EDWARDS — When the hand of God smacks you hard enough to wake you up, you stay awake.
And that, in a nutshell, is Kirk VanHee’s two-part life story: the 60s and 70s in Aspen and the upheaval that led to it, and all the good parts he’s living now.
VanHee, a successful local businessman and philanthropist, wrote a small book about his very big life, “Against The Wind.”
The book opens with the Aspen avalanche that should have killed him and his drug dealing buddies. It flashes back over his young life, much of it misspent, and works its way through redemption. VanHee’s is an inspiring story about getting knocked down over and over, and pulling yourself back up.
“Thank God I got caught in that avalanche. I truly believe that was the hand of God shaking me, waking me up, telling me ‘Change or you’re gonna die.’”
He wrote his 268-page memoir because his daughters wanted to hear his stories. His oldest daughter is now 25 years old. When she read it she cried seven times. She said she respects him now more than she ever did.
“It’s hard to sit down and talk to your daughters about your life,” VanHee said.
So he started writing a few stories he thought they’d like. From there it grew into a full-blown autobiography.
“I’m not an author, but I found that I’m a pretty good storyteller,” he said.
He was in and out of his hard-partying mother’s homes with her myriad of husbands — different faces and names, but always the same guy — his father’s home, his grandparents’ ranch and military school.
He ran away from home when he was 13 years old and ended up in a Mexican jail with a friend Charlie.
After he was declared 4-F and ineligible for the draft, Vietnam was no longer his problem, so he traded college for Aspen and what he calls “a period of self discovery.” That included everything from pot to peyote, and eventually cocaine. Cocaine changed everything and led to drug dealing and distribution.
“It takes a hold of you,” he said.
He hit rock bottom — both literally and metaphorically — when an Aspen avalanche buried him while skiing in the backcountry on an epic powder day.
“Mother Nature gave me the opportunity to save myself,” VanHee said. “You have to be ready for it, and I was. My life took off in a positive direction.”
Helping others help themselves
Some memoirs are like a self-help book. This one isn’t. This is a flowing account of a fascinating life that keeps you turning pages to find out what happens to him next.
While many addiction memoirs credit recovery to various programs or willpower, for VanHee it was his family. However flawed his parents might have been, they spurred his turnaround.
Spoiler alert: Like VanHee’s life, the book turns out happily ever after.
He gave it to some friends to read and got a lot of positive feedback.
“This could help some kids find themselves,” VanHee said.
Some of the money from the book goes to Denver Scholars, a program that helps underprivileged kids finish high school and go to college.
They know about abusive homes and drugs. So does he.
His friends and family didn’t know much of this. When they read the book they want to tell their own stories, and everyone has a story.
“They’ll know there is someone in their family who cared enough to help them,” VanHee said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.