Losing a friend is never easy. Losing one before his or her time can be almost unbearable. Over the past few years, the ski racing community has had to say goodbye to more than its fair share of friends well before their time.
Late last month, members of the ski racing community gathered in Steamboat Springs, Colo., from Aug. 25-27 to remember the short but bountiful life of 22-year-old Murphy Roberts, who passed away on Aug. 14 following a hiking accident in Utah that was caused by a diabetic seizure.
Roberts, who was a type 1 diabetic, was about to enter his senior year at Middlebury College in Vermont and was one of the most colorful characters on the Eastern collegiate circuit. Dozens of friends from Middlebury, Burke Mountain Academy, and elsewhere made the journey to his hometown for a weekend of memories and laughs.
“He never enabled the disease to limit his life or make it anything less than what he wanted.”
– Hig Roberts
The weekend kicked off on Thursday with a memorial service held at Howelsen Hill where upwards of 500 people gathered to share stories and lessons they learned from Roberts’ limited time here on Earth.
“A lot of people didn’t know about Murphy’s condition, type 1 diabetes, which he’d had since he was 11,” says Roberts’ older brother and former U.S. Ski Team athlete, Hig. “A lot of the reason why they didn’t know was that he never made it a defining part of his character. He never let it slow him down. He never enabled the disease to limit his life or make it anything less than what he wanted.”
According to Hig, Murphy was a well-known figure on the Middlebury campus due to his energetic personality, unique style choices, association with the ski team, and his provocative writing that made its way around campus. Even those who didn’t know Murphy personally found it almost impossible not to at least know of Murphy.
On Friday morning, close friends and family gathered for a sunrise hike up Howelsen Hill, where Murphy and his siblings spent their formative years honing their racing skills under the lights overlooking town.
The Roberts family
To close out the weekend, the family opened up its 100-acre property outside of Steamboat for an all-day gathering on Saturday where guests were encouraged to dress like Murphy would in Hawaiian shirts, jean shorts, bucket hats, and wolf T-shirts. A giant game of Wiffle ball, a family favorite, capped off the day.
“For about a couple hours, we stood in a circle and gave people the opportunity to step forward and tell stories about Murphy, read poems, and speak about what Murphy meant to them,” Hig says. “It was truly the most incredible thing I’ve ever been a part of, just to see this mega-friendship of people that Murphy touched so tremendously.”
Individuals from all aspects of Murphy’s life – from his first teachers, best friends, and ski coaches, to people he had barely met – opened up about his impact on them and how his life will influence theirs for years to come.
“I have realized that my life is ultimately not dictated by the seconds it takes me to get down a race course, but the minutes I spent riding up chairlifts with teammates.” – Murphy Roberts
This past February, Murphy announced via Facebook that after constant struggles with injury, he would leave the sport of ski racing. His message was one that all racers, past and present, can appreciate, relate to, and learn from.
“I don’t remember when it began or how it all happened,” Murphy wrote. “I don’t remember learning or anything. It simply was. Skiing became my first and most profound love. To that feeling, I will return.”
He continued, “I have realized that my life is ultimately not dictated by the seconds it takes me to get down a race course, but the minutes I spent riding up chairlifts with teammates distracting ourselves by any means possible to forget it was -20 and we were only wearing thin spandex suits, the endless hours spent laboring over our skis in the tuning room knowing that with one mistake during the race run, all our work would be meaningless, and the days of traveling to some distant ski resort outpost not knowing if there would even be enough snow to race on.”
It is far too easy to forget that sometimes, the best things in life are often those most taken for granted. Looking back, many of our most cherished memories as skiers have nothing to do with results, but have everything to do with the people who enabled those results, or in some cases, even prevented them. Roberts was lucky to understand that.
“Murphy was this incredible human being who brought together so many different types of people from so many different walks of life and cherished each person for who they were because he was never afraid to be who he was and he never changed himself for anyone,” says Hig. “He embraced his quirks and his disease and the difficulties he had in life.”
A second memorial gathering for Murphy Roberts will be held in Mead Memorial Chapel on the campus of Middlebury College at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 17.
The family has asked those who are interested in expressing their condolences to consider a donation to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund.