graduation, he started to rekindle his relationship with Caleb Holmes, a good friend from high school and one who he had lived with for a summer. They saw each other two times, and Endress knew that something was going on with him.
The last time they had been with each other, Holmes had been asked to be dropped off at a house, so Endress and his other friend complied. That was the same house Holmes later overdosed in, and was the last time Endress would ever see his friend.
It took a lot out of Endress dealing with the death of his friend and the departure of his girlfriend, but he had been faced with so many challenges before that he persevered. He decided he wanted to become a college swim coach and to get back in the pool.
“He went looking at schools. He met Jon Taffe and decided he wanted to get back in the water and pursue becoming a coach,” Stephens said. “I always have parents asking why he can’t coach. Why can’t he coach the USA team or the high school?”
Endress arrived at Springfield College and immediately began to struggle. After taking two years off from swimming competitively and never being a great practice swimmer, Endress was having a difficult time finding a groove.
Since then, he has found himself and has been able to embrace his Buddhism at Springfield. He is a helping hand to all his friends and teammates.
“He’s wise and everything he says I take it to heart,” teammate Eri Roba said.
When dealing with a concussion, Roba really began to take his advice to heart.
“When Andy sat me down and told me I had to take care of myself, I was like he does know what he’s talking about. He’s just a genuine guy,” Roba said.
This year however, Endress is facing another challenge.
A knee injury has sidelined him from swimming, and he has decided to mutually end his ties with the swim team. It was a tough decision, but he is now on another endeavor and one that he came to Springfield for – coaching.
“It’s just another chapter in the story of my life and I’ll just ride with it.”
Featured photo courtesy of Andy Endress