Throw It All Down

Michael Lanahan's life was a puzzle, his death a mystery wrapped in a song.

"A real man would have apologized," he wrote. "If he felt even one scintilla of remorse, he sure didn't show it."

Many of Lanahan's friends consider the column a gratuitous attack on a young man who was already paying dearly for one drunken encounter -- not as dearly as Jane, but more than Boulder's liberal establishment could imagine.

Jeff Malin: "A real man would have apologized? Well, a smart man would have kept his fucking mouth shut, because that's what his lawyer told him to do.

 
 
Crazy games: At CU, Michael Lanahan (above) was a 
high-stakes player on the party scene.
Mark Manger
Crazy games: At CU, Michael Lanahan (above) was a high-stakes player on the party scene.

"If they'd taken the opportunity at that point to send Michael in the right direction...instead there was this community outcry for blood. He was a college student who made a mistake, and he got completely screwed over for it. If he had any idea what hell the probation was going to be, maybe he would have fought it."


Well I said
'Johnny whatcha doing tonight?'
He looked at me with a face full of fright
And I said, how bout a revolution?
And he said right.

'Crazy Game of Poker'

The Pariah

One day last winter, Malin came home to find Lanahan in his kitchen, working his way through two pounds of bacon. He hadn't seen any bacon in jail, and he'd missed it terribly. He greeted Malin as if he'd just come back from summer break.

"He wasn't drinking," Malin says. "He made that very clear."

Lanahan was subdued, less impulsive, grateful to be back in the world. "He seemed a lot quieter," says Gosch. "This was the first time he'd really gotten into trouble for anything, and it him really hard. He seemed a lot more responsible."

"He was a lot more appreciative of things," adds Flores. "He said thank you a lot more. He always wanted to give me a hug. It was almost like he was a better person for it."

But Malin's roommates didn't know anything about the new-leaf Lanahan. "All they knew was the bad stuff," Malin says. "They were afraidof him. They didn't even want to be around when I asked him to move out."

He stayed briefly with Malin and Julsen, then with Flores. There were plenty of places in Boulder where he wasn't welcome anymore. At one of his favorite clubs, a bouncer who knew Jane showed him the door. He found an apartment in Denver and started working for a moving company with Julsen.

One of the people he sought out was Oliver Spees, the resident adrenaline junkie on the swim team. Spees was serious about his outdoor recreation and was getting into longboarding down Boulder's steeper streets. "He couldn't drink, but he still wanted that rush," Spees says, "so he came and found me."

Lanahan put some wheels on an old snowboard and began riding with Spees. "He was good, right off the bat," Spees says. "We started going around Boulder, looking for bigger hills. Then other people started buying longboards and riding with us."

Lanahan borrowed a friend's $180 longboard and loved it. He got on the phone with the company that made it and sweet-talked them into sponsoring his "team." Before long the group, now calling itself the WAC Longboarding Team, had a fistful of sponsors and its own website (www.waclongboarding.org) -- even though the acronym, which might stand for Wednesday Afternoon Club or Way Awesome Carving or something worse, was never explained.

The hunt for more challenging terrain took the group from city streets to treacherous canyon roads and even multi-level parking garages, which featured sharp corners, blind turns and the occasional SUV barreling right at you. A shrink might view such behavior as high-risk, possibly suicidal, but friends say Lanahan usually wore a helmet and took other safety precautions -- the precautions that can be taken, that is, while rocketing down a mountain pass at 45 miles an hour on a plank of wood.

Spees, who sports a plate in his collarbone from a fall on Table Mesa and various other scars on his chest, back, arms and legs -- including a left elbow dimpled from road rash, the "team tattoo" -- says the times he spent with Lanahan were about living well, not tempting death. The group's motto: "Ride Hard, Ride Safe."

"I was right there with him, and I had no death wish," he says. "It's more about living without fear, because fear is not going to save you from getting hurt. I'd rather have a life where I've got some scars at the end of it."

In the spring, Lanahan turned to another edgy form of recreation: whitewater tubing. Lots of people on the swim team liked to tube Boulder Creek; months before he fled to Texas, Lanahan had even talked Spees into spotting him in a kayak while he tubed down the creek at dusk during the spring runoff, when the water is at its highest and tubing is banned. ("I thought that was the stupidest thing I'd ever done in my entire life," Spees mutters. "Then he talks me into doing the tube with him.") Now he wanted to take it further. He talked to kayakers about where the real action was.

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