On the afternoon of Feb. 16 the world mourned the deaths of Owen Green, 27, of Aspen, and Michael Goerne, 37, of Carbondale, who died in an avalanche while training for the Grand Traverse near Crested Butte, Colorado. The Grand Traverse is a 40-mile backcountry ski race across the Elk Mountains that the friends planned to compete in as partners this March.
Both lifelong athletes, former Division I lacrosse players and coaches for the local high school, Goerne and Green impacted the lives of many and transformed the sport of lacrosse in Colorado.
Goerne, the first Minnesotan to play DI lacrosse, graduated from Marist College in 2004. Prior to walking on to the team in 2000, he had founded Edina Lacrosse Association in his hometown when he was 15-years-old, and later in 2003 he helped found Homegrown Lacrosse in Massachusetts. Since graduating from Marist, Goerne had frequently volunteered on Minnesota Chill Lacrosse trips.
During his tenure as a student athlete at Marist College, Goerne had to work for every ounce of playing time and never took plays off. Despite having had three head-coaches within his four years at Marist, Goerne always gave his best on the playing field. So much so, that in his senior year the lacrosse program managed to pull together an undefeated season in the conference with an 8-0 record, before being knocked out of the MAAC tournament by rival Manhattan College.
After earning his degree in Business Administration and Finance from Marist, Goerne moved to Carbondale. There, he and two other individuals established Jaywalker Lodge, an addiction treatment center, where he served as their Business and Operations Manager for 10 years.
“Mike started a rehabilitation center here in Carbondale” said Aspen High School Lacrosse Coach Tom Cox. “He was able to see the good in people when they weren’t necessarily at their best.”
Moreover, Goerne popularized lacrosse in Aspen by getting the high school team off the ground with the promise to take them to state championships. First, he founded the Aspen High School lacrosse club team in 2006, and within two years, transformed the program into a varsity team. By 2015, Goerne fulfilled his promise, leading the Aspen Skiers to a state title. For his successful efforts Goerne was named Colorado State Coach of the Year.
Respecting the wishes of the family, memorials and banquets are in the works to commemorate Goerne, ensuring that the high school and club lacrosse programs in Aspen continue on in his memory. The Aspen lacrosse program currently stands as the largest team at the high school, with a staggering number of over 300 kids enrolled in the youth club. All of these accomplishments come back to Goerne as he was the man to develop, direct and coach lacrosse at the high school from the beginning.
The varsity lacrosse shooter shirts and helmets will have both Goerne and Green’s initials on them going forward this season. “We are trying to always remember what they did and just live through them” said Cox.
On the same day of Goerne’s passing on Feb. 16, the Marist Men’s Lacrosse team played the U.S. Air Force academy in Colorado. Typically, Goerne had been coming to all of Marist’s games out in the area in the past. He may not have physically made this one, but in spirit he was cheering for the Red Foxes in the stands.
“He was somebody that definitely wore Marist colors with tremendous pride on the practice field and on the game field,” said current Marist Men’s Lacrosse Coach Keegan Wilkinson. “This weekend we have our first home game since Mike’s passing. So we will have a moment of silence for him before our game begins, and we also have decals that we are gonna be putting on our helmets to honor his legacy.”
Marist Lacrosse is well aware of the impact Goerne had on lacrosse and how frequently he would try to attend Marist lacrosse games out in the Colorado area. He was a man that had been removed from the Marist program for so long, but would still think about Marist and send encouraging letters to Wilkinson, as well as donations to the school. “Whether you’re in Colorado, or like many of our alums that are here in the tri-state area,” Wilkinson said, “Mike’s impact on those people is just as strong and he was thousands of miles away from us, which is pretty cool that we get to share with our guys.”
Marist Lacrosse is looking forward to commemorating his life and legacy this Saturday in Poughkeepsie as the Red Foxes take on Monmouth University at Tenney Stadium. A spark of inspiration fueled by Goerne’s tragic death will be motivating the team’s efforts and attitude leading up to the match.
“The thing that I learned from Mike is that it’s bigger than just a game. It’s more important than just the results. It’s about building relationships and having that everlasting impact on the people you played with,” said Wilkinson.
Goerne was the epitome of a well-rounded coach that wanted to ensure every student athlete knew that they played a vital role in order for the team to succeed. It’s not just about the guys who score the goals or the guys getting stops defensively, it’s a 43 man body of work. Goerne really embraced this philosophy and was clearly a very driven man that wanted to make sure everyone played their part and got down to business.
“He was incredibly dedicated to growing this game, and I think that’s something. With our sport that is growing at such a tremendous level across the country, it’s because of guys like Mike Goerne,” Wilkinson said. “It’s really easy to spread the game in Long Island, Maryland or in the traditional hot bed areas, but it takes a really special person like Mike to go out to Colorado and Minnesota to tie your boots up and really do the groundwork. I hope people realize he was at the forefront of that.”
The typical stereotype of lacrosse portrays the sport’s culture as the party-friendly fraternity-type, but Goerne would not stand for that behavior or demeanor. He created a brotherhood and family by establishing a different type of culture in his program. Whether it was training with his players or disciplining them by doing up-downs in the middle of the Denver Airport, Goerne created a sense of kinship that gave his players and fellow coaches a one-for-all and all-for-one mentality.
Beyond the sport of lacrosse, Goerne created a new community in Aspen that wouldn’t have existed without his dedication to success. From starting one of the largest rehabilitation centers in the nation, to winning a state championship from nothing, to creating the Aspen Youth Club and owning Sopris Crossfit, the man’s list of accomplishments are far longer than most, especially for a life taken too soon.
And if you were to ask Goerne why he did all of this, he would reply that it was to create a community that wasn’t originally there for the benefit of the others around him.
A self-help enthusiast that coached in a very composed manner, he knew when to put his foot down in overseeing his students, but always educated those around him in a productive manner. Goerne spent hours daily ensuring he had an organized plan for his student athletes, always looking to make his players better people, as opposed to better lacrosse athletes.
“The outreach and impact he had was not just on one little group, it was the whole valley from Glenwood Springs to Aspen,” Cox said.
Communities up to 50 miles away from Aspen reached out to Coach Cox in regard to his friends’ passing. That included dirt bikers, crossfit, lacrosse, hockey and co-workers of Goerne.
“He was the best person you would ever meet,” said Cox, who felt the loss of Goerne on a personal level. “The more you do in your life, the happier you are going to feel,” was a famous line of Goerne that will always stick with Coach Cox.
Goerne did not have kids, but he fulfilled his life in a way that was best for him and made him feel the most complete. Some would view his lifestyle as hard work; Goerne would consider it life and just part of his daily routine.
“He was a kind-hearted, dedicated, hard-working person that always had it figured out,” said Goerne’s former college roommate Justin Casano. “While everyone was trying to find their why, he had it already. He was always the better person. He was like a big brother to me.”
This is a tough time for the lacrosse players of Aspen high school. Many of them have sought counseling to help cope with such a tragic event in their young athletic careers. The potential to grow from a loss is the biggest message being preached by Cox and the rest of the Aspen coaching staff. They hope to convince their players that if they make an impact like Goerne did, their lives will be better fulfilled.
Casano described his long time friend as, “The type of man you would want your daughter to marry.”
Despite how hard it is to dwell on the death of someone who had such an impact on their lives, the Aspen community is aiming to bring positive outcomes out of this tragedy, in the name of their lost coaches.
“It’s not about how a person dies, it’s about what they do when they’re alive,” Cox said.
Goerne proved that life is about what you do for other people and the impact in outreach you have on a community. He was an incredible man that not only helped, but saved the lives of many at the cost of nothing more than his own drive to improve the world around him. Certainly his death was a tragedy in and of itself, but life lessons were learned through his loss, and many would argue that Goerne would be proud of that.
Edited by Meaghan Roche & Will Bjarnar
Header image courtesy of the Aspen Times