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Throw It All Down

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

Clear Creek, Poudre Canyon, North St. Vrain -- he and Spees went from Class 3 to Class 4 and 5 rapids. They wore helmets and two wetsuits each and pumped away with an eggbeater kick, hitting the rapids laterally, maneuvering between the rocks. Their ankles got the worst of it. "Once you got out of the water and warmed up, you just started bleeding," Spees recalls. "But we never hurt ourselves that bad. With tubing, you either get bruised a little bit or drown."

As with longboarding, Lanahan drew others into his new action. "He took me down Clear Creek, and I trusted him completely," says Gosch. "I knew if something would happen, he'd help me out and get everything back under control. But he would always talk about doing bigger things -- tubing and skydiving and all kinds of stuff. I said maybe he was taking it too far, maybe he was addicted to adrenaline. He just said, 'If I don't do it, who will?'"

There was something compulsive about the way Lanahan would stuff a Suburban full of inner tubes and people and head for the hills every weekend, looking for a new hole to check out, some monster course of chutes and haystacks. The obsession probably had to do with what was waiting for him back in Denver: long hours of moving furniture, meetings with his probation officer and regular participation in a sex-offender treatment program.

 
 
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.

Lanahan had been assigned to Teaching Humane Existence (THE), a controversial Denver program that focuses on "containment" of sex criminals whose behavior is believed to be uncurable ("Arrested Development," December 5, 2002). Although he'd pleaded guilty to a low-level, Class 5 felony, he had many of the same constraints on his activities as pedophiles or serial rapists on parole. Among other things, he was required to register as a sex offender; avoid any contact with children under the age of eighteen; avoid schools, parks, swimming pools and other places that children congregated (thus ending a brief career as a swim coach); and tell his probation officer of all "significant" relationships with women. He was also expected to disclose his status as a sex offender to anyone he dated -- on the second date. And, of course, complete THE's get-tough therapy program, which critics regard as one-size-fits-all overkill that lumps first-time offenders with career felons.

"Some of the hoops they made him jump through were absolutely ridiculous," says Patten. "The amount of drug and alcohol testing, all the costs. The stipulations on dating somebody. It made me angry. But Michael gets around things; he's a schemer."

"Looking back on it, I can see that it was really hard on him," says Julsen. "He had a psychologist for a father, and he was pretty bright. He would talk to me about going to therapy, telling them what they wanted to hear -- and feeling completely different."

But Lanahan didn't like to discuss his probation. When he was out boarding and tubing, it was the last thing he wanted to think about. Only once in a great while did a note of fatalism creep into the conversation.

"He told me early on that he wouldn't make it through it," Spees says. "I translated that to mean he was going to run again."


Well I got a problem
Just one answer
Got to throw it all down
And kiss that shit goodbye.

'Crazy Game of Poker'

The Bruised Heart

Last summer, Spees and Lanahan entered the Gore Canyon Race, one of Colorado's most competitive down-river races, open to rafters, kayakers, sledgers, creature craft -- and two maniacs in inner tubes. The pair caromed like pinballs down the river, but they finished. The next day, they went to check out a national longboarding competition in Vail and ended up entering the fray on borrowed equipment. The day after that, they boarded the bike path between Vail and Copper Mountain, and disaster struck.

"Mike had several falls, but he was pretty much in control," Spees remembers. "You learn how to fall. Usually you sacrifice one arm and you roll. Or you find a patch of grass and lean back.

"The bike path was narrower than I hoped, but it wasn't as steep as I thought it was going to be. We were going faster than a biker would, and we were sliding around the corners. He passed me on a turn, and I passed him on one. On one pretty sharp turn I got pushed wide, and I saw a huge pile of sand on the inside of the turn. Mike started out wide and cut in, and he went right into the sand.

"The sudden deceleration didn't kick him off, but the board slid in the sand and stopped. He put his hands out and hit his hip. Broke his phone, which was in his pocket. Then he hit his chest. He didn't have much road rash, but he started screaming. I came over, and I was like, 'You baby. You got this baby gash on your arm.' But it was his chest."

Feeling dizzy, Lanahan went to see a doctor shortly after the fall. He was told he'd suffered a coronary contusion and developed an irregular heartbeat. He was going to have to take it easy, the doctor told him.

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