Mike Kirlan hugs Oliver Cardillo during Monday afternoon's memorial service for Kirlan's son, Asher Lesyshen-Kirlan, at the base of the Howelsen Hill jump complex. The boys came on stage to sing the "Star Spangled Banner" as part of a tribute to the 9-year-old boy, who died last week. Oliver's father, John Cardillo, middle, and his brother, Henry, also were on stage for the tribute.

Photo by John F. Russell

Mike Kirlan hugs Oliver Cardillo during Monday afternoon's memorial service for Kirlan's son, Asher Lesyshen-Kirlan, at the base of the Howelsen Hill jump complex. The boys came on stage to sing the "Star Spangled Banner" as part of a tribute to the 9-year-old boy, who died last week. Oliver's father, John Cardillo, middle, and his brother, Henry, also were on stage for the tribute.

Hundreds of mourners gather at Steamboat's Howelsen Hill to remember Asher Lesyshen-Kirlan

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— Michael Kirlan, grieving the loss of his son, shared with hundreds of mourners at Howelsen Hill on Monday how 9-year-old Asher Lillig Lesyshen-Kirlan had hatched a plan to get a little more skiing into his life.

Asher, who died Wednesday, was already competing in Nordic combined skiing and Alpine skiing with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club last winter when he proposed to his father that he add one more sport.

Allowing close friend Jamie Adams to speak for him during Monday’s public memorial in downtown Steamboat Springs, Kirlan shared his written thoughts about his son.

“Asher was so much a child of Steamboat,” Kirlan wrote. “I often thought of how lucky he was to grow up here. He was the love of my life and he loved life. He wrapped his little arms around it and he swallowed it whole. He wanted to do everything and came close to accomplishing that.”

One day, Asher came to his father and said, “Dad, can I ski freestyle, too?”

His father pointed out that he already was training five days a week, and the Winter Sports Club doesn’t hold practices on the seventh day. How could he possibly add another discipline of skiing?

Asher thought of a way.

“Wouldn’t it be cool if there were 10 days in a week and I could ski eight?” he asked his father.

Asher was made for Howelsen Hill, and Howelsen Hill was made for him. So it was fitting that hundreds of people — families mostly, with dozens upon dozens of young children — filed into the outdoor amphitheater to memorialize him. A stiff breeze ruffled international flags set out as if a World Cup Nordic combined competition was about to take place, and a pair of skis was propped up against a medalist’s podium.

The children came decked out in Asher’s favorite color — purple. They wore purple tie-dyed shirts, and they came wearing soccer cleats and purple shorts. They carried lavender and purple balloons, and a little girl circulated through the crowd offering packets of tissues to grown-ups. There were too many children for this to be a funeral; it was a true celebration of life.

But the adults often looked more shaken than the children. People hugged one another. Neil Marchman, Asher’s music instructor, finger-picked a nylon string guitar. A uniformed police officer held hands with his significant other.

The quiet tears began to flow when Asher’s dogs led his survivors to the family seating area.

Asher died of gunshot wounds in the early morning hours of May 29. His mother, Lisa Marie Lesyshen, has been arrested in relation to his death. Police say she shot herself after killing Asher in their Stagecoach home, but she survived the injury.

Family friend John Cardillo, the father of one of Asher’s best friends, reminded the gathering that they were not there to dwell on the tragedy, but to celebrate Asher’s enthusiasm for life.

“Today we focus on the positive level of energy released when Asher’s little soul was released into the universe,” Cardillo said.

Gardner Flanigan, who presided over the celebration, said Asher gave love freely.

“A lifetime is not a matter of years, but a matter of love,” Flanigan said. “Asher loved his friends, his dogs, his parents, his coaches. He loved his sports, his school, and we all loved him back.”

Speaking through Adams again, Kirlan wrote that Asher loved the wilderness, where he tasted columbines, learned how to read the currents where trout lay, and was taught to leave native artifacts in the desert canyons where he found them.

“Memories of our time in the wilderness are the best, deepest and most loving memories I’ll ever have,” he said.

Finally, Kirlan asked the hundreds of mourners to keep their own memories of his son alive.

“I want you to tell me about those memories next week and next year” and for as long as they live on, he said.

After a round of hugs and receiving condolences, some of those who loved Asher Lillig Lesyshen-Kirlan set off on a hike along the Bluffs Trail on Emerald Mountain to an overlook of the Yampa River, where they could begin making new memories with Asher still close to their hearts.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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