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.