‘You are her legacy’: Family from afar, friends from near honor Hannah Taylor at Frisco Nordic Center
Hundreds watched as Hannah Taylor’s mother Dijit took to the microphone at the Frisco Nordic Center for Thursday evening’s celebration of her daughter’s life, which was cut short on July 21 after a fall in the Gore Range.
With her daughters Bethany and Emily beside her, Dijit unraveled a folded piece of yellow paper to share her late daughter’s origin story from long before she moved to these mountains 14 years ago; back when she acquired perhaps the most fitting of her several nicknames: “Bird.”
Dijit relayed how Taylor was always the determined adventurer those listening in the crowd came to love here in Summit County. She was that bird-like spirit all along, all the way back to one of the first sentences she uttered as a toddler.
“Hannah do,” her mother recalled, imitating her eldest daughter at her most emphatic.
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From skiing 10,000-foot descents off of 14,000-foot volcanoes to dominating her first ultra-endurance race in the Rocky Mountains, the memorial celebration at Taylor’s beloved Nordic Center was a glowing referendum on that verve.
“Hannah do?” What didn’t Hannah Taylor do?
Taylor died tragically last Saturday due to a fall while mountain running in the Gore Range northwest of Silverthorne. With that range’s iconic Buffalo Mountain in view behind her, Dijit shared how the 39-year-old Taylor was born into the beauty of New Hampshire’s majestic White Mountains.
“There was a white-throated sparrow singing the minute she was born,” Dijit said through tears.
There Dijit was, standing in front of an 18-paneled memory quilt, one hand-stitched by family and gifted to Taylor at her high school graduation. Each panel for each year of Taylor’s childhood years was there for the Summit community to see.
Hannah Taylor may have been the prototypical “badass” adventure woman, one who surely can be used as an example of the best, strongest and most independent this truly wild county has to offer. But at Thursday evening’s memorial celebration of her life, family and friends from near and far took to the microphone one after another, unfolding pieces of loose leaf to share their memories of Taylor.
No matter how you stumbled into Taylor’s life, she always had a way of making each individual feel the independent confidence she radiated — perhaps, most especially, her Summit Nordic Ski Club athletes.
All the way back on the East Coast, Hannah’s younger sister Bethany was aware of that too. For each day over the past 14 years, the sisters spoke by phone. More often than not, Hannah was sharing the latest stories of her Nordic athletes.
“You are her legacy,” Bethany told the dozens of athletes in attendance. “So please go into the world with her love. Go as she taught you. Be kind. Try hard. Go far. Have fun. And love fiercely.”
“Fierce.” It’s another keyword and characteristic synonymous with Taylor. Each of the memories shared Thursday by the nearly dozen speakers over the 90-minute celebration spoke to her unabashed drive to rise to each new day and seek the next adventure.
Will Rawstron, Taylor’s life partner since they met through the Middlebury College Nordic Ski Team two decades ago, remembered the harrowing time they skied down from the 14,410-foot summit of Mount Rainier.
“It was one of the best adventures we had ever had,” an emotional Rawstron said. “We hugged, and I thought to myself: ‘this has been amazing. To be here with Hannah — the girl that I love so much — and to go on this adventure. To see it can be perfect like this.’”
For Whitney Hedberg, one of Taylor’s best friends and a fellow Summit Nordic coach, there were endless snapshot memories to share with the crowd.
“Hannah is many things,” said Hedberg. “Full-moon running,” “painted finger nails,” and “four trips to REI in a single day” were some of the descriptive phrases that came to mind. Taylor was one who “delighted in the silly,” while perhaps drinking milkshakes or watching fireworks in the dead-of-winter from a mountaintop.
To the man who was with Taylor during her final moments, she was a best friend.
Summit Nordic Ski Club head coach Olof Hedberg, Whitney’s husband, was there on Saturday when Taylor’s fall occurred from the East Thorn on the Gore Range ridgeline. Fighting through tears, Olof Hedberg recounted how over the past four years he spent more time with Taylor than any other person in the world, except his wife.
He said there were no words he could use to describe what Hannah Taylor meant to him. Rather, he shared the anecdote of how he coped with the tragedy in the immediate aftermath while he was still up on the ridge on Saturday, waiting for a Black Hawk helicopter to arrive on scene. He shared the scene of the mountain-top glee Taylor displayed in her final moment before her tragic fall.
“As I stood there,” Hedberg recalled, “out of me came words — the last words of others who lost their lives too early. I spoke out into the mountains and into the wind: ‘Ich kann nicht mehr (I can’t (go on) anymore)’ — the last words of Toni Kurz, dying on the Eiger North Face. To me, he represented Hannah’s love for the mountains.
“‘Put me back on my bike,’” Hedberg continued. “It’s the last words of the Olympic medalist Tom Simpson who died during the Tour de France. To me, it represented Hannah’s unparalleled drive for never giving up and always doing her best, no matter what it took.
“‘We’re going for a ride,’” he continued. “The last words of the Aspen ski patroller that died in an avalanche last year. Hannah always embraced her life and lived fully in every moment. To me, in that moment, those last words from other people were the best thing to do. And I whispered them out into the mountain.”
“It wasn’t until two days later,” he said, “I realized how futile and pointless my words had been. Because I had been there to witness. And what actually happened is so much more beautiful. Hannah stood on that ridge, completely comfortable and happy, and smiled. No words were needed. Her face said it all.
“She was happy.”
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