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Posts Tagged ‘Mad River Glen’

The Beating Heart

Written by Leslie Wright on . Posted in Outdoor Rec and Nature

A father creates a legacy for a son lost on the mountains

On Feb. 27, 2011, Ryan Hawks, a world-class extreme skier from Vermont, was competing at Kirkwood, a resort near Lake Tahoe, California. He launched a backflip off a cliff, and when he landed, struck a sharp outcropping of rock hidden beneath the snow. The trauma of the impact was severe, and after being airlifted off the mountain to a hospital in Reno, Nevada, he died two days later. He was 25.

Ryan Hawks, 1985-2011. Photo by Frank Shine.

❅ Live every day, all day
❅ Never stop exploring life
❅ Never lose my adventuresome attitude
❅ Be the best friend I can be
❅ Be the best brother, son, uncle I can
❅ Look out for others
❅ Look out for myself
❅ Look out for our surroundings
❅ Play like I’m 13
❅ Be self-sufficient
❅ Don’t be afraid to ask for help
❅ Work hard
❅ Live easy
❅ Live simply

Photo by Frank Shine.

In the weeks after the tragedy, as the solemn task got underway of weighing what to preserve among the deceased’s possessions, a family friend discovered, on Hawks’ computer, a list of “Ryan’s Core Principles for Living.”

The note was a kind of self-help guide, “a note from Ryan to Ryan” as the family later described it, but it had a remarkable, Zen-like character, contained in simple expressions — “Never stop exploring life,” “Look out for others,” and a dozen other phrases (see caption) profound in their clarity and wisdom. 

Peter Hawks, Ryan’s then 72-year-old father, had been preparing a way to honor his son through a memorial fund, but he was struck by the power of the core principles, and felt they could be the tenets of something significant. He was also electrified, as he recounts it, by the notion that his son’s life was not where he thought it was. It was actually “a current event.”

Three months after the skiing accident, Peter Hawks created The Flyin’ Ryan Hawks Foundation, a nonprofit organization, hoping to share Ryan’s principles as a way to inspire others. Hawks admits that his wife and Ryan’s mother, Jackie, and their daughter, Alicia, were not on board with the foundation in the beginning, fearing that Ryan’s memory would become commercialized. Nevertheless, Peter moved ahead. His first steps were small, on a shoestring, with no road map. Cards were printed containing the core principles. Some decals were created. Bits and pieces trickled out into Vermont’s skiing community, which is where the idea might have stayed except for the breakthrough that came at South Burlington High School.

Ryan Hawks had attended the school, serving on the student council, playing on the lacrosse team and graduating in 2004 (he went on to earn a degree from the University of Vermont). John Painter, a teacher at the school, also knew Peter Hawks through mountain bike racing. When Painter saw the “core principles” and Peter’s vision behind it, the opportunity presented itself to cross the idea over from mountain culture into the education system — a new way to reach large numbers of young

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