This is a story I wrote after the passing of a friend that I was subsequently asked to read at her memorial service. Stella, affectionately known as Christopher Robin amongst her friends for her often childlike innocence, was a professional athlete who in her twenties held the world record for speed skiing, and who died in an avalanche in Sun Valley, ID in 2009. I make a point to repost on the anniversary of her passing, so that no one forgets, as if they could.
As long as I have known Stella the mountain has been trying to kill her. Last week it finally succeeded. And while it is cliché to say, she did die doing what she loved.
I first met Stella in the 80's, shortly after she had learned to walk but could not yet tie her shoes. She was not a toddler at the time (despite an undeniable childlike quality to her personality), rather she was in her late 20's and recovering from the mountain's first attempt to kill her. She had offended the ancient god by racing down its slopes at world record setting speeds, and it had tried to teach her a lesson by breaking nearly every bone in her body. However, Stella didn't like to take orders from anyone, including Mother Nature.
Stella was, by definition, fearless. Not so much I think because she wasn't afraid to die, but because she didn't actually believe the rules applied specifically to her. She saw "OUT OF BOUNDS" signs as invitations rather than warnings. She would jump a mountain bike off the side of a cliff before checking to see if there was a safe place to land on the presumption that the universe would create one by the time she got to the bottom. I had, on a number of occasions, accused her of having a death wish - but in retrospect - she was actually sparring with death. They would take jabs at each other from time to time. She also made periodic sacrifices of others to the great gods to appease them and keep their wrath at bay. I know she tried to feed me to the mountain at Squaw Valley at least once and Ski Patrol was none too pleased to have to come fetch my sorry ass from the shoulder deep powder she dragged me into after I refused to take one of her "short cuts" (read off a cliff) down the mountain. She also took me for a walk on a Mexican beach filled with sea snakes and suggested I try to dodge them like an obstacle course.
Like a sailor with a girl in every port, Stella left a trail of broken men in nearly every town and country we visited. I have lost count of the bodies over the years, but the victims were always the same. Relatively nice, often good looking, men who fancied themselves attractive and athletic. A few of them may even have been professional athletes. They would come to her and say "Hey, Stella - we should go for a run (bike ride, ski down the mountain, fill in the blank with the extreme sport of the day). I hear you're pretty good." Stella would coyly smile and bat her eyelashes and say "Sure that sounds great." While Carol, Julie, Elaine, Tally or I would shout warnings like "You really don't want to do that!" or "Do you have health insurance?" to no avail. Once Stella had cast her spell on them, all else was white noise.
Stella would invariably put them through their paces. The heartier ones would survive the adventure and return to base camp with as many bruises on their male egos as on their bodies, and the solemn vow never to go out with her again. However, more often than not, Stella would leave men by the side of the road, bloodied and sobbing for their mothers. She would go for help, but depending upon how bad your wounds were, she'd usually leave you to the professionals and finish her workout.
While it is true that Stella died young at 53, I honestly think she went at the right time. She would not have borne the agonies of aging particularly well. She would not have appreciated the confinement and restrictions of age. Arthritis, Osteoporosis, broken hips, and the like would have broken her spirit. She thrived on being not just physically active, but being extremely active. She was fueled by the challenge to her body and the hormonal rush of feats that make us mere mortals quake to think of.
This was not Stella's first brush with death, or with an avalanche and I suspect her final moments were filled not with terror, but in an endorphin high from the adrenaline rush of being chased down the mountain by her old adversary doing battle, once again, albeit I am sure she never imagined that it was for the last time. I can only hope she left a bitter taste in the ancient god's mouth, for her death has left a hole in the Hundred Acre Wood.