LAKE FOREST Mike Kreza was a man who put his wife and three daughters above everything, a man who would rush from work to be on time for his daughter’s soccer games.
He volunteered backstage at another daughter’s school play and would spend an afternoon playing “nail salon” with his third daughter.
Kreza’s 13-year marriage to Shanna didn’t have ups and downs. It only had ups.
These sentiments and memories were shared by family members and friends of Kreza, the Costa Mesa Fire Department captain who was killed while training for a triathlon.
A large contingent of fire and law enforcement personnel on Friday were among about 1,500 mourners at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest to celebrate Kreza’s life.
An 18-year veteran of the Costa Mesa Fire Department, Kreza, 44, was riding his bicycle along Alicia Parkway at 8 a.m. Nov. 3 when he was struck by a van driven by a 25-year-old man. The man was arrested at the scene.
When Kreza died two days later, the man was charged with murder for driving under the influence of drugs.
Kreza, who was planning to compete in an Ironman Triathlon this Sunday, was endearingly described as a man with dashing good looks, but looks that pale in comparison to the kind of person he was.
He set goals and accomplished them amid challenges, earning a bachelor’s degree while working at one of the city’s busiest fire stations, “to show his three girls what is possible,” said Costa Mesa firefighter Steve Cathy, one of Kreza’s closest friends.
He earned a license to sell real estate for no other reason than it was just something he wanted to do, Cathy said.
“Our line of work is difficult,” Cathy said. “We are away from our families. Mike would always make the best of it.”
He would buy multiple U.S. flags on the Fourth of July and hand them out around town, and he’d purchase bags of candy on Halloween to give out to local children.
“Mike was my best friend and my boss,” Cathy said. “Not too many people can say that their best friend is their boss, but I can. Mike put everyone ahead of himself. Mike had a special bond with everyone he touched and you could see that in the crowd here today.”
One day, Kreza told Cathy he was going to compete in an Ironman Triathlon – a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride, and 26.2-mile run.
In 2014, after training for only eight months, Kreza completed his first Ironman in Arizona in about 14 hours, crossing the finish line with a photo of his daughters in one hand and pointing up to God with the other, Cathy recalled.
“Mike, you inspire me to be a better husband, a better father, and a better man,” Cathy said.
Family friend Tiare Brock read a letter penned by Kreza’s wife to her husband.
“‘I don’t know what I will do without my best friend,’” Brock read. “‘You are such an amazing hands-on daddy. You are always 100 percent there for them. When I lost you, I lost my everything.’”
Shanna went on to write that she and her daughters, Kaylie, 11, Layla, 9, and Audrey, 7, are not alone, praising members of the Costa Mesa Fire Department and other agencies for embracing them.
“‘The fire family really cares for others and that is so evident in the way they’ve gently handled us the past few days,’” Brock read.
On the day of the accident, the hallways in the hospital were overflowing with fire personnel, family, and friends, Shanna wrote.
“‘You would be so proud of our village, our village we built together,’” she wrote. “‘I will live every day for your legacy. I don’t know how I will live without you, but I will for you and for our daughters. I love you babe.’”