Eating fondue amid the snow in Elfin Lakes. Making plays and puppet shows as a child. Baking cinnamon buns for friends and family. Getting nearly submerged in a kayak adventure. Being the first arriving at the ski hill with the biggest smile.
These are just a few collections of moments that Mikayla Martin left with people throughout Squamish before she died in a mountain biking accident October 1.
Mikayla was widely known throughout town as an accomplished skier who was a prospective 2022 Olympian. By 22 years old, she had already had a distinguished athletic career.
But what stands out to many at least as much was her love for life and people. Her parents say they hope this passion stays with everyone she’s met.
“There’s a lot of people out there who are hurting at this loss. And we feel their pain. But Mikayla wouldn’t want them to be sad. She’d want them to miss her, and to love her, but she’d want them to be out living their lives and enjoying their lives to the fullest,” said James Martin, her father.
“She wouldn’t want you to be sitting around the house crying. She’d want you to be out there doing something fun and being with your friends and loving your life and making the world a better place.”
Both James and Christine Martin got their daughter started skiing at the age of two. It was a hobby they encouraged her to pursue, as they both shared a love for the sport.
Mikayla didn’t immediately have lofty skiing ambitions, but it was something she enjoyed. New Year’s days on the slopes were a family tradition when she was young.
Still, even then, there seemed to be something there.
James said that she helped her sister Shondra get a feel for the slopes — something which her parents had been struggling at.
He recalled Mikayla asked one day to take her sister up a ski run in Whistler.
“Sure enough, in 15 minutes, Shondra was skiing down the Magic Chair with Mikayla, and that was something we weren’t able to accomplish. It was a really amazing bond between those two girls.”
Mikayla’s fire for the sport would arrive years later in 2006 when she saw Olympian Kristi Richards give a talk.
“We sat her right beside Kristi, and Kristi just struck up a conversation with her and they hit it off,” said James.
After that encounter, as she was riding in the back seat of the family car, Mikayla said what she wanted to be when she grew up — an Olympian.
She debated between skiing or her other love, mountain biking, but eventually decided the slopes would be her focus.
At 11 years old, her placement in a competition was good enough to prompt an invite to the Western Canadian Championships.
“I thought this would be a neat little adventure — I didn’t really think she was going to make it to the Olympics,” said James.
But her results in the ski championships may have changed his mind.
“The first run of her first race, she was in sixth place. She had the sixth-fastest time of all the fastest kids in Western Canada,” said James.
“I remember going to her coach and saying, ‘You know, she’s got some potential here, doesn’t she?'”
She won all the races at the provincial championships the following year. Mikayla’s progress has been on an upward arc since then.
One of her past coaches, Rob Boyd, with the Whistler Mountain Ski Club, said he remembered her as an athlete who stood out for her drive and enthusiasm.
“Being the first on the hill [saying,] ‘What are we doing today?'” Boyd recalled.
Mikayla was so enthusiastic, the coaches would often wind up having to pull her back from taking in extra runs at the end of the day.
He also remembered the pride that came with seeing her on the podium.
“Giving a good fist-pump, if you will,” he said.
Some of Mikayla’s most recent accomplishments include making it to the national ski cross team and winning the FIS Junior World Championship in Cardrona, New Zealand.
She also snagged two Top 10 placements on the FIS World Cup circuit in 2018-19, including a sixth-place finish in Innichen, Switzerland.
All the while, she has been an accomplished mountain biker as well. She spent time riding with Team Squamish, one of the town’s elite mountain biking clubs.
For all her success, she made an effort to give back, often lending a hand to other athletes.
In particular, she had an eye to helping other women in sport.
Mikayla recently said she felt women were often being held back in their athletic endeavours, her mom Christine said.
Mikayla wanted to change that.
“She believed that it was culture that was partly holding women back, and she wanted to transform that,” Christine said. “So that’s one of her big visions. We’re going to shift culture.”
While she had her sights on making a big difference, the small, everyday interactions she had with people left a lasting impression.
“She was so kind and gentle and supportive, and she would cheer on everybody and anybody. It didn’t matter what level you were at,” said Christine.
Aside from her kindness, her peers remember her thirst for adventure.
For local paralympian Alex Cairns, one memory during a kayaking adventure stands out.
The pair were on the water and Cairns was just ahead of Mikayla.
“I just hear this little voice from behind me — she just says, ‘Hey Alex, there’s a little bit of water in my kayak.’ I turn around and this kid is chest-deep in Mamquam River with her boat just fully gone somewhere under, paddle sticking out of the water going, ‘Um, I’m going to need help,'” said Cairns with a laugh.
She was inquisitive, always ready and eager to learn more, he recalled.
The pair knew of each other for some time, but started hanging out in recent years after meeting at a gym their teams frequented, Cairns said. Since then, they’d been in regular touch.
“She was always that friend who checked in, you know?” said Cairns.
Mikayla also had a sense of humour.
Cairns said that one time, while in Chile, she sent him a picture of her feet propped up with socks with cannabis leaves on them — an ironic joke because, as athletes, they maintain a clean lifestyle.
“I started ripping on her, saying they were the ugliest socks I’ve ever seen, I would never wear a pair of those, ever,” he said with a chuckle. “So she came home a week later with a pair of them for me.”
Rhys Verner, an accomplished mountain biker and one of Mikayla’s peers on Team Squamish, remembered her as a positive force.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen Mikayla without a smile on her face. That’s something I’ll definitely always remember,” he said.
For her aunt, Julie Martin, Mikayla’s determination was something that stood out.
Julie recalled that around 2010, Mikayla developed an interest in unicycling. She was figuring out how to ride the bicycle downhill and was proudly showing off the results.
“There was nothing that girl didn’t want to learn,” she said with a chuckle.
A memorial fund has been set up to honour Mikayla’s memory. It will provide financial assistance to other young female athletes.
It’s intended to help people who embody Mikayla’s spirit — beneficiaries need not be Olympic-calibre.
Funds are being raised at: Mikayla Martin Memorial Fund.
“We’re doing okay — we really appreciate it — but what really makes us feel really happy and fulfilled is seeing people find something creative that they can do to express their appreciation for Mikayla,” said her father, James.
“We don’t want it to be directed towards us, we want it to be directed towards the rest of the world.”
A celebration of life for Mikayla will take place at 2 p.m. on Oct. 26 at the West Coast Railway Heritage Park. All are invited.
You can also hear audio interviews with Mikayla’s friends and family in this week’s podcast below.
Also available on Listen on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music and our website.
- Steven Chua, The Squamish Chief