Keanon Lowe grew up in Gresham, played football for University of Oregon, and then started coaching in the NFL. But then his best friend from high school, Taylor Martinek, died of an opioid overdose and everything changed. Lowe came back to Oregon and began coaching football at Parkrose High School. It was there, in 2019, that he stopped a young man with a shotgun at the school.
Lowe’s new autobiography is called “Hometown Victory.” OPB’s Paul Marshall spoke with him.
Paul Marshall : When you disarmed the gunman, Angel (Granados-Diaz), you write that there was a feeling of relief, but you also say that you felt a sense of pain from Angel. Can you talk a bit more about that?
Keanon Lowe: The relief came from obviously the situation and how it was handled and no shots were fired and nobody got hurt. But the pain and sadness that I got from that situation was in seeing a young man that was just crying out for help. He didn’t see any other way out except to harm himself and that’s just such a sad situation. I gained a lot of perspective working at that school and with those young people, whether they were on the football team or not. I worked security in that school. So I got to know a lot of those kids and a lot of the challenges that they were going through day in and day out. I really had a chance to really feel what he was going through and I think that’s why I reacted in the way I did and tried to show him some love and give him a hug and tell him that I care about him. I could tell he was just a kid crying out for help and and I feel for him because I’ve been in dark places like that as well in my life.
Marshall: When the footage got released and everyone was able to see it, did you know your life had changed?
Lowe: It changed a few times during that incident when the encounter happened with the young man with the gun then it changed with all the attention that I started to get with the breaking news story that I tackled the young man and took a gun away from him and stopped a mass shooting.
Then it changed in another way and a few months later the video came out and it went viral and everyone saw that it wasn’t a tackle that saved the day, that it was a hug and it was love that saved the day.
Marshall: What was the biggest lesson you learned from coaching at Parkrose?
Lowe: I didn’t know it all. It was a very humbling experience. I came into Parkrose knowing that those young men that I had the opportunity to work with. I knew that they went through their struggles and had tough hands dealt to them as kids.
I didn’t really fully grasp it until I was there on a day to day basis where it was a lot worse than I even thought it would be. I had kids going through a lot of things that really put my life into perspective. All of a sudden my problems or mishaps in my life didn’t seem very big because I was coaching and mentoring kids that went through much more than I did.
Marshall: Can you describe your best friend Taylor Martinek?
Lowe: Taylor was one of the nicest human beings that I ever came across. And he was nice, but he also had a fiery personality. He liked to joke around. He liked to have fun whether it was sports, school or anything. He didn’t take anything too serious. I went to Jesuit High School, so there weren’t a whole bunch of students that resembled me. At times it was tough to figure out who I was and I took all that stuff a little bit too serious and then I have a friend like Taylor Martinek who just goes with the flow.
The one thing that will always stick with me about Taylor is that he was always my biggest fan ever since the high school days, but especially once we kind of went our separate ways.
I went to the University of Oregon to play football and he went to Portland State to play football. He continued to be my biggest fan and my biggest supporter, where he really did and still had a lot of confidence in myself. I’m excited with this story in this book, to keep his legacy going and hopefully help some other people dealing with some of the same things he dealt with.
Marshall: What impact did his death from an opioid overdose have on your life?
Lowe: It was the darkest time of my entire life — a time where my whole life changed.
I started to look at life a little bit different. You feel very invincible when you’re young and you just graduated college. You’re in your early twenties and you feel invincible until something tragic like this happens and you realize, and start to understand how real life can get and how serious some consequences can be. Unfortunately, it took the death of of my best friend to realize that once he passed away, I made him a promise that I was going to continue to live the best life that I could and do the most good that I could for him and I was gonna do anything I could to keep his legacy going and continue to remember his name in the book.
Marshall: You said that you don’t think of yourself as a hero. Do you still feel that way?
Lowe: I do feel that way. I think the act was definitely heroic. In my opinion, there’s everyday heroes everywhere you look and everyone has the opportunity to be a hero in their own community or to be a hero in their workplace or to be a hero for their kids and their family and friends. As long as you’re making other people’s lives better, you can be a hero in your own world. Even if we don’t know someone, or even if we know them, as long as we continue to support each other and help each other, I think you can be a hero in your own right.