Coaches at the eastern Ontario ski club where Riley Cotter learned to race typically discourage photos during practice because it can distract from training, past club president Brian Ivay says.
But last Wednesday at the Calabogie Ski Racing Club was an exception.
Ivay made some members of the club’s U18 group — including Cotter, who would have turned 18 in March — pose for a photo on the slopes that afternoon.
The photo captured the young athlete in his element, among friends. It’s also one of the last pictures ever taken of the teen, who died in a tragedy on the Rideau River in Ottawa that evening.
“[He was] a good kid who came from a good place [and] was going to do good things,” said Bruce Monkman, Cotter’s ski coach and the head coach at the club.
Death a ‘quite sudden’ shock
Only hours after the photo was snapped, Cotter, fellow 17-year-old Ahmed Ahmed and two other teens fell through the ice on the river, about 20 kilometres south of the city’s core.
Cotter and Ahmed did not make it out alive, leaving their family and friends mourning over the holiday season.
Ivay and Monkman have both known the Cotter family for over a decade. They said the ski community has been left shaken by Cotter’s death too.
“Pretty much most of the individuals involved in our club saw him that day,” Monkman said. “So it’s quite, quite sudden for a large footprint of people.”
The club is like a big family, Ivay said.
“My son spent so many hours skiing with him,” he said. “Both loved to be outside, both loved to ski and just had such a passion for the sport.”
According to Cotter’s obituary, he “loved nothing better than a day on the hill at Calabogie with his ski racing teammates, or in the warmer months at the Limerick Forest on his dirt bike.”
Excelled at slalom skiing
Ivay and Monkman said Cotter was kind and gentle and really shined when racing head-to-head.
Monkman coached both Cotter and his sister and said Cotter excelled at slalom skiing — skiing between gates.
He remembered one run where Cotter ended up as “one of the fastest kids in the race.”
“Seeing the surprise on his face … was pretty special,” Monkman said.
Cotter was just coming into his own “in terms of his athletic skiing ability and as a young man starting to look towards that next stage in life,” he added.
Cotter was midway through Grade 12 at John McCrae Secondary School when he died last week.
The school will have mental health staff on hand when students return from the holiday break on Jan. 8, according to a weekend note from the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board.
“We each react to death in many different ways and we know that students and staff may need some time to process the reality of the situation,” the board said in its message to the school community.
The Calabogie Ski Racing Club, which oversees 60 to 70 athletes ranging in age from nine to 21, is planning a memorial to honour Cotter, Ivay said.
Cotter’s family is having their own memorial service on Friday.