Truckee resident Erik Roner, 39, died Monday in a skydiving accident at Squaw. The incident was the equivalent of a NASCAR driver perishing in a head-on on the way to the store to grab a gallon of milk. That said, Roner was a guy who lived without limits and died within them. I only hope his life is recalled for the prior.
First off, an apology.
What you expect to get in columns like this is some kind of insight into the person who just died. A little anecdote. Who was that guy behind all those crazy stunts and the Rockstar jerseys and the camera’d up helmets?
If you’ve read enough of these you’d know, that’s a false promise. Click through, scan and scroll while you take a couple bites—feel sad or at least feel something for a moment—and move on.
I can’t claim Erik Roner as a buddy or even a solid acquaintance. But there is a Venn diagram intersection of our friend circles. I’ve interviewed him before and have gotten the kinds of answers you get in interviews. I’ve listened in on a few of his stories at gatherings and gotten a little more.
He was about my same age. He had a wife and a couple kids. He lived in Truckee.
To me, the actual Erik Roner was on the deceivingly cerebral end of the spectrum for such an athlete. Or maybe the devil on his shoulder just had an advanced degree. How do I put this? Sometimes you talk to these guys and it’s kind of like, ‘You keep jumping off cliffs bro—it’s what you do.’ Erik couldn’t be easily summed up like that in life. So I hope he’s remembered for something besides the way he met his death.
I think if there’s one thing I understand either by osmosis or living near, respecting the craft of and marveling at such athletes; and maybe the one thing the general public doesn’t fully grasp and therefore, it creates a gateway to success, a career from thin air, and eventually, a rapid demise—is that they wouldn’t do anything else. They couldn’t sit still in class. They had to drop out of college. There was a deep need in them, a void in the void if you will, to go out and do things not thought possible.
To guys like Erik, jumping from a plane or hucking off a cliff is as pedantic as me sitting down at my desk and writing this. They know there’s danger implicit. They take the precautions necessary. They rationalize themselves and coax themselves to greater heights. And that’s when it becomes a job.
There’s danger in driving on the freeway. There’s danger in opening Facebook while you’re flying coach. There’s danger, maybe the ultimate danger, in being sedentary.
So they fly till they can’t. And we admire it when we shouldn’t.
Tributes like this usually attempt to evoke this feeling of go out and seek and get after it while at the same time second-guessing and mourning the loss of someone great. I’m not in the position to judge or question or lionize what Erik did—leave that for the talk in line at Wild Cherry’s.
After enough tries doing what they do, they’re going to fall and not get up, be buried and not dig out. Life is finite and fragile and once it’s finished—it’s done.
But there is this nagging thing: Whether this is your life, your vocation, your passion, at some point—your choices aren’t 100 percent your own. Rewind to Monday morning and ask Erik Roner how much that jump meant? How many years of the rest of your life, your kids lives, your wife’s life—is one step worth?
And, if I’m going to point that out, I’m compelled to ask the same question of the guy who stroked out on the golf course while choosing between his nine and his pitching wedge. The guy a couple drinks in who swerved into a tree with only his lanyard to protect him driving home after a conference. The guy who choked on a piece of gristle during his midday Philly Cheesesteak workday lament intake.
Those guys were just doing what they do, too.
Death is not beautiful, it does not discriminate and it is permanent. Some lives are cut short and others never start at all. Erik Roner lived in spite of being closer to knowing this than just about anyone I’d ever met.
And for that, recognition of his passing deserves to be more than just a cautionary tale.
For those who want to support The Roners, a fund has been set up in Erik’s memory: http://www.road2recovery.com/cause-…/erik-roner-fallen-hero/.