Thinking of Alex – August, 3 2014, from John Wilson

In my dark place. That’s what he called it. That pain cave when you were deep into anaerobic burn. Alex was a master at this. Managing the dark place.

Alex had a thing with Mary’s peak. It was in his back yard and the perfect place to push yourself beyond your own limits. I rode Mary’s with Alex a couple of times. Or I should say started at the base with Alex. I couldn’t believe it when we finished at the bottom. I totally spent, longing for home, food, rest, and Alex turning around for another climb of the peak. Alex was so amazingly, and beautifully driven. He knew how to push into that dark place.

I met Alex in 2004. Jim Fischer had pulled Alex onto our bike racing team. He was in a transition from graduating College to what was coming next, and decided to give cycling a serious try. Back then he rode a single speed everywhere. I used to tease him to get some gears on that bike. I think it was the only way I could keep up with him. The thing that struck me most about Alex, was how he talked to you. He had this way of making you not just feel, but know you and that conversation was the most important thing in the world at that very moment. He made such a strong connection with people. He was so interested, and cared so much.

Like most athletic endeavors Alex pursued he adapted and excelled immediately. In 2005 he went from Cat 4 to Cat 2. Alex left our tiny little team and joined one of the biggest teams in the North West. We all knew great things were coming.

Alex had become a fantastic climber. One of the best climbers Oregon had ever seen. Alex had his eyes on a state hill climbing championship, but when Jim Fischer decided to promote the Mary’s Peak Hill Climb in 2006 it immediately became a huge target for Alex. His home mountain. His special training ground. His dark place.

I had the amazing luck that day to ride in a follow Car with Buzz to watch & video Alex dance his way to the top of the peak. Doug Ollerenshaw was there. Another local great. An OSU grad and cycling collegiate champion. In 2006 Doug was riding on a professional team. He was the guy to beat. Jim Fischer arranged for Doug to be Alex’s 30 second man. The rabbit up the road tempting Alex all along the way.

What a gift to be an observer when Alex caught Doug. Then to witness that moment where Doug just couldn’t hang on anymore. The elastic snapped. Alex free to fly. Then to be able to shout encouragement out the window. Both Buzz and I. And to see Alex respond with even greater ferocity. Mastering the dark place.

Like everyone else, I was so proud of Alex that day. Doug Ollerenshaw was awesome in his graciousness up at the top.

Alex would go on to win multiple state hill climb championships. As far as we know, consulting all the OBRA historians & data, his time on Mary’s Peak from that day in 2006 is still the official record at 37 min, 31 seconds.

I hadn’t stayed closely in touch with Alex the past few years. I saw him occasionally. Read his blog now and then. I am sad for the missed opportunities to be around him. I am heartbroken that I won’t get to live vicariously through his certain ultra-marathon accomplishments to come. And most of all, I am terribly sorry for Buzz, Pat, Adam, McHale, and the huge void left behind.

Like all of you Alex has been wandering through my mind these past several days. Pushing his way in with a pang of deep sadness, but also with appreciation and joy for the amazing individual he was. Alex is reminding me how to live and appreciate what I have. He is reminding me to remember him for the great example he set, and how he so positively influenced and touched so many people; reminding me to make NOW the most important time.

John Wilson, August, 3 2014, 

Notes to Alex Photos

A Letter from Jessica Lamanna to Alex’s Parents

Buzz and Pat,

My husband Ryan and I have only known Alex for a year or so, but it was not enough. We can’t even begin to imagine what you are going through as his parents.  We were initially neighbors when we both lived on B street, however our lives didn’t cross for a year until Alex took a shared interest in Ryan’s wheatgrass. Alex was very special to us and we miss him dearly. As Ryan put it, “he is a friend that we will never be able to replace. We will never meet someone like him again.”  He was such an incredible person and I know you two were an integral part in him becoming the man he was.

Yesterday at the park, many people shared stories about Alex. It really brought together all the different parts of Alex’s life and the people he had an impact on. We enjoyed hearing the stories that his colleagues and students shared. I thought that I would share a few memories and experiences that we had with Alex.

The first memory I have of Alex is before I met him, when I knew him as the neighbor that I would always see walking down the neighboring streets, oh so slowly. He truly took EVERYTHING in, never in a rush. The first time I ran into him on the trails I remember thinking, “oh wow, he runs!” and fast.

I will miss the dinners we would share. Alex would have us over, or he would come over to our place with a bag full of food and just cook. He was an amazing cook, truly appreciating the flavors and ingredients of what he put together. He loved to share this with people and it was fun to watch him work in the kitchen.

Many weekends, Ryan and Alex would go on adventures on the Ashland trails. For hours hiking and biking and talking.  I always looked forward to hearing fun Alex-isms when they returned, which leads to…

Alex’s humor, oh we will miss this. Subtle at times, but always good for a laugh. He used to joke that he thought we should chop off one of Willow’s legs (our dog) so that she would be on par with everyone else. As a puppy she has much too much energy, which I knew could wear thin on Alex, but secretly I think he loved her. He would say, “If I’m not back by such and such time, send Willow for me.”

Alex loved to teach and share his knowledge, and we loved to just listen and learn from him. The most valuable thing that he shared with us was his time.

Alex perfected bars. Ryan perfected joooose (juice). They talked of opening a “Joose and Bars” business.

I never truly enjoyed a yoga class until I took one of Alex’s. His silent yoga class was so powerful; even without talking Alex could teach and he had such a presence and impact. Sometimes, in between poses, he would come out with a one liners and have the whole room cracking up. No one will forget the glittery short shorts on holidays either.

For the several weeks leading up to Alex’s trip, we would make weekly trips up to Mt Ashland; packing Vanna White full of bikes and picnic stuff and spending the day on the trails. This weekend will be my first 50 miler, on those very trails. I will carry these and other memories with me during this race. Although jokingly at the time, I said last Saturday that I would wear tie-dye, his outfit of choice, for the race. As promised, I will be wearing tie-dye for him on Saturday. Alex’s presence and wonderful spirit is everywhere in Ashland and will live on in the places he loved and through the people that loved him.

You are in our thoughts,

Jessica and Ryan Lamanna

Notes to Alex Photos

A Note from Timothy Tillman

Hello All,

I’ve never met anyone like Alex and am forever grateful to call him friend….Thank you all for sharing your stories and love of him. It was especially moving to receive Buzz and Pat’s words.

This Sunday morning as the skies opened up and rain fell for the time in months here in Southern California my heart cracked open realizing my friend Alex was really gone. I met Alex right after he moved to Ashland and got to share close time together playing, riding, visioning the beauty of the world and drinking strange concoctions he would make in his blender.  His openness and joy for life touched me and we quickly became buds.

Again and again Alex’s willingness to lead with his heart in a gentle yet direct ways opened me and others around him. I loved his willingness to be himself at every turn and simultaneously demonstrate great care for those around him. By being truly himself he helped me to be more real. His insatiably curiosity and passion for adventure was contagious and took me places I would not have gone without him. Mostly, I want to praise Alex for his courage to let his light shine brightly into the world and to his parents for birthing and guiding such a pure love into the world. His light is alive in me as I am sure it is in you.  May we all foster this light in Alex’s honor.

Love to Alex and all of you, Timothy Tillman

People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.




Notes to Alex Photos

A Note from McHale

Alex’s older sister McHale read this note at our gatherings this past weekend for Alex.

I have such fond memories of being a kid with Alex in the forest and home where we grew up …playing in the creek together, building little dams so we could watch the water pool up, collecting snails, traipsing through the snowy forest, my friends and I outfitting him in my dress-up clothes during slumber parties, snuggling into bed with him on one side of my dad and me on the other so we could read bedtime stories.

As we got older, I remember some competition and typical sibling rivalry, heated discussions in the mornings when we were getting ready for school- me spending way too much time (and hairspray) on my bangs and Alex pulling on a pair of shorts even though it was January.

But as we reached adulthood and pursued our interests, I found myself almost surprised at how much our passions aligned. Although we pursued them in different ways, Alex and I were both teachers, both shared an appreciation for words and language, both loved the joy and challenge of being active and pushing ourselves physically. Beyond shared interests, we shared values- the importance of family, an appreciation of nature, the value of hard work and perseverance.   Perhaps this isn’t surprising, given we both grew up with the same amazing parents, who taught, and instilled in us, many of these values

But I was always impressed- and proud- by how deeply Alex embraced all of these things, the passion and intention with which he lived. As a teacher, he embraced his students and was personally invested in them as individuals. As a reader and a writer, he had a deep wisdom and a way of putting words together such that the thoughts seem completely obvious and exactly what I had been thinking, and at the same time also help me see the world in a totally new way. As an athlete he was amazingly disciplined and accomplished feats that were often unimaginable to me. As a lover of nature, he was always one to venture off of the beaten path, and to discover and appreciate treasures that many people didn’t notice.

In recent years, Alex and I bonded over running. As with many things, Alex took running to an entirely different level than I did. While I ran marathons, he often ran much longer distances, with thousands of feet of elevation gain, and at a pace several minutes per mile faster than mine. I will always treasure our runs together in the forest, sometimes talking about life, other times just running together in silence, soaking in nature.

Alex and I often spoke before one of us had a big run, and I distinctly remember three pieces of advice he gave me that I continue to appreciate. One was in response to my worries about running up hills- he said something that helped him was envisioning little birds, lifting up each foot as he ran. Alex was also the one who taught me the value of a mantra, especially when you need a little boost- repeating a short, inspiring phrase that helps to establish a sense of rhythm and provides an emotional lift. Another one was as I was preparing to run my first 50K trail run, which he had urged me to do, and which got me hooked on trail running. I explained to him that I was worried about not having the energy I usually get from big crowds in a road marathon. He assured me that I could draw just as much, if not more, strength and energy from nature. He was right- the trees and other life around me on the trails gave me all the energy and boost I needed, and in a way that also brought a sense of peace.

While I will deeply miss feeling Alex’s feet hitting the trail next to me, I know he will always be running along beside me. He’ll be the one who helps me reach the top of the seemingly endless hill, the one who urges me to speed up just a little even though I’m feeling tired, the one who reminds me to breathe in the scent of the forest and to feel the energy of the trees.

I’ve thought a lot about what it means to honor Alex, to keep him in our lives, especially because I want Kaya and her little sister to know their uncle. In some ways, they will honor him without even knowing…like the way Kaya can spend inordinate amounts of time playing in icy mountain lakes; the way she zooms around on her skuut, a gift from her two uncles, with such joy and determination; her enthusiasm for downward dog; her love of nature.

In addition to continuing to talk about Alex, I’ve also realized that honoring him means becoming a better person myself– helping to share his qualities that I appreciate and admire the most, with my daughters—and with the world. It means

  • Being true to myself
  • Pushing myself- setting my goals a little higher and putting in the extra work to reach them
  • Showing people little—and big—acts of kindness
  • Appreciating the world around me- recognizing and treasuring the special moments, even, or perhaps especially, when my days begin to feel routine
  • Sharing creativity…perhaps through a poem or story, a new recipe, a picture, a yellow marble…
  • Taking time to be quiet, to reflect, to just be

I encourage all of you to remember that Alex is always with us, and to honor him by embodying his qualities that you most admire. In these ways, even though he is not physically with us, he will continue to be in, and touch, our lives.



Notes to Alex Photos

The Day Unfolds


Alex at Crater Lake

The day unfolds with rays of sun,

rainbow spectrums fueling fun.

Oceans, mountains, rivers and stones,

a beautiful playground for my flesh and bones.

Let the wind’s strength carry a call,

the coming of winter, the passing of fall.

Let the sun shine on, I am its kin,

its blood warms my heart and all that’s within.

I thank the sun, before it turns to night,

that it gives me life to be a colorful light.

-Alex Newport-Berra


Alex's Writing Photos

Corvallis Gathering for Alex

At the Gathering to Honor Alex on August 9, 2014 in Corvallis, Alex’s friends and family were invited to write on a rock…a word or phrase that, to them, was Alex.

Gem (Alexandrite)
soar high
Deep Connection
Love the Earth
bright star kilo 65
Embrace Life
observed love
Be Present
Love Warmth Space
Fast Friend
The extra mile
An inspiration
Always Love Everything
Passion for LIFE!
Generosity of Spirit
Peace & Joy
Love of LIFE
Enjoy every moment
Lives Touched
Open yourself to life
Go to the light
Tree Top
Pu’uwai Aloha
notice the details
Lemon bars
one of a kind
MAN of the mountain
Love you Alex
Your light shines on Alex
the unknown
Peace & Happiness
Tree spirit
peace patience kindness
zest for life
A Gift
Darkness = the understated silence that begets the stars

Notes to Alex Photos