It can be very difficult to process when a valued young member of a community passes away suddenly.
The friends of Ryley Merritt, an avid bike rider and skateboarder who recently lost his life in a car accident, decided the best way to deal with their grief would be to organize a gathering at his second home, the skateboard park in West Quesnel.
What was planned as a chance for a few friends to get together and reminisce about tricks and falls and laughs this past Saturday (Oct. 20) turned into a celebration of life and community that few expected.
Well over a hundred people showed up to skate and bike. Pizza and drinks were provided. Music blasted.
Spirits were high.
Taylor Norris and Colton Shepherd shared some excellent experiences with Ryley at the park.
“It was like his second home,” Shepherd says. “A lot of us met him here and we got to be super good friends. He pushed me to learn new tricks and we always had a good time here.
“Taylor and I decided to invite all our friends and we thought we’d get a card for everyone to sign and give it to his parents.
“I thought there might be some people I’d miss, so I made a public Facebook event, and it kept getting shared.”
Shepherd says it was passed around over 160 times, a sign of how tight-knit the community is.
“The biggest thing is this is a community that’s often looked down upon and taken for granted,” says Crystal Brekke, another local skateboarder’s mom who helped Ryley’s friends with the organization of the event.
“They have this bad name and bad rep as lost kids, but watching this and seeing this proves these kids are amazing. They’re like a family. They encourage each other and push each other and they persevere through things.
“If you ever spend time here and watch them, they’ll spend so much time just to master a single trick. They’ll fall 20 times but continue to get up and the other kids watching them will push them, saying, ‘You’ve got this! You’ve got this!’”
In addition to the snacks and music, a permanent reminder of the impact Ryley had was unveiled.
Local artists Lee-Anne Chisholm and Maureen Wheeler painted a mural for Ryley before the memorial kicked off.
They began spray painting early on Saturday morning and, thanks to some help, they were able to finish just before the event kicked off.
“They had a reveal of the mural at about 1:30 p.m., so we were right on time,” says Chisholm. “We had a lot of people holding stencils, which was great. Because in a short amount of time we made some stencils and spray painted it all, and so there were a lot of hands involved and it was such a team effort. It was so great.”
While the tragedy of a life cut short in its prime will take a lot of time to deal with, the young community will continue to encourage each other to get back up.
“Honestly, there’s no words to explain how I feel besides thankful,” says Norris. “When we originally made this event, we just wanted some friends to come together to have fun but thanks to this community it turned out to be way more.
“Ryley would be happy.”