It seems like an hour ago. We were waiting for our bags to come off the belt in the baggage area of the Munich International Airport. Dark circles betray the eyes of the weary bodies that were desperately trying to cope with the 8-hour time change. As we wait, we attempt to distract ourselves from the fatigue that hangs over our brains. We chat about nothing and, then again, about all there ever is to chat about. About family, home, the holidays, and the flight.
Our bags come. After each guy tediously balances 3 ski bags and two duffels on a single cart, I say goodbye. We are headed in separate directions. I, to Almdorf, Austria, and the D-Team boys, to Solden, Austria. I smile and laugh a little bit to myself when I hear where they are planning to “train” in Solden. I have been there many times and never once had good training. I smile because I wish them the best of luck. I laugh because I wish I could come with them to shred the 1-2 feet of powder you can usually count on to fall while attempting to train.
I shake each one of their hands. I give some of them hugs. Not the sappy, “I haven’t seen you in years, double-arm wrap, hips in” type hugs. I give them a, “cool guy, bro dude, single arm clasp to chesty” hug. Everything is as it ever was. Except… it wasn’t as it ever was. This time was special. Because this time would be the last time I would see Ronnie Berlack and Bryce Astle for the rest of my life.
I didn’t know Bryce very well. I was fortunate to have been able to get to know him a little bit better throughout this last year. Of all the endless things I’d like to write about him, I’ll say just this: There are a lot of sports psychologists, sayings, books, movies, and religions that convey this idea of “living in the moment”. It is something I have striven for in ski racing, and in life in general. But at times, when I let the little things overwhelm me into frustration, I can lose sight of what’s most important. Bryce seemed to be one of the lucky few who didn’t have to remind himself to live in the moment. He truly lived life to the fullest. He was the moment. No more. No less.
I didn’t know Ronnie very well either. He grew up racing in eastern region and was a couple years younger then me. So, it wasn’t until he made the team that I got to meet him. He struck me as bit odd. For instance, when playing volleyball. He had this routine leading up to his serve that seemed to defy logic and gravity. It was a performance in itself. A well-rehearsed ballet that took precise timing between each choreographed step and arm movement. As silly as it seemed, in the end, he was as competitive, as fun to play with, and tried as hard as any of us. Harder in fact.
Over the last couple days I’ve been around a lot of people who either knew Ronnie and Bryce personally, or who didn’t know them but were aware of the accident through the ski community. In either case, there wasn’t a lot to say… verbally at least. When trying to talk about it. When trying to come up with the right words to say, waves of memories flood the mind. Flashes of sound, color, and emotion blend together and overwhelm the senses until there is nothing to say. Only a long moment of eye contact, an embrace, a hug, or a moment of silence, shared between family and friends, seems to contain enough meaning to adequately respect the memory of all that Bryce and Ronnie are.
I think that death teaches us a lot about ourselves. Grief exists only in the mind, but is as tangible to the physical senses as sight or sound. It causes us to think, to remember, and to feel. In my memories of those who have passed on, I also observe the memory of myself. Who I was, how I was, and what I did. As I re-live each moment, I think, “How could I have been better?” or “what could I have done to make this persons time on earth better?” Or, in other words, “could I have been a better person in the eyes of Ronnie, or Bryce?” And, the answer is… yes.
I could have reached out to Bryce when he was trying to make the U.S. Ski Team. I had been through the same struggles with Snowbird’s Ski Team, and should have been there to make sure he had every opportunity to see his dreams fulfilled. I could have been more patient with Ronnie. I could have taken more time to understand the brilliance of his wacky metaphors.
But this isn’t about regret. In honoring the lives of Bryce and Ronnie, it does us no good to dwell in regret. Like Bryce’s dad Jamie said, “Honor him by doing something nice or helpful for someone.” To me that means we should remember all that the memories of Bryce and Ronnie still have to offer the world. But also, that we should treat the people in our lives; our family, our friends, our loved ones, and everyone we haven’t yet met, in the way we wish we could have been with Bryce and Ronnie while they were still alive.
Then, when the chaos of existence calls the name of a loved one before their time is rightfully up. Instead of being drained by grief, we can instead be filled with gratitude, love, and hope. Gratitude: That we were lucky enough to know them in their time here on earth. Love: For all they stood for, achieved, and strived for. And Hope: That we can carry on, bringing the same joy to others, that they brought to us.
See you soon boys… In this life or the next.