Josh Malay: Unstoppable spirit
Before he left Avon a week ago, Josh Malay flipped through a stack of airline tickets; passage booked to places the young man had only read about or seen on television. He was off for the adventure of a lifetime, a snowboard tour to some of Europe’s most glamorous locations.
The questions come rapid fire: How did it happen? What was he doing?
The answers are sketchy but to the point: He was snowboarding. He fell and hit his head. His brain stopped functioning. His body quickly followed.
The brutal decisions have been made to donate as many organs as possible. Josh lives no longer, others will live through him.
A community of people spent the weekend mourning Malay’s death. He was 23.
Malay’s body and spirit were unable to defeat the lethal blow his head encountered on a rock in the Spanish Pyrenees. He was declared dead early Sunday morning.
In the days before he left for Spain, Malay confessed to his most cherished confidant, girlfriend Lindsay Aldridge, a feeling of uneasiness about the trip.
A rising star in the professional snowboarding world, Malay took the trip to ride for a story for Transworld Snowboarding.
“The kid was a strong kid. He was on top of the world. I thought for sure he’d pull it out. And I think if he’d had it his way he’d still be here,” said The Other Side Snowboard Shop Manager Kyle Schneiberg.
As Malay rode down, he hit a relatively small cliff, falling awkwardly and hitting his head hard on a rock, according to his friends.
Lots of hearts are broken. Friends look at the mountains he loved so much and remember days when he was invincible.
“He was cruising down and hit a mellow cliff,” said Malay’s close friend of six years Rob Bak. “He was having fun and just crashed a little weird.”
The cranial traumas Malay suffered from his fall required emergency brain surgery. The surgeries rendered no improvement, and Malay lost the use of his brain. Though he was alive, he was no longer capable of living without the support a list of medical machines. So, in the early morning hours of Sunday, Malay’s family decided to authorize his removal from life support.
“It’s kind of hard for all of us to grasp over here. He called Lindsay the night before it happened and said, “I don’t feel right being here.’ She had a hard time sleeping that night (Thursday) and was woken by Josh’s mom calling her,” said Bak. “A lot of people in this valley have been really touched by him, and it’s not even just here; it’s people all over the U.S. and abroad.”
Malay left his home of Prior Lake, Minn., when he was 17 – after he graduated high school a semester early – to live his snowboarding dreams in the tall mountains of Colorado. In a recent interview with the Vail Daily, Malay admitted that his parents didn’t understand why he chose snowboarding over college, especially considering his talents in fine arts.
“They just thought that I was throwing that away, but you can always do art,” said Malay. “I’ve learned more from this than I think I would have sitting in a classroom. I’ve been traveling, I’ve met so many people. Everybody thinks it’s cool now.”
Malay’s job at The Other Side provided him the opportunity to build his snowboarding career, which had been growing more lucrative with each passing day. His sponsors included Oakley, Nixon, Vail, grenade, The Other Side and, most recently, Santa Cruz.
“He wanted to go exactly where he was going,” said Bak. “He was having fun and he was getting paid for it. He was making every day count.
“He’s made it higher up in professional snowboarding with contracts and all that, and he still gets up every day at 8 in the morning and takes his girlfriend to work and hits the hill before everyone else.”
Bak, 26, has lived in the valley since 1996, and currently lives in Eagle-Vail.
“We became really tight friends throughout the years. Riding around Beaver Creek, he heard about me and I heard about him,” said Bak. “Josh was pretty much one of the most fun-loving … he was the most friendly person. He could mess with people’s heads, but deep down he was always just a wonderful person.”
On Malay’s way out of town, Bak gave him back a sweater that had been traveling in the back seat of Bak’s car for a while. In return, Malay gave his friend $200 as Bak had just lost his job delivering pizzas for a local shop days earlier.
“He said he thought it was a fair trade. “Just get me back when I get home,’ he said. He was looking out for me.”
Nothing seems more tragic than when a young man dies for no apparent reason, so one can only hope that from the beautiful things Malay shared with the people around him, as memories fade, hope and compassion will grow stronger with them.
“I love him and I miss him,” said Bak. “He was Josh. He was everybody’s best friend.”
This report was compiled with the help of Nate Peterson and Randy Wyrick. Andrew Harley can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext.610, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.