Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Life, Death, and All That Falls Between

"There is no passion to be found in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living."

Disclaimer: This post might read more like a rant than a neutral blog post. For that, I apologize. Not really, but if you read on you have been forewarned.

It is a sad but indisputable fact that in extreme sports there is both glory and tragedy. I guess that is why we call them extreme. Really, this is true for everything though- life has it's highs and lows. This week was a real low for the US ski racing family with the loss of two young US Ski Team athletes, Ronnie Berlack and Bryce Astle, in an avalanche in the mountains of Soelden, Austria. While I didn't know either of these boys personally, I know many just like them, and feel the pain of loss that their families and friends are feeling. Additionally, I am saddened by the lack of compassion and
Ronnie Berlack
judgement that the general public expresses to their grieving families. I find it utterly inexcusable that people take to their keyboards to pass judgement regarding this tragedy as "avoidable", a "waste of talent" or blaming the
victims for "irresponsibly skiing off the prepared terrain" as suggested by several news outlets. Even those who appear to be trying to console the loved ones with statements like "at least they died doing what they loved" appear to be missing the point.

First of all, these boys who died in the avalanche were the best of US skiing's youth. They pushed hard, lived hard, and played hard. They didn't become the best by sticking to the groomers. What I mean by this is that you don't become a great racer by only skiing in gates. The kids who rise above the masses are the kids who do it all: they ski the groomed terrain, they ski the bumps, they train gates, they take jumps, and yes, they ski off piste. In this case, these boys were skiing in-bounds at an Austrian ski resort in untracked powder. Did they make a tragic error in judgement descending the slope that triggered the avalanche? I would say yes. Do their families need to be told that the accident was avoidable or that their lives were wasted? Hardly. This is why we call them accidents, rather than
Bryce Astle
"on-purposes". Should they have done snowpack tests and had avalanche beacons and shovels? Of course the armchair expert in all of us would say yes now that we know the outcome. Haven't most of us erred in judgement in a way that could have ended in disaster? Let me count the ways I have....

I've skidded on the ice before putting my snow tires on my car....
I've hiked alone in the woods in the winter without a cell phone...
I've walked on ice that may have been too thin...
I've driven my car on days when the road conditions were terrible...
I've climbed 30 feet up a banana tree before making a plan for how I would get down... (OK, so maybe that one doesn't apply to most of us).

... and these are examples are things I have done as an adult (as in, very recently). I don't care to think of the "avoidable" risks I took at age 19 and 20. Maybe the moral is that I am lucky. I AM lucky. We make decisions everyday that can end in disaster. Most of us get lucky when we make the wrong one. We hope that with each decision we are still here and better-prepared to make the next one. Ronnie, Bryce, and all of the others who have been lost under similar circumstances aren't going to get that chance.

Which brings me to my final objection to the cliche' way that the public often react to human tragedy with statements like "at least they died doing what they loved", as though that should provide comfort. I can guarantee you, almost without exception, that people who have been lost in avalanches, falls, crashes, or other accidents would have chosen to stay home if they knew what the outcome would have been. No one says "wow, at least the powder up top was awesome. Totally awesome ride" as an avalanche overtakes them. No one. Their families all know them well enough to know they would rather be here sharing stories and laughs with the ones they love. They took a risk. It wasn't the first one they had taken. They made the best decisions they could at the time. It was a terrible accident. They will be missed by all who loved them. Period.
If our time on earth is indeed limited, I have no intention of wasting any of it.

If I should ever die before the ripe old age of 95 in some sort of accident, please don't do this to my family. Instead, please tell them the following:

1) I will be their biggest cheerleader as they go through life, wherever it is that I am. Tell them that if there is any such thing as an afterlife, I will be waiting there for them with open arms.

2) Please tell them I always tried to make the best decisions I could. They day I died was no different. Maybe I made a decision that resulted in my death, that doesn't mean I carelessly wasted my life. Instead, I was living my life.

3) Grieve for me, but don't be afraid. The only greater tragedy of my death would be that my loved ones spend their lives afraid to live passionately because of me. Use my accident as a lesson to help you make good decisions. Learn from me. Live for me.

4) If I had known the outcome of the day, I would have stayed in bed.

5) Know that I was grateful for every person I loved in my life. Be happy that we shared the time, love, and experiences that we did. Life isn't measured in years- it is measured in moments.


"Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but the moments that take your breath away."- Anonymous.


  1. Very Well said Shelley. Live gives generously, but sometimes takes tragically and that is what happened to these two young guys.