• PREP SKIING

    'Krick, let 'em run!'

    With her late father Craig's shouts of encouragement ringing in her ears, Kricket Lyle and her teammates compete at state in his honor
  • Craig and Karla Lyle taught many life lessons to their kids.
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  • Craig and Karla Lyle taught many life lessons to their kids.
    At least one unmistakably took hold: Follow through on your commitments. No matter how difficult, don't quit.
    "That's who we are as a family," said Karla. "We move forward."
    Her speech staggered a bit, the pitch fluctuating. It was choked with emotion. She spoke of the husband she lost just two months ago, and of their children, Kricket and Rawly, who have been forced to deal with the tragedy.
    Craig, an avid cyclist who used to race professionally, died Jan. 4 in a bicycle accident as he sped downhill near Old Military Road in the John's Peak area. The 54-year-old was returning home from a birthday barbecue for his daughter's best friend.
    The reason for the accident couldn't be determined — whether he swerved to avoid something or lost control on a dirt road — but it rocked the lives of those close to him.
    The Lyles have coped with it "one day at a time," said Karla.
    But giving up on their lives wasn't an option.
    That's why, just days after her father's death, Kricket was back to her four-hour practice regimen for skiing and soccer.
    That's why, as much as he may have wanted to, Rawly didn't return from a two-year mission in Colombia.
    "He said, 'Mom, I can't. I have to finish this out because I said I would,'" recalled Karla.
    It's what Dad expected.
    It's one of the reasons a niece came up with what now is the family mantra: Lyle Strong.
    Yet another phase of pushing forward is happening this week in the Oregon Interscholastic Ski Racing Association alpine state championships at Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort. The first of two days of racing was Thursday.
    Kricket Lyle — her given name is Aven, but hardly anyone calls her that — is a St. Mary's junior who will be on the mountain, partaking of the activity that served as a bond between her and her father. He was both her personal coach and president of the Medford Ski Education Foundation.
    She placed 20th last year. She and her dad set their sights on a top-15 finish this year.
    "That's what me and my dad did," said Kricket. "We skied. That's how we connected. We were very close. I'm skiing for my dad now."
    So, too, is her best friend, Kailey Flockoi.
    Flockoi, a Crater High senior, was the state champion last year in the slalom, but a fall in the giant slalom prevented her from adding to her bounty.
    It was Flockoi's party from which Craig left on his bike — moments after wishing her happy birthday and giving her a hug.
    "It's definitely been really hard for me," she said.
    Flockoi hadn't lost someone so close to her before.
    "Craig passed on my birthday, so that was pretty crazy," she said. "Craig was like my second dad. We had some good times and I looked up to him."
    She said she "put her feelings away" so she could offer support to Kricket, Karla and the rest of their family.
    The two girls aren't the only ones skiing for Craig this week.
    Flockoi enlisted the help of a teacher at Crater to design stickers in Craig's memory for the Southern Oregon League skiers to affix to whatever they chose. Helmets, boots, vehicles.
    "They're wearing them on everything," said Karla.
    Tonya Flockoi, Kailey's mother, said her daughter worked on the stickers every day at lunch.
    "It was her way of saying, 'Hey, we're thinking of you,'" she said.
    "It's really powerful to see and touching that all these kids have these stickers on their boots and helmets and appreciating all that Craig did for the MSEF and the skiing community," she added. "We just want to keep him alive in our memories."
    During a year when an absence of snow on Mount Ashland required skiers to do dry-land training and to travel hundreds of miles to compete in enough events to qualify for state, others stepped in to handle chores Craig might have. Ron Johnson worked tirelessly. Brian Beattie assumed president's duties. Jerry Fitzpatrick assisted the league's head coach, Gary King, and in particular took Kricket under his wing.
    All were dear friends of Craig Lyle's.
    Craig grew up a very athletic, adventurous sort in Southern California, surfing as a youth. Later, he raced motorcycles, bicycles and qualified for the Ironman Triathlon.
    When their kids were about 5, Craig and Karla took them skiing. It would be a common thread by which the family was tethered.
    Rawly, who competed for St. Mary's before graduating last June, was the more intense competitive skier. Kricket was the fair-weather type, said her mother.
    The two kids built a relationship strong even by sibling standards. Years ago, it was Rawly who noticed his 2-month-old sister rubbing her ankles together and said she looked like a cricket. The nickname stuck for almost everyone — she's even registered at school as Kricket. Rawly, however, is one of the very few who calls her Aven.
    As a youngster, Kricket was shy and Rawly let her tag along when he went out.
    When Rawly's junior year of high school was disrupted first by severe leg injuries in a fall while skiing, then by a grave illness, Kricket went to his side.
    A freshman, she turned from basketball, in which she was one of the tallest players, to skiing — solely because her brother couldn't. It was her way of having his back.
    When he was in the hospital, she was at his side. When he got home, she took care of him.
    They are best friends.
    "Rawly was her social bridge with other people because she was shy," said Karla. "When he got sick, they just became glued together. It's so unique; the close relationship they have is one most siblings don't share."
    When Rawly left for Colombia, where he'd be for two years, he gave his mother a half-dozen or so letters he'd written to Kricket. There were instructions on the dates they were to be delivered: her birthday, the first day of school, Valentine's Day, the last day of school, etc.
    "When he went to Colombia, it was devastating to her," said Karla.
    But Kricket still had skiing and other athletic pursuits with her dad.
    She plays club soccer and for St. Mary's. As with skiing, she was practicing on the pitch soon after Craig's death. Her Southern Oregon Soccer Academy team, Venom, went undefeated in a four-day tournament in Portland the week after her dad's funeral. All the players had Craig's name scribbled on their wrists except Kricket, who wrote "Dad."
    When Karla suggested beforehand that they skip the tournament, Kricket would have none of it.
    At first, Karla was concerned her daughter was working out too much. Then she realized it was her way of handling the loss.
    And she did so in the mold of her father.
    "Lackadaisical, that wasn't his MO," said Karla. "If they're playing, they better be in it to win it. He was very particular about that. That being said, he wanted them to have fun."
    Kricket is having fun on the slopes.
    Two weeks after her dad's funeral, she raced down Mt. Hood faster than ever. She used to hear her dad yell from the sideline. This time, she heard him again.
    It was always, "Krick, let 'em run! Let the skis run!'" she said. "I felt like he was there and I could hear him saying that."
    Kricket placed second. She'd never before placed as high.
    "It was big," said Kricket.
    "Pie in the sky," said her mother. "Incredible."
    No wonder Kricket's trips to the mountain are joyous.
    State skiers on Wednesday were met with horrible, rainy conditions for practice runs at Mt. Hood. Some wore plastic garbage bags for protection.
    "Worst conditions imaginable," said Karla.
    "Yucky," said Kricket.
    But when Karla dropped off her daughter, Kricket was smiling.
    "Krick goes, 'Mom, it's the best day of my life. I'll be on the snow. Every day of my life on the snow, I'll be with Dad.' She walked out of that car with the biggest smile on her face. She couldn't wait to get on the mountain."
    And fulfill her commitment to herself, to her father.
    Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email ttrower@mailtribune.com
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