‘Jonny’s Weekend’ celebrated the life of beloved Whistler Mountain Ski Club coach, Jonathan Kellock, who died of brain cancer in 2021.
If you spotted the massive crowd gathered around a dual slalom course set up at the Dave Murray National Training Center on Whistler Mountain last month, you’d be forgiven for assuming the event was a spring race, or maybe be an end of season celebration for the local ski club.
But the group of nearly 200 skiers and snowboarders gathered on the slopes of Whistler on April 16 marked more than a successful season – they were finally celebrating the life of Whistler Mountain Ski Club (WSMC) coach Jonathan Kellock, better known as Johnny’s name.
He died of glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, on January 5, 2021, just three months before his 29th birthday.
The impressive turnout for ‘Jonny’s Weekend’, made up of friends and family from across North America and Europe, was indicative of the extent of the impact Jonny had on his various communities. over the years. Loved ones remember him as an honest, hilarious and charismatic presence; a great cook; a natural but determined athlete, “wicked skier” and passionate trainer who loved to have fun and was always surrounded by friends.
Above all, “he loved being on the snow and he loved the mountains,” said his mother, Jennifer. “He was just a really good human being.”
They also remember him for his courageous and courageous battle with illness which ultimately cut his life short. “I’ve never seen him give a ‘woe to me’ kind of reaction,” Jonny’s father Rob said.
“He never once complained, not once,” Jennifer agreed.
These attributes did not surprise those who knew him. They were on display throughout his racing career, from the first minute he put on a pair of skis as a toddler.
“I think Jonny was just born with a pair of skis,” Jennifer laughed.
His love for skiing began with family trips to their HoliMont Ski Club cabin in Ellicottville, NY, a few hours south of their home near Toronto. Jonny would eventually ski for Team Ontario and for Northwood School, a private boarding school in Lake Placid, NY, before heading to New Hampshire to compete with the NCAA team at the State University of Plymouth. All the while, his goal has remained the same.
Skiing “was always just a hobby for him,” Rob said. “His goal was…to make the World Cup, 100 per cent.”
A delayed dream
But Jonny won’t finish his last semester of college, after suffering a seizure in his fourth year and eventually being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour.
“When he was first healed and ready to do something, that’s when he said, ‘Well, you know what, I think I’d like to be a coach,'” Rob recalled. departure, Jonny intended to return to his old playground in Lake Placid.
“I said, ‘Well, wait a minute, what about Whistler?’ I said, ‘Why don’t I call [WMSC coach] Bob [Armstrong] and you see? Rob explained. Armstrong’s answer? “‘Give me a day,'” Rob recalled. “I mean, I didn’t even have to finish my pitch.”
The moment was “serendipous,” said Armstrong, a longtime family friend of the Kellocks. “We had a seat, and the next thing you know Jonny was on the plane and… the rest is history. He really found his zone in Whistler, and in the mountains here. We talk a lot about the community that Jonny lived and worked in, and wherever he was, he was a vibrant part of that community.
Despite his years of skiing and training in remote places around the world with these various teammates, Whistler is where he rediscovered the joy of skiing and found a tight-knit community on the slopes, in the backcountry, on mountain bike trails. and on the golf course.
It was also there that he developed a passion for coaching. He worked with WMSC athletes for three years before his cancer returned.
“He found his true calling when he started coaching,” said Henry Yeigh, Jonny’s roommate and WMSC coach. “He was a supportive coach who challenged the athletes to work hard and do their best on race day.
“It was a common theme that kept coming back to them: ‘He was one of my favorite coaches of all time.'”
With COVID hampering most group gatherings since Jonny’s death, the weekend celebration in Whistler was a long time coming. It was emotional, Jennifer recalls, and underscored by the group ski descent from the Roundhouse to ‘Beauty Can Start’ on the lower Ptarmigan on Saturday afternoon, where the area was officially renamed Jonny’s Start.
A sign unveiled during Jonny’s weekend now hangs in the starting area, alongside a plaque with a few lines about its namesake. “Once met, never forgotten,” was a phrase Armstrong chose to include, along with the words “Work hard. Ski fast. Be humble.”
“It was sort of Jonny’s mantra without him ever having a real mantra,” Jennifer said. “But he lived that way.”
Now, “every day that we’re here, Jonny’s legacy will continue,” Armstrong explained. “His name will be mentioned many times a day, whether by the coaches or the kids – you know, ‘we’re using Jonny’s start today.'”
A lasting legacy
The weekend was “incredibly cathartic” for her parents and sisters, Rob said.
“It couldn’t have worked better,” he said. “This weekend was perfect. It was absolutely perfect. And it was so good for all of us, his family – we were just humbled by the incredible number of people who came… It was so good for all of us to be able to see this and be able to be with all of his friends and colleagues and say goodbye, really.
Jonny’s parents say they are grateful their son is surviving not only because of the athletes he coached, but also because of the foundation created in his honour.
A small group of friends formed the Jonny Kellock Foundation shortly after his death with a dual mission in mind: to support the development of Canadian ski coaches, while raising funds and awareness for brain cancer research.
So far, the group has successfully donated $10,000 to the Gord Downie Fund for Brain Cancer Research at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Toronto, as well as sending two up-and-coming ski coaches to ski camps. national team training and races. These funds were raised, in part, through challenges like “29 for Jonny Boy”, where friends would complete 29 laps (or kilometers or minutes, depending on the activity each participant chose) to mark what would have been the 29th Johnny’s birthday.
A group of 11 friends, including Yeigh, now make up the board and meet for weekly calls. The Foundation was granted charitable status last fall.
“I think it’s pretty cool what we’ve been able to accomplish in a year… The only reason it’s possible is because of who Jonny was and the community behind him,” Yeigh said. “People are so keen to support us because of Jonny.”
By continuing to support Jonny’s passions through the foundation, “we are able to carry on this legacy so that young children who come across ski racing in Canada know who Jonny was and know his values. and what made him such a great person,” Yeigh added. “So it’s certainly very comforting to know that we’re able to convey who he was so it’s not like he just disappeared. He’s still here, his legacy is still there and his core values are still there. And so it’s definitely healing, that’s for sure.