In November, when Jeff Leonia, 24, passed away suddenly in a car accident, thousands reached out to his friends and family, sharing their favorite memories of the kind-hearted captain. They all told how he’d changed their lives for the better.
“Everyone always wants more time. We say we will do things next year, and then it doesn’t happen,” said Tony Young, Leonia’s business partner and friend. “Jeff was different. He lived his life making the most of every day. We can all take a lesson from him and how he lived his life.”
Leonia’s infectious zest for life inspired his girlfriend Stephanie Sirotzke, his brother Kyle and his aunts to create a “Live Like Jeff” movement and an Instagram account (@live_like_jeff) shortly after losing him.
Sirotzke said, “We asked everyone to share their adventures with us — diving, fishing, boating, paddleboarding, anything. Share when you’re living your life to the fullest, like Jeff did. We just want to put that energy out into the world.”
In the month since its launch, there’s been an “overwhelming” response of people tagging the account and using the hashtag “#LiveLikeJeff” to showcase how they’ve also been inspired to “live more,” Sirotzke said.
Drake Noble, Leonia’s childhood best friend, added, “He loved life. He was just living, and it didn’t matter what it was, he made the most of it.”
Five months after his passing and in the midst of the coronavirus lockdown, Sirotzke and the Leonia family are making the most of the situation. They’ve created a flag in Leonia’s honor with all his favorite things — the ocean, a swordfish and the coordinates for Alligator Lighthouse. The background is Carolina blue, Leonia’s favorite color, and the flag is made in the U.S., something that would have meant a lot to him, said Sirotzke.
“He would joke that he’s a pirate and I’m a mermaid, and that we needed a pirate flag,” Sirtozke chuckled. “And so this is that! And, it’s a way to help the community but also honor our captain who so many are mourning and missing.”
Leonia grew up on these waters and had recently bought a home in Islamorada, planning to make the Keys his and Sirotzke’s permanent home. His favorite thing to do was to stay up all night looking at the stars and then jump off the lighthouse at dawn. His newfound passion was swordfishing, and he still holds the current record at Worldwide Sportsman for a “457-pound monster swordfish,” Sirotzke proudly shared.
More than just a commemorative piece, the flag symbolizes what Jeff stood for. “Live Like Jeff” runs across the bottom in capital letters, reminding anyone who sees it to live large and go for their passion.
Sirotzke and the Leonias will be selling the flags and donating 100 percent of the proceeds to local charities across the Florida Keys helping the local community during the coronavirus crisis. They’ve been talking to Mike Forster about donating funding to his effort to feed the community and plan to talk to more charities to find out what is most needed.
“During these times, when I think about what Jeff would be doing, it’s one, swordfishing, and two, helping the community,” said Sirotzke. “He’d be focusing on the positive and trying to make the best of everything and live each day, so we wanted to keep his spirit alive and do something positive to make him proud. I think he’d be smiling down on us.”
To purchase a flag and join the movement, visit https://livelikejeff.com/ or @live_like_jeff on Instagram.