Comps and Events, News

Friends gather to say goodbye to Xavier Murillo

Tuesday 19 July, 2011

Mark Hayman reflects on the memorial of Xavier Murillo, technical director and passionate, hardworking frontman of the Paragliding World Cup Association

Friends gather to pay their final respects to Xavier Murillo at his home in St Hilaire, France

Friends gather to pay their final respects to Xavier Murillo at his home in St Hilaire, France

Sunday 17 July 2011: Friends of Xavier Murillo, technical director and passionate, hardworking frontman of the Paragliding World Cup, gathered to pay their respects to the friend they had loved and lost.

Xavier disappeared paragliding in the Cordillera Blanca mountains in Peru on 1 July 2011. After a seven-day search, funded in large part by the global pilot community who flooded the PWCA with donations in the hope of locating Xavier alive, his body was recovered from high on the flanks of Huandoy, a 6,395m peak in the Andes.

PWC pilot Mark Hayman was in St Hilaire…

It was with a heavy heart that we set off from Tignes in torrential rain to drive to St Hilaire yesterday for Xavier Murillo’s memorial in the mountain-side village in which he made his home.

We arrived to find people milling about in the local village hall with others sheltering outside trying to smoke cigarettes in the continuing deluge.

Eventually the hall became packed and the initial sad words of condolence turned to stories of Xavier. The atmosphere lightened as we remembered the great man’s quips and jokes, his enviable command of many languages and the ability to seemingly be able to tell jokes in all of them as well as his infectious and provocative comments on anything and everything. One thing I kept hearing again and again when talking about the recent controversy in paragliding was ‘how we wish Xavier had been here to make a comment on all of this…’

A grim-faced and visibly shaken Ulric Jessop discussed with Goran Dimiskovski where the Paragliding World Cup would go from here without its driving force to push it along. They didn’t seem hopeful that anybody would ever have big enough feet to fill Xavier’s boots, and certainly not in the short term. ‘A disaster’ was how Goran summed things up.

I spoke with Xavier’s father, a sprightly octogenarian with a spring in his step and still with a twinkle in his eye.  Alphonse Murillo was captivated with my young son, six-month old Zac. ‘He reminds me so much of young Xavier’, he said, before taking him from me and, with a tear in his eye, taking him around the whole room to meet everybody. The effect of a giggling and rosy-cheeked baby never ceases to amaze me at even the most sombre of times.

After an hour or so the memorial service got underway with a moving tribute from Xavier’s three nieces whom he called ‘Number 1’, ‘Number 2’ and ‘Number 3’ in order of their ages. They read a letter that he had sent to them when he was in hospital with a badly broken leg in 1985. The letter was accompanied by a photo of a young and long-haired Xavier riding a mountain bike off a bridge on a bungee cord, grinning to the camera as ever. I have to paraphrase it as it was in French and the three nieces were so tearful as they read it out that some of it was hard to catch. It seemed, however, to be almost unbearably poignant to Xavier’s life 25 years after it was written.

‘My dear nieces, numbers 1,2 and 3’, it read. ‘By now you will know that I am injured in hospital but don’t worry I will mend. People will tell you I am crazy and that I take risks. But listen to me – many, many people die wishing they’d done more things. They usually say they wished they’d travelled more, chased more dreams, learnt a language, played a musical instrument or become involved in art, a sport or a passion. However life got in the way for them.

‘I say to you, my beautiful nieces chase your dreams. Spend time on what fascinates you. Others will tell you that you are wasting your life away whilst at the same time they waste theirs looking at an office wall or doing a job they hate because they are scared of the alternative. Do not listen to them. Life is a once-only chance to go and follow your dreams.

‘Take that chance and never, ever regret it.

‘Your Uncle Xavier’ (Tonton Xavier).’

As we left the gathering in the early evening the weather had begun to break and the low clouds on the Belledonne mountains were bathed in the rich red light of the setting sun. I thought about how many times Xavier would have looked out of his apartment window at this beautiful view and reflected on his life.

A life well lived, full and savoured to the last drop.

Ciao, my good friend.

Mark Hayman

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All the news from the search for Xavier Murillo

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