The Shane McConkey Story

One of the boldest skiers of our time, Shane McConkey left behind a wife, a daughter, and one of the sport's greatest legacies. Now a new documentary shares intimate details of his life. We talk to his widow, Sherry McConkey, about the film and their time together.

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Shane McConkey with his wife Sherry and daughter Ayla in 2006.     Photo: Redbull Media

This month, Red Bull Media House and Matchstick Productions release "McConkey," a documentary on action-sports star Shane McConkey, who died in the Italian Dolomites in March 2009 at the age of 39 in a wingsuit-ski-BASE accident. The film, which will be shown on a 20-city tour before opening theatrically in New York City and Los Angeles, uses a classic documentary formula, combining professionally shot skiing and BASE-jumping footage of McConkey with talking-head interviews. But the production finds its true voice in scenes culled from home movies McConkey left behind, chronicling the full scope of his life, including ample screen time with his wife, Sherry, 46, and daughter, Ayla, now seven. TIM SOHN spoke with Sherry McConkey, an executive producer on the film and director of the Shane McConkey Foundation, an environmental-education nonprofit, about her husband’s legacy.

OUTSIDE: There’s an incredible amount of powerful home footage in the film—it seemed like Shane was running a video camera constantly. Did that ever get annoying?
MCCONKEY: Oh, you have no idea. When I was puking in the toilet while pregnant, and he was filming, I wanted to punch him. But he did it all in such a funny way that you couldn’t help but just turn around and laugh, even when he pissed you off.

Ayla was three when Shane died. Has she seen the film?
We watched it together. She sat in front of me at the computer. I was crying and she would just smile at me and hug me and giggle out loud. She got kind of bored at the skiing parts, but she loved seeing her daddy, seeing our wedding, watching her dad ski with her, and she was tough about it.

Were there any surprises for you in the older home movie stuff—the teenage years, his twenties—that you hadn’t seen?
I'd seen most of that stuff, but to see it edited was so different. I mean, I knew what a hard time he had in college, but it was super sad to see him saying, “I'm a loser.” I never saw that side of him. I think every kid goes through insecurities. I hope this message comes across to kids that this is how life is, we all go through hard times and failures and successes.

There was an audience member at the Tribeca Film Festival, where the film premiered, who said he thought the question underlying the film was, Was it worth it? I’m sure it’s one you get asked a lot.
It’s a hard question. He’s my husband, he’s gone, and I’m a single mom and it sucks, and I miss him like crazy. But he lived his life. There were some really annoying remarks that came out when Shane first died: “How could he love his wife and kid if he’s this BASE-jumping adrenaline junkie?” And it frustrated me because I knew Shane, and I knew what he was all about. The film is really a nice way to show the world how to live life. Don’t be reckless, don’t be stupid, but enjoy life, make goals and achieve them, because it’s amazing, and we are lucky to be here.

That essential conflict may be hard for audiences to reconcile: on the one hand, they see this guy developing into this incredibly loving and responsible family man, and on the other he’s still doing stuff they can’t conceive of as being safe.
Part of me hated what he did. It was stressful, I didn’t sleep at night. A lot of my friends who have pro-athlete husbands have the same fears, but the ones that are still married and that understand this lifestyle, they’re not going to stop their partners from doing it, because you may as well say goodbye to the relationship. You married that guy for who he is. Everyone’s going to criticize that world no matter what, because they don’t understand it. They’ve never been there: they’ve never flown off a cliff, or skied down a sheer face, or ridden a big wave. We need those people who want to push us. We need pioneers.

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