My last column, which ran on August 28th, was about my phenomenal experience tandem B.A.S.E. jumping in May with new found friends, Mario Richard and his wife Steph Davis in Moab, Utah. I didn’t know it at the time of writing, but my partner in flight caught his last air on August 19, 2013.
Mario Richard, originally of Quebec City, died during a wingsuit flight in the Italian Dolomites. He was proximity flying, and something went terribly wrong. Mario crashed and didn’t survive.
It’s strange the connection that I felt with this couple. Steph and I had many similarities in life, including being writers, having failed marriages and being blessed with a true deep love that rose out of the ashes. Mario was her Phoenix, and I ache at the very thought of losing mine. I have cried more hours than I care to admit, for her, for her loss, for the world’s loss.
I miss Mario. I expected to be sitting across many a dinner table with Mario and Steph in the future, and I still deeply grieve the loss of such an exceptional spirit.
He was an amazing man. He was such a fantastic blend of the elements that he lived for: earth, wind, and fire.
He was as strong as a rock he would climb and jump from; strong in mind, body, and soul. He was one of the most calm, confident, people I’d ever had the pleasure of meeting. There was no ego; just strength in character and a mastery of everything he seemed to attempt. He also gave off such a genuine warmth like the sun-baked red-rock of Utah, the place he called home for the past so many years.
Mario was also as uplifting as the wind he soared upon. He was witty and impish and he breathed intelligence and life into every conversation. He flew like a bird in life and now is part of another elite group of flyers: the angels.
As for fire, Mario was a very passionate person. He did what he loved. If only more people could walk in his shoes and not follow the path dictated by others! His passion started as a child when he made parachutes out of plastic bags for his G.I. Joe action figures. His first skydive was over 25 years ago and he said he was hooked immediately. He pursued everything to do with skydiving with zeal and purpose. He became an expert in all things related to skydiving, including acquiring his pilot’s licence. His website says: ” Over 7000 skydives later, I’m still in love with it. My favorite skydive is flying a wingsuit side by side with my wife Steph over the Moab desert scenery.”
Mario was with Steph when the accident happened. I am consoled for him that he died doing what he loved most with the woman he loved the most, but am tortured by the thought of her having to witness her Phoenix turning into Icarus.
A comparison of Mario to Icarus, the mythological god that flew too close to the sun with his wings fashioned of feathers and wax, is apt in some ways, in that Mario was a leader in his sport and proximity flying is about how close you can get to objects and does involve pushing the envelope. It’s wrong in that there was no hubris in Mario. He loved to fly and he took only calculated risks. It seems like a contradiction, but Mario was truly one of the most safe extreme-sportspeople that I’ve ever met.
Mario had a perfect safety record over his 20 years of B.A.S.E jumping, including over 2000 B.A.S.E jumps all over the world. Yet he didn’t puff out his chest and talk about the stunt work he’d done, or trumpet his long list of achievements and qualifications. Instead he continued to help the sport evolve, and it was on the Moab cliffs that I crossed his path in what he called “The next step in this ever-evolving passion for parachutes: Tandem B.A.S.E jumping.”
I cherish my life-experience with Mario, and only wish I’d had more time to be around him.
What I am taking away from this is a profound reminder that life is short and we need to make sure that our loved ones know just how loved they are, because accidents happen all the time.
Also, life is for living, and if we let fear immobilize us from doing what we love, then we have begun dying.
That said, I’ll close my column today with what most jumpers say just before their feet leave solid ground, knowing that these may have been Mario’s last words.
(I’m smiling through the tears as I type this).
Three… Two… One… See ya!