MISSOULA — When 14-year-old Tanner Olson was killed in a car accident in 2011, his friends and their parents gathered to grieve the loss of his bright spirit.
But sometimes, as in the case of Tanner, when a young life is so bold and so big and touches so many, it feels right to build something in honor of that child.
A week after Tanner’s death, his mother, Kathy Jackson, launched a project to build a community BMX park somewhere in Missoula where kids could ride and do the tricks Tanner so loved to do.
She didn’t have far to look for help to make her dream possible.
The mothers of Tanner’s friends stepped forward to offer their love, their support and their labor to make the park happen.
They call themselves the “Bike Mamas,” and so far they have helped raise $50,000 of the necessary $100,000 toward the park.
More important, they have helped turn grief into joy, and have helped one of their own – a mother – keep the memory of her child alive.
“These ladies, our sons – we are all friends, but we are family,” said Jennie Rozeboom. “We all loved Tanner and we all love Kathy, and it’s what you do for your family when times are tough.
“We are there for them.”
Together, with Kathy, the Bike Mamas, have organized dynamic fundraisers that Tanner would surely have loved – hillclimbs, rail jams, trick skiing events, a homecoming parade entry, and most recently, a bike helmet auction in which local artists used the helmets as a canvas.
This summer, for the second season, Big Sky Brewing Co. is letting the Bike Mamas serve beer at three of its summer concerts and give the profits to the BMX park.
“It’s a really exciting project to get behind,” said Trinda Rieck, the beer company’s sales and events coordinator. “And the moms that are involved with it are really fun, and they work really hard.
“Those women are not afraid to jump in and make things happen – they get ’er done.”
While there are many moms who roll up their sleeves to help with any one of the projects, the core “Bike Mamas” include Rozeboom, Jen Bardsley, Nancy Cunningham, Korey Wolferman, Shelley Loyson, Gudren Jensen-Schroeder and Rhea Black.
“They are amazing,” Kathy said of her friends and helpers.
“The moms have been by my side since Day One. They all knew Tanner so well and absolutely loved his passion for whatever he did.”
“They understand how blessed they were to have Tanner in their lives and they understand my life’s sorrow,” she said. “Moms understand how horrific it is to lose a child. They get it – and these women, they all know how much we love being moms.
“They walk this beautiful line of being empathetic and understanding of how this craziness could happen, and how in a second your whole world changes.”
When the news of Tanner’s death quickly spread on that fateful day – July 2, 2011, – it came like a shot to the heart, Jen Bardsley said.
“We all dropped to our knees,” she said. “Losing Tanner was so awful, and it was so hard to comprehend.
“All of us moms had the same reaction – we couldn’t believe the horror and we wanted to be with each other and be a mom to Kathy too.
“Moms need to know they are loved and supported.”
Because of love and tragedy, the women came together, bonding at first over unspeakable sorrow, and then over the call to duty.
“We saw Kathy getting through her grief, and she was so amazing and inspiring,” said Jensen-Schroeder. “It made a huge difference to all of us, to me, and we wanted to help her in any way we could.
“We wanted to help bring the park to life.”
As they began planning and strategizing over events, the action helped them all heal, including their sons, all of whom were Tanner’s close friends.
Another thing happened in the course of going after a big dream.
“It’s been really neat for our boys to see what we have accomplished so far,” Rozeboom said. “They have seen us set a goal and follow through on it, and they are really amazed.
“It’s a big thing to see how much work it takes, and they are getting even more excited about the park for Tanner.”
When the time comes – and it will, the moms assured – Tanner’s friends will play a key role in helping to design the jump and trick features in the new park.
They are talking about it now, in fact, as the big fundraising events, which are the concerts, draw ever closer.
The events, of course, are bittersweet, said Nancy Cunningham. All of the moms would rather have Tanner than a bike park in his memory.
“After every fundraising event, I’m just so emotional, and I know we all crash,” she said. “But it’s healing, too.
“It brings us all together, it’s a way for us to remember Tanner and for our kids to be involved in something that helps them keep Tanner close and to give something back to the community.”
“Thankfully, we have this to pour our grief into,” Bardsley said.
When it comes time to build, the moms are hoping for a site that is downtown, has high visibility for safety reasons, and is easy to access from the city’s bike paths.
Fueled by Tanner’s endless energy and his love for big air sports, the moms are determined to help Kathy accomplish her mission.
Tanner won’t be forgotten, and his love of BMX biking will benefit all of Missoula’s children who love the sport, too.
And when the park no longer needs their help, the moms will keep doing what they love best – being moms to their families and to each other.
“We call each other ‘momma,’ ” Bardsley said. “That’s how we greet each other, send texts and sign emails.
“If you say ‘I need you momma,’ a mom will come to help.”