CORNER BROOK Brandon Sweeney had a lot of fun hitting the slopes with Joel Ryan as teammates on the Marble Mountain racing team for five years, but one thing will always stand out about his good friend.
“He always had a smile on that’s for sure,” Sweeney said from St. John’s where is studying at Keyin College. “He never let much get to him, not that I know of anyway.”
Ryan, a Corner Brook native who was a veteran of two Canada Winter Games as a member of the provincial alpine ski team, died suddenly in Montreal last week.
No foul play is suspected in the death of the talented skier and Sweeney said the parents — Corner Brook’s Jim Ryan and Dr. Judith Roger — are planning a celebration of Joel’s life Wednesday in Montreal.
Ryan left Newfoundland and Labrador several years ago to pursue his passon for skiing and spent several years in Rossland, B.C. as a member of the Red Mountain Racers Ski Academy. He had visions of making a living as a professional skier at one point, but found out that it’s not an easy feat to turn skiing into a full-fledged career.
Sweeney got the devastating news via Facebook a day or two after his death and had trouble accepting it as reality.
“Honestly, I didn’t believe it. That was my first reaction, but as the day went on it kind of seemed like it actually happened,” he said.
Sweeney met Ryan on the slopes at Marble Mountain when they both were enjoying life as junior high students and they became good friends and teammates. They punched a lot of hours together trying to master the sport that gave them both a rush and have many stories in common from the travel they did with the team.
“We trained year round for skiing so back then in our junior and senior high days that’s all we done,” he said. “It was a really close group of people on the race team. Everyone basically knew him very well.”
Gone at such a young age with so much hope for the future, Sweeney is saddened by the loss of somebody he knew as a really good person with lots to give.
“It’s really a shame,” he said. “He’s only a young guy. He had a lot of life to live yet.”
Mila Major of Deer Lake, now a registered nurse at Waterford Hospital in St. John’s, was also having a hard time dealing with the shocking news.
The 22-year-old has a lot of fond memories of the good times shared with Joel on the ski team and the corkiness that went on with all the team in “the shack” after they came off the hill from a day of training or competition. She will always remember the great time Joel and the boys would have playing ‘spockey’ hockey and other games when the team was together.
“When I heard he died the heart just sunk really. You didn’t want to believe that it was true,” Major said.
“Joel was always a really good friend of all of us because we spent many years together travelling and racing.”
She struggled with her emotions when asked to talk about Joel as a human being.
“Oh my God, the sweetest little thing you could ever ...” she said. “He was just pleasant and joyful. He was always a kidder and he would do anything for you.”