It's a blue bird day at Teacup Lake Nordic area and the sun lights up the snowy peak of nearby Mt. Hood. I push off on a crust of perfectly groomed Nordic track on my classic skis, trying to catch...
Creating heroes by glorifying their deaths from their adventurous pursuits has never made sense to me. As a climber I have had a few near death experiences, but personally I have never agreed with substantiating death from “doing what he or she loved.” None of us seek adventure to die. We do it to live. Living life to its fullest sometimes by pushing through fear with calculated risk… aka “The Edge.”
My hero died doing something he loved. He also raced fast cars. He ran fast. He lifted heavy weights. He wakeboarded. He snowboarded. He skied. He climbed. He skydived. He BASE jumped. He summited Mount Hood more than 200 times.
But none of those things made my brother, Michael Leming, a hero.
What made Michael a hero was the man he was on safe and solid ground. He had a sincere gift of caring for others. He was a friend to hundreds and impacted the lives of thousands across the world. He was a long-time veteran of Portland Mountain Rescue. He volunteered for Big City Mountaineers and other dynamic causes. To some of us, he was simply “Leming,” our brother. To others, he was a passionate culture enhancer as the top recruiter for Nike. And to ALL of us, a super cool guy. A guy that most guys want to be like or hang around.
“LemDog” as he was affectionately called by his sky diving and BASE jumping friends, died in a wingsuit accident in Norway this past week. His love of his life was unfortunately there to witness his last jump and the world that he touched was crushed. It’s certainly not a surprise when you lose someone to an extreme sport, but it hurts. It hurts bad and it makes people question why, especially those who don’t understand the passion for living life at its maximum potential… The Edge.
Even as his climbing partner (we summited Hood together 40-50 times) and one of his best friends, I questioned Michael many times about his need to continue BASE jumping. I was worried that this day would come and selfishly, my life wouldn’t be as full without him in it. And I was right on both accounts.
I was with him when he used up some of God’s “hall passes”… The time he dropped to the deck and fell down Mount Hood and was then choppered off the mountain. I was there when he flew off an unseen cornice in a whiteout for yet another hospital visit. I was there when he tore his Achilles near the top of Mount St. Helen’s and together we pushed him down the mountain for 5 or 6 hours while he sat on top of his snowboard. And that was just from climbing and snowboarding. His list of near death experiences certainly doesn’t end there, not when you drive fast, skydive and BASE jump.
What I have come to realize after the anger of his death, is that it wasn’t Michael’s destiny to live slower, get older and settle down like most of us. He was a tiger living amongst sheep and followed his own path. Michael lived his life on his terms. He lived BIG and we admired him for that. But his willingness to live on that edge did not make him a hero.
Michael the man made him a hero. All of us are saddened because we won’t ever again be able to speak to him, text with him, laugh with him, cry with him and of course, climb and jump with him. The day after he died, I skinned up high on Hood with my splitboard looking for a raven named Leming. I searched the sky many times that day and as I finally descended down the mountain, I looked behind me wondering where my brother was as he was so many times before. But he wasn’t there and I cried as realized I would never celebrate another summit with my hero.
As for the raven, I didn’t see him either. Not yet, but we will see him. There is no doubt about that.
R.I.P. Leming. We’ll see ya at your “church” aka Mount Hood soon, brother.
"Mountains are cathedrals: grand and pure, the houses of my religion. I go to them as humans go to worship…from their lofty summits, I view my past, dream of the future and with unusual acuity, I am allowed to experience the present moment. My strength renewed, my vision cleared, in the mountains I celebrate creation, on each journey I am reborn. " - Anatoli Boukreev
Jarod Cogswell is the founder of Enterprise Athlete and Oregon’s first hybrid fitness facility, FIT Academy, located in Portland, OR.