This is the fourth year since Ryan's passing. In commemoration of his being, I'm putting out a series of 5 tributes: a collection of short true stories of experiences we shared and in essence, give you a glimpse of his unforgettable character. With his 35th birthday coming up on June 5th, and going into the fifth year of his absence, I wanted the world know what a big impression he left on my life.
Ryan was an athlete at conception. He came out of his mother's womb ready to tackle the world. By age two he was skiing down Washington State's steep terrain, skating circles around most adults on the ice and by age four, pointing his skis straight down hill with no fear. In school his drive was recognized as he made All Star team after All Star team, despite usually being the smallest guy on the squad.
His work ethic and natural born talent made him extremely coach-able and dozens and dozens of Most Valuable Player awards adorned his trophy collections.
His mom, understanding his drive and passion, supported him the best way a mother can - driving him to and from hockey practice, to the mountains, basketball courts and soccer fields. But his focus didn't end on the training grounds - Ryan would come home and do hundreds of sit ups and push ups in his room after practice. Tom, his step dad, would walk into his room, hearing Ryan counting and strange noises from upstairs and catch him legs wrapped around his top bunk, suspended in air and doing sit ups, "24, 25, 26, 27..." and start adding in numbers: "8, 16, 4, 7, 23". Ryan would lose track, get upset and then start all over again from the beginning.
In high school, Ryan focused primarily on hockey. He spent the majority of his time in Canada - teaching in Penticton, playing with sharp skates, hurling sticks and reaching his VO2 Max daily. Again, since he was smaller than most, he worked even harder. Bigger, slower opponents could send him flying across the ice but they'd have to catch him first. And often Ryan skated circles around them. He also was the one to start the most fights - losing his front tooth before he had his first tattoo.
By the time Ryan and I met, hockey had run its course in his life. Or at least wasn't the dominant drive it had once been. Hanging out with his friends and partying became important. He took a year off from school after graduating high school. Yet somehow, call it fate or destiny, our circle of friends knew one another and as a result we met. But his drive and passion was shifting.
He enrolled back in school and applied himself to his studies. He excelled at math and computer science. And during that time he discovered rock climbing. Or rather, it discovered him. He became obsessed, as only a lifelong athlete can. But living in the wet Pacific Northwest climate is rough for a burgeoning climber. I remember early one summer, I dropped Ryan off at Josh's house for a two week long road/climbing trip, and he returned transformed. That trip cemented his love for climbing.
By default, I started climbing too. I loved spending time with Ryan, in the outdoors and going places only a handful of people on the planet have been. We spent our honeymoon in Yosemite - the birthplace of American climbing. We traveled to Europe to climb Fontainebleu, Ceuse, the Dolomites, the Bavarian Forest, Chamonix. We road tripped down to Arizona, California, Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, and Utah.
During those road trips, we would swap driving but every time rock came into view, either off the side of the freeway or an obscure place, Ryan would forget he was behind the wheel and marvel at the rock, nearly crashing. And if I was behind the wheel, he would glue his eyes to the window asking me to slow down. What did he see? What was this drive?
It was becoming clear to me that Ryan's love for climbing went beyond normal interests. He was so passionate about rocks - the way they form, the way they feel, the way they climb - that I had to find something I was equally as passionate about. Unfortunately it wasn't hauling myself up granite slabs. Sure, I enjoyed it. Especially multi-pitch adventure routes. But it stopped there. Cycling entered into my life and swept me off my feet.
Even though we were involved in different sports and as a result spent a lot of time apart on the weekends, we both saw the importance of supporting one another in our sports. Not a day went by where he would ask me how my ride was that day, nor I him about the bouldering problem he was tackling. When ever I would ride up to Little Si after work to meet him and his friends at World Wall 1, I would be introduced to people and they would know more about my cycling career then I would. Ryan was so proud of me, and I in turn of him.
I saw and recognized the beauty of following your passion. Of devoting your life toward what drives you. Of being absolutely content because you are following your heart. Ryan's heart yearned to climb upside down. He loved the physical challenge and the mental fortitude required. Any one who knew him saw this about his character immediately.
Every time I see an outcrop of rock (and there are a lot of them here in Colorado Springs), I think of him. I look at the natural climbing lines, its texture and am reminded that following your passion is the only way to live.