STRENGTH IN NUMBERS:THE IMPORTANCE OF GRIEVING TOGETHER AS A COMMUNITY
Belonging to a community like the one we have through mountain biking, we benefit greatly from the inspiration, influence, and individuality of others. But we also suffer enormous losses and feel these losses very deeply. For all the positives we gain, we also surrender to great sorrows throughout our lives simply due to the enormity of our collective.
It’s no secret that the beginning of this year has been complete shit when it comes to the untimely deaths of great people. Both Kelly McGarry and Stevie Smith passed away far too soon, but each touched our lives by showing us what was possible. In bearing witness to their accomplishments and setbacks, we took from them the inspiration to push our own boundaries. We love them as much for who they were, as we do for how they made us feel about ourselves. And whether we knew them personally or followed their strong media presences, we lived vicariously through their passion and traveled the world through their eyes. We are all affected by their loss and the loss of all heroes like them, but we are also united as a community in sorrow.
While some are grieving an intimate loss – the absence of friendship, family, love, daily interactions, and future plans – even fans who never met them are all grieving on some level. Our expressions of sorrow and the intensity of our feelings will vary because the uniqueness of every person, every life, means tragedy impacts each of us differently. At the very least, the loss of anyone in our midst reminds us of the fragility of life and that nothing lasts forever.
When Kelly back flipped the canyon at Red Bull Rampage in 2013 –whether you were there on the ground, watching it live on TV, or saw it later through social media – that moment bonded us. Through that shared experience and those like it, we have built a far-reaching international community of mountain bikers.
We all watched Stevie grow up through races, movies, and interviews and we all pinned our hopes and dreams on that young, fast kid from a small town with the awesome mom. From the moment the movie Seasons dropped, we knew he’d be our champion, our great Canadian hope who would inspire riders around the world. The culmination of this was his win in Leogang, Austria, earning him the World Cup in 2013. We all lost our shit – so to speak – when we heard Rob Warner announce, "only a few seconds away from winning the World Cup for the very first time, Stevie Smith attacks, here he comes – look at the time!"
Uniting in celebration of these achievements and historic moments in our sport, and now in the process of grieving, strengthens our bonds and bolsters our community. Positive or negative, these common experiences allow us to connect and validate our feelings. By supporting each other, we can build something positive out of these tragedies – and the future ones that we are powerless to stop.
When I heard the news about Stevie last week, I was standing alone on a sidewalk in North Vancouver. All I wanted was to be with people who understood the gutted feeling I was experiencing – so I went to the nearest bike shop. It didn’t matter who would be there, I knew we would all be feeling the same way. I walked through the door and was immediately embraced – I didn’t have to say a word, and no one else did either. We cried and hugged, no pretense or preamble required. I was comforted by the fact that I belong to something that is bigger than me.
Grieving isn't necessarily only about the memories we already have; those are in the past. It's also about the loss of future moments we were certain we would share with those we’ve lost. We are grieving the loss of inspiration, the loss of feeling united while watching Stevie race to triumph or Kelly seemingly prove physics wrong again. We are grieving those unknown experiences that we always assumed we would have, but that have now been stolen.
The passing of Kelly and Stevie will not be the last time our community deals with loss and grief. But we can take comfort in knowing that we can learn from these tragedies and build our community up. Talk to your friends and share with your community. When we share stories, memories, feelings, videos, and photos, we are adding new dimensions to their lives for others to experience, and we are expanding on the impact that they made in our world during their short lives. We are ensuring the everyone has the opportunity to know exactly how great they were, both on and off the bike, and why we will always miss them. We are inviting others to know them better, even though they are gone. Sharing past moments will keep those we’ve lost close and bring our community even closer. It will keep the spark they ignited in each of us alive and flourishing.
There will always be new people to share memories and stories of our lost heroes with, and we have new traditions to develop in their honor. We are strong individually, but when we come together when we share the responsibility, we are unstoppable as a community. Together we keep the essence of the great people we’ve lost alive in our sport.
Stevie and Kelly didn't know me but I knew them and felt like I could identify with them in some way... that was plenty enough for me to feel close to them which no doubt was a significant factor in how much I was impacted by their passing. Totally normal. Grief isn't easy so don't think you need to do it on your own.
RIP Stevie and Kelly. Thanks for the inspiration and good memories.
Once again times are hard for the cycling as well as for the music world. I just found out that Nick Menza died, who's been playing drums for Megadeth for a fair while.
A thought though... if I don't feel much remorse for death of Kelly, thus according to all social norms I should feel there is something wrong with me, does it mean that if I almost cried a few times thinking about Stevie and his mom, I should feel good about myself?
If that makes anyone angry because it is such a cold hearted thing to write, does that mean that loss created anxiety, the release of energy gets channeled into wrong direction to hate a stupid, narcissistic troll? Can we channel that energy to do something positive? Can we treat someone's death and make something good out of it? It seems that it is exactly what Stevies closest person is doing, turning a loss into a win. His mom, wants to start a foundation. Perhaps she will be shuttling kids up the mountain and I am happy to support that in every single way.
Do we really need to give ourselves occasions to cry? Instead of reasons to smile based on what happened? I rode a bike the day after I learned about his death, and it happened that I had a bloody good day, I had a great time, I thought of him and I smiled I was happy I am alive. I hoped I was smiling as much as he was on so many pictures and that one podium I saw him on with my own eyes. I smiled a bit more, because his Death made me think how easy it is for everything to end. That I may be killed on the way home from woods. The brutal fact that many of us can't appreciate something that comes in abundance, the fear of loss is what makes it more vivid.
Favorites of Gods die young. The most brutal truth about young Athletes passing away is that they are better remembered than those who died on their beds. Many leave greater legacy this way. Community... they can hug you, and they can f*cking hang you. Have no doubts, not even for a moment. Think for yourself, question whatever you don't understand. Make the best out of every fall.
Let's give yourselves reasons to
I just read your comment and the one in the uci memorial article. I respect your right to post anything you want but can you just let this go for now and let people grieve?
For once this isn't about you or what your reactions to his passing say about you as a human being.
I used to explain downhill as "Bikes are my sunday football." And all of a sudden it made sense to the non followers.
You'll always have our support. It's the way of the brotherhood. The same way I slow down and give extra room to cyclists on the road, it's not dirt but we still share a passion for two wheels, it's about respect and understanding we're all family.
You clearly 'know' grief and we wish you strength and comfort... as you've just given us.
unless @dbaker is writing in figurative manner, and I'm kinda missing the point.