It was an astonishingly beautiful day. A perfect bluebird, just above freezing. For skiers, it was the kind of day that just doesn't get any better. We arrived in time to see a few of the final training runs and after the Canadians came down, there was Nik, standing in the finish area wearing bib # 13.
We had a brief visit and wished him luck. He was relaxed and happy and told us how much he was enjoying being in the Alps. He marvelled at the beauty of the mountains around us and at being able to race on the doorstep of Switzerland's notorious Eiger. His eyes shone bright and his smile stretched from ear to ear, as it always has.
We were looking forward to having a few beers after the race, meeting the team and having dinner together. Our kids had their sharpies, ready to collect signatures, but we held off asking because the guys were getting ready for their race and we didn't want to be bothersome fans. We could do all that after the race. I didn't take any pictures either.
Nik was in the fourth heat of the race with teammate Chris Del Bosco, a German and a French racer. We were in the finish area, jumping up and down in the stands, screaming our heads off as we watched the four racers on the big screen and then finally, as they came over the last jump. Nik was in third, came off the final jump too far to his right and slammed into the safety netting. In an instant, it was all over. He slid into the finish area, unconscious.
Silence. Everyone was stunned. We simply couldn't believe our eyes.
Over the next forty-five minutes, we watched as a medical crew worked on Nik 100m away from where we stood, now shivering in the warm spring air. Helicopters came and went, landing directly in front of us in the finish corral. Sponsor banners blowing up into the sky each time. Faces all around us grew increasingly solemn and pale. With each minute that passed, Jeff and I knew that Nik was in real trouble.
Our kids kept asking us if he was going to be ok. "Will he be able to ski again?", "When are they going to take him to the hospital?". Their questions and tears punctuating the quiet of the stands. They were looking to Jeff and I, searching our ashen faces, to find a sign that everything would be alright. As parents, we tried to soothe their fears, but the unspoken truth was that we were both terrified.
As soon as Nik was taken away by helicopter, we left. It was only once we were in our car, on our way back to Saanen, that our worst fears were confirmed. Nik had died from 'severe neurotrauma'.
We pulled over and in voices barely above a whisper, gave the news to our children. I think that in their own beautiful and innocent ways, they had truly believed that Nik was going to be ok. They sat inconsolable in the back seat, tears streaming down their goggle-tanned faces.
We drove straight to our local mountain and went up in the gondola. We took out our sharpies and paid tribute to Nik on our helmets - NZ 13, we will miss you. At the top, consoled by the mountain peaks around us, we huddled together and said a few prayers for Nik and his family before we skied down. We wanted to finish Nik's run for him.
We have gone from being unbearably close to the tragedy of Nik's crash and death, to feeling so far from home. We are missing our family and our friends. We are missing the comfort that we share in being together in times of crisis and catastrophe. We are grateful for our friends here and their wonderful support of our family as we try to heal. We are thinking about Nik's family, Bebe, Silvia and Kat, and his wide group of friends as they move forward with their lives.
Life is so fragile. On a magnificent sunny day in the Swiss Alps, Nik was there, standing with us and skiing with his teammates. He was doing what he loved to do and then, he was gone.
|Nik Zoricic 19 February, 1983 - 10 March, 2012|