Remembering a life: Family and friends look back on the legacy Gavin Pijnenburg leaves behind

Published 8:00 am Saturday, May 18, 2024

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When most people think of a fighter, they think of a mean, grizzled face. Gavin Pijnenburg, a fighter until his last breath, had quite the opposite. Pijnenburg had a soft, gentle face with an even more disarming smile that he was quick to flash on any occasion. 

He was a fighter, a Wolverine, a friend, a son, an inspiration and so much more to the people who knew him best. The legacy he left has impacted members of multiple generations and will continue to inspire generations in Troup County for years to come.

“He just always knew how to make you laugh, how to make you smile, and you just never knew what he was going to do to make you laugh,” said Carter Pelt, Pijnenburg’s best friend. “I’ve already said if I ever have a boy they will be named Gavin. He just always wanted to be active in everything he did. He was never one to just sit at home and do nothing, He was always going to go, go go. It was hard not to be smiling around him because he always was.”

Pijnenburg changed lives whether he knew it or not. Nick Griffin, an assistant coach on the West Georgia Wolverines basketball in which Pijnenburg was a member, hardly even knew about the team before he met his dear friend. Pijnenburg convinced Griffin to come out to one practice and the rest is history. Griffin immediately signed up to be an assistant coach and his son,

Kamari “Tank” Griffin, was getting fitted for his wheelchair and ready to play.

“I was just telling my wife that all the success I had with the West Georgia Wolverines wouldn’t have happened without Gavin,” Griffin said. “I mean, God makes so many things happen. And I know he put Gavin in my life for that reason, because he came along and begged me for a year to come coach and I just kept pushing it off and pushing it off. And then I come out, love it and end up winning two awards. I’m humbled because I get to spread the word of the Wolverines because of Gavin. 

We went from six kids to having like 10-12  and that’s also a tribute to Gavin.”

Despite his general positivity and optimistic outlook, Pijnenburg was just as quick to trade wits or talk a little smack. Griffin has been on the opposite side of that smack talk more than he can count.

“He would just jaw at me, we would really go back and forth. I’m telling you it was like Shaq and Kobe,” Griffin said, laughing. “One thing I knew for sure when I came to practice, I knew Gavin was going to play defense on me and he’s going to talk junk the whole game.”

Pijnenburg was as fiery and competitive as any other student-athlete in Troup County. The boy loved to win, but he loved being a part of a team even more. His relentless positivity kept the Wolverines afloat even in the darkest of times.

“If there were five seconds left and we were losing by 99, you better still go full tilt because otherwise, Gavin would let you know about it,” Griffin said. “You better not come around here with your shoelaces tied wrong, because he was gonna point it out. His eye for detail and his sense of perfection definitely made an everlasting impact on our team.”

While he was quick-witted and never shy about talking a little trash, Pijnenburg was one of the most caring individuals anybody lucky enough to be caught in his orbit during his 15+ years on Earth.

“He had this just uncanny ability to make people feel seen and valued. You never had to wonder if anybody loved you when Gavin was around,” said Mary Beth Pelt, mother of Carter and practically a second mother to Pijnenburg.

He had a unique personality which was out on full display at his funeral when instead of playing a lovely hymn, Thunderstruck by AC/DC rang out. It was authentically him and now, the song will carry a different meaning for so many people who loved Pijnenburg.

Perhaps nobody on this earth knew Pijnenburg quite like Carter, not even the former’s parents. Carter and Pijnenburg’s journey together started when they were in diapers before the two went to two different schools for their elementary grades. When both arrived at Callaway Middle School, a relationship was rekindled and a brotherhood began to form.

“It took a minute to realize that that was Gavin from daycare, but once I figured it out he still acted the same and still talked the same,” Carter said. “I didn’t originally have the same lunch with him, but I talked with my teacher and got it worked out and sat and ate lunch with him and he brought up the story of the toys and the bunk beds from daycare and that’s when it clicked. It was like there was like the third or fourth day of sixth grade and I was like, ‘yeah we are going to be friends for life.’”

Carter and Pijnenburg were attached at the hip for the last several years. The Pelts and the Pijnenburgs began to stop feeling like separate entities and started to feel like one big family which made their journey’s destination all the more heartbreaking. Carter and Pijnenburg were fearlessly loyal to each other and one would protect the other at a moment’s notice.

“I swear I’d come home from dance or football practice and I would be like where is Carters and my parents would tell me that he is somewhere with Gavin whether it was going to Banzai’s on Football Friday nights or he was over at their house watching the Georgia football game. You couldn’t find them apart for very long,” said Saralynn Pelt, Carter’s sister.

The two had much to bond over, but sports were always near and dear to Gavin’s heart. It did not matter the sport, the love was there. Once he found the Wolverines and started playing sports at a young age, there was practically nothing slowing him down. 

The Pelts will never forget taking Pijnenburg to his first Atlanta Braves game and how could his cousin Blaklea Speer forget those days spent at the drag races?

“He is actually the one who got me into it,” Speer said. “We used to always bet against each other on the races and he loved to rub it in when the one he picked won.”

It was not just the Georgia Bulldogs and the Atlanta Braves and other major sports that Pijnenburg loved so much. He loved his Callaway Cavaliers. His favorite athlete? A baseball player named Carter.

“I invited him out to one of my games my sixth-grade year and then he started coming to my games seventh-grade year and he would always argue with the umpires through the fence, always,” Carter said. “He really would be there trying to coach you up the best he could.”

Pijnenburg’s chair sits heartbreakingly empty. An empty sound echos where once the wisping sound of the chair zooming through the halls of Callaway Middle as his comrade Carter stood on the back as if a general commanding his troops. The two would laugh and smile and everybody in the Cavalier family knew that familiar sight. 

“They have been just inseparable for the last three years,” Mary Beth said. “Where one was the other one was. Usually, Carter was catching a ride on the back of his chair and Gavin was taking it entirely too fast down the hallway.”

With their beloved friend and loved one gone, his friends and family feel galvanized to live their lives the way only their sweet, precious Gavin would.

Pijnenburg suffered from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. To learn more about advocacy, research, or the disease itself check out the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s official website at