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‘I Believe’ Ski to Sea team honors friend who died during 2022 race

Rob Lawrance remembered as vibrant, caring man

I Believe takes a team photo May 26 while wearing commemorative shirts of their late friend
I Believe takes a team photo May 26 while wearing commemorative shirts of their late friend (Audra Anderson/Cascadia Daily News)
By Audra Anderson Assistant Editor

During the 2022 Ski to Sea race, Dawn Groves of team Border Traffic was the last kayaker to cross the finish line. She had participated in an early release from Zuanich Point Park after her teammate failed to show for the handoff in time. 

Groves staggered across the grass of Fairhaven’s Marine Park to meet the rest of her team. Any feelings of victory crumbled into devastation as team captain Lynette Skippon broke the news that their teammate had died during the cyclocross leg of the annual race. 

photo  Rob Lawrance sent this selfie to his wife May 29, 2022, before embarking on the cyclocross leg of last year’s Ski to Sea race. He died of a cardiac event while on the route. (Photo courtesy of Amir Freund)  

Rob Lawrance, 58, suffered a fatal cardiac event on the course between Ferndale and Zuanich Point Park, the first death in Ski to Sea’s 50-year history. An avid cyclist who appeared in good health, Lawrance fell victim to a congenital heart defect he didn’t know about. 

Nearly one year later, on Friday, May 26, his team members gathered in their late friend’s backyard in Blaine for a pre-race potluck, a poster of Lawrance propped on an easel behind them. They shared food, drinks, laughs, stories and details for Sunday’s event.  

After last year’s tragedy, the team didn’t want to pressure anyone into registering again for the 50th-anniversary race, yet they all showed up for Friday’s meeting. And again on Sunday. 

photo  During the team’s pre-race meeting, sea kayak racer Dawn Groves looks at the team T-shirt, which features the last photo Rob Lawrance took right before he embarked on the cyclocross leg of Ski to Sea in 2022. (Audra Anderson/Cascadia Daily News)  

“It’s a necessary step,” Groves said Friday. “We went through a trauma and that trauma is being relived this weekend whether we’re together or not. So being together, we at least can support each other.” 

Being together is “why we’ve done it every year,” teammate Joe Dobson added. Over the last two decades, Ski to Sea has served as an excuse for the friend group to reunite.

Plus, Lawrance wouldn’t want them “moping at home,” the team said. 

This year, they settled on the team name I Believe, a reference to Lawrance’s love of the fabled Sasquatch. A retired environmental planner for the city of Nanaimo, British Columbia, Lawrance loved imagining the cryptid roaming the woods. Now, his team likes to think of Lawrance somewhere “out there in the trees” watching over them — elusive, but not really gone. 

Groves said Friday she hoped the race would provide some closure. 

“I still just can’t believe it,” Groves said. “Every day is a lack of belief, but over time, you start to build a life where that person isn’t in it. You build a life without them being present, and, in some ways, it feels wrong to do so. You feel survivor’s guilt, and this is another way to weather that. To honor him.” 

Backyard moments on Friday turned somber as the team thought about how Lawrance would have invigorated their banter — he was the life of the party, pulling everyone into conversation and brightening a room with his raucous laugh, his friends said. 

“Rob was so funny — any negativity, he could just deflect,” Skippon said. “He always had this way of switching it up and making something really fun.”

photo  Joe Dobson, who competed in the road bike leg this year, wears a team shirt from a previous Ski to Sea. The graphic is an outline of a photo of Rob Lawrance, and the team name was a reference to the sweeper van that ensures the last teams are headed down the mountain. (Audra Anderson/Cascadia Daily News)  

Groves said she “felt Rob most in Ski to Sea” — he was inextricably linked to the race through his relationships, line of work, hobbies and interests. Lawrance met his beloved wife, Becky, during the 2010 canoe leg, when their first hours of quality time were spent heaving paddles through the waters of the Nooksack River. 

Lawrance was always an outdoors lover, and he, Dobson and teammate Dave Skippon became friends in their college years, working during summer to plant trees around British Columbia in the 1980s.

Team member Amir Freund became fast friends with Lawrance in 2011, when they met through work. Memorial posters of Lawrance were covered in pictures of the duo cycling together in various events, including the Tour de Whatcom.

“He really cared about the community and conservation,” the team said, pinnacles of the Ski to Sea race. 

The I Believe team made sure to include Lawrance during race weekend. On Saturday, they placed a commemorative plaque at the location on the cyclocross course where Lawrance collapsed. Before the leg’s safety meeting on Sunday, Freund laid out memorial posters of his friend and shared a few words.

photo  Donning the I Believe team’s T-shirt, Amir Freund talks about the late Rob Lawrance May 28 before the cyclocross leg of this year’s Ski to Sea. (Eric Trent/Cascadia Daily News)  

Although he was last year’s road biker, Freund took on his friend’s favorite leg this year, riding Lawrance’s bicycle. The team found their missing eighth member in Dobson’s 15-year-old son, Ryder, who was one of the last people to be with Lawrance as he started the cyclocross leg in 2022.

The smiling selfie Lawrance took before cycling off was printed on their T-shirts this year, and they passed out Sasquatch stickers.  

Although Groves was unable to attempt the kayak leg of the race due to the windy conditions, the team felt Sunday’s race “completed a mission.”

Likely their final Ski to Sea as a team, they “feel good about finishing the race for Rob,” Skippon said. 

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