The day I heard the news of Steve Edwards’s passing I thought about having a couple of martinis and a full size bag of pork rinds, or running twenty miles, or climbing 20 routes in honor of his memory. But then I realized Steve would probably do all of these things and then add on 40 boulder problems, and a 50 mile bike ride, and perhaps write a 1000 word blog post about the ATP process (the energy carrier in cells). He’d probably do this on the same day he’d also go out with his wife Lisa to a black tie dinner. Of course he’d take his dogs for a run first. Steve was always pushing himself and his friends, something that evolved into The Birthday Challenge, his entreaty to do something interesting or individually difficult, every year of your life.
I’ve been paralyzed as to what I can do to feel I’ve honored his passing.
Phil Requist, one of Steve’s many friends, wrote me when I told him I was putting together this tribute. “I think you have an impossible task,” he said.
Edwards’s wife, Lisa, explained why that is. “He was the James Bond of everything,” she says. “A man who moved through life with enviable confidence. Gifted with good looks, intellect, dazzling athletic prowess, charm and wit. He was almost a work of fiction and he didn’t want the adventures he was having to end.”
Steve’s breadth of physical abilities was unparalleled. He could climb a 5.13, boulder a V7, run a 54 second 400 meter, lead a CAT 2 peloton, and hit 30 home runs in a row. None of this is an exaggeration. He could do all this, and likely, if not often, have a full martini and Olympia beer (or five) prior to these feats, and many afterwards. To me, he wasn’t celebrating the end of the feat, he was celebrating life. Everything was a celebration—the enjoyment of a burrito, climbing, running, biking, editing films, or spending time with his dogs.
“He was gifted with good looks, intellect, dazzling athletic prowess, charm, and wit. He was almost a work of fiction.”
So what took down such a mighty man? His wife Lisa wrote that the blastoid variant of mantle cell lymphoma—a rare and aggressive type of cancer—was “exactly like him… unstoppable. He had unbelievable strength and so did those uncooperative cells.”
Steve was certainly influenced by Jack LaLanne—the nutrition and fitness expert of retro fame—but he was more like Yoda, or Bruce Lee, or Clint Eastwood in Kelly’s Heroes or The Eiger Sanction (one of Steve’s favorite movies to quote.) He was a leader. I don’t think anyone called Steve The Leader or acknowledged it outright, but everyone wanted to do what Steve was doing.
No challenge was too small, to odd, or too big. Steve, in response to hearing you were plotting your birthday challenge, which included ten push ups and a two mile walk, would respond with “Rad! C’mon, you can do that and maybe throw in a three mile bike ride on the end and grab an Olympia mid way on the walk!” You’d get nearly the same response with the same genuine enthusiasm if you were going to climb the Eiger with a keg of beer on your back. Steve didn’t judge which challenge was the most difficult or “cool,” he wanted to celebrate and encourage you to do your challenge. Inevitably everyone upped their game no matter where they were, or who they were.
Although it was possible on some adventures that someone, usually Steve, was out performing everyone else, it was never remembered as a competition. The adventures or challenges were always about completion or as Steve would say, “continuing with style.” It never mattered among Edwards’s community if you didn’t finish, finished first, or finished last, only that you continued with style. Hell, you didn’t even have to “try your hardest,” as long as you continued with style.
In the mid-90s there was a choosy sandstone 5.13b, "Epoxy or Not To Be," that Edwards put up on the hill in Santa Barbara. The 2nd or 3rd ascent was coveted. I threw myself at it a number of times. When I finally completed it, Steve informed me that it didn't "really count" unless I ate two Double Double combo meals from In-and-Out, and three pints of BnJs butter pecan ice cream in the same day. I attempted to continue with style, but after getting through the Double Doubles and the first pint of ice cream I had to switch to a different flavor. I made all three pints (barely) but the “ascent” was tainted because I didn't eat three pints of the same flavor. I am no slouch at ice cream consumption, and it killed me to be beaten on the "ice cream section" of the challenge.
There was of course a legendary wit, a comedy, an out right blasphemy for convention among the Edwards clan. It’s hard to describe the sarcasm, yet positivity, that was born from the early days of the Santa Barbara, Isla Vista, and Castle home that were crucibles for Steve’s early exploits. So I’ll leave it to him to do a better job than I ever could.
As Steve was going into his last “challenges” against a viciously strong lymphoma cancer, he wrote the following in an email to his friends with the subject: “we will continue with style.”
Freitag requests our presence in the sitting room, immediately,
My cancer has come back. Grim, like the Eiger. Things going good at the moment but we're scrambling for a new route. It was all fine a couple of weeks ago, then we couldn't cling to the edges (no doubt because Herr Doktor didn't plan for retreat). We're shopping around for different leaders now because I think mostly here they like the title of leader. …. If anyone asks about my blood being replaced, just reply "with what?" And send up a case of beer!
The weather is currently exquisite. A perfect sign for my last mountain. But, ya know, good weather, bad weather, now or later, anytime is good for climbing. We may not make it, but we will continue with style.
Steve didn’t set out to create a list of accomplishments. He just went about filling his life with projects, and celebrating friend’s projects. He put up more first ascents then anyone could count (wild guess: upwards of 500). He discovered new crags. He created the P90X program and other Beach Body programs—which launched a career of challenging others, his favorite thing to do. He produced a climbing magazine, ALLEZ. He acted, directed, and produced films. He could quote everything from Singing in The Rain to Reservoir Dogs. And he took on over 80 birthday challenges, because he loved doing things with you. He took on challenges he sometimes failed to complete. That to me is important. He didn’t aim low, or even challenging, he took on the impossible, and he often changed impossible to “done with style.”
Steve passed away on February 25, at the age of 55. There have been endless stories shared on the Internet about him since his passing. If you want to be uplifted by the memories of an incredible person, take an hour and read some.