The Mt. Hood Community Mourns the Death of Mike Heffernan

By Ben Jacklet
Excerpted from Ben Jacklet’s articles in

Mike Heffernan shredding Mount Hood. Photo by Randy Boverman

Mike Heffernan shredding Mount Hood. Photo by Randy Boverman

Mount Hood’s one and only Mike Heffernan died on Friday, August 19, 2016, after suffering severe injuries in a motorcycle crash on Mt. Hood. He was 53.

Mike was a lifelong ski racer, an enthusiastic motorcyclist, a retired cop and a dedicated family man with an edgy sense of humor and a profound sense of loyalty. He is survived by his children Mac and Kennedy, his sister Colleen, his brother Tim, his parents Sheila and Mike, Sr. and a large community of friends and family.

Mike Heffernan grew up skiing on Mount Hood with his sister Colleen and his brother Tim and got deep into racing at Sun Valley in Idaho during high school. He graduated from Eastern Oregon State College in 1987 before embarking on a career in law enforcement, serving with the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office for more than 20 years.

Mike developed Young Onset Parkinson’s disease in his early 40s, but even after he retired from law enforcement he refused to give up the adrenaline-fueled activities that he loved. He continued to finish among the top racers in Schnee Vogeli Ski Club races, reveled in his epic motorcycle adventures, and tied for first in this year’s Ski to Defeat ALS vertical challenge at Mt. Hood Meadows. In winning the 2016 vertical challenge he skied nearly 60,000 feet in six hours while contending not only with his Parkinson’s, but also with a brutal bone spur on his foot that would later require surgery. He skied with intensity to win that trophy, and I am willing to bet that anyone who rode the lift with him that day remembers him vividly.

Mike was fascinated by the phenomenon that his Parkinson’s seemed to vanish at high speeds, enabling him to ski at 50 miles an hour or race his motorcycle at 120 miles an hour on the same day that he would freeze up so badly while just standing there that he would sometimes fall backwards and need help to get back up. Often he would catch his symptoms before they incapacitated him, and break into a vigorous run or calisthenics to fend them off. People sometimes thought he was joking or putting on an act, but he insisted it was real.

“When I can’t walk I can run,” he told me once. “As long as I am active, as long as I am using my mind and looking ahead and mentally interested in what’s going on, I have no symptoms. I can ride seven hours, eight hours, no problem.” 

Mike believed that downhill racing is “the most exhilarating thing you can do on skis,” which helps explain why he could still rip it in his 50s, with Parkinson’s.  Arcing a skid-free turn at high speed was embedded in his muscle memory, Parkinson's or no.

The Heffernan family asks that any donations be sent to Rock Steady Boxing, a Parkinson's support group made possible by Kimberly Berg, at 21983 S Sailing Rd, Estacada, OR97023, in honor of Michael V. Heffernan, Jr.

Rest in peace, Mike. We will miss you.

Excerpted from Ben Jacklet’s August 23, 2016 article in

Ben wrote an earlier article about Mike, and what it is like to get Parkinson’s when you are young, what that disease takes away, and how people adapt and keep moving, sometimes in surprising ways. It is also a story about the importance of community.