- Written by Ben Jacklet
- Category: Mountain Characters
- Published: August 23, 2016
Mount Hood’s one and only Mike Heffernan died on Friday, August 19 after suffering severe injuries in a motorcycle crash on the mountain. 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 Office for more than 20 years.
Living with Parkinson's
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.”
A Career in Law Enforcement
Just a few weeks before his death, I spent the day with Mike, driving up to the mountain for a club golf tournament and picnic. He had a cast on his foot from the bone spur surgery and it looked like he had to be in some pain, but as usual he didn’t even acknowledge any discomfort. He brought along his Bluetooth speaker and cranked up the punk rock as we drove, and he pointed out places we passed in Gresham where he had intervened as a cop, often as the first person on a scene with serious consequences. He broke up domestic disputes, comforted car wreck survivors, ran sex offenders out of public parks, talked down violent drunks, and stood up to bullies. “I really don’t like bullies,” he told me as we drove up to the mountain that morning.
Here is an old photo of Mike in uniform, with his son Mac at his side:
The situations Mike described to me on that car ride were often frightening, with some hilarious twists to them. You never knew what to expect from Mike. That was part of what made him so fun to be around.
'A Special Kind of Crazy'
Later that day when I dropped off Mike at his home in Wood Village he showed me his motorcycles and tried to convince me to buy one of them so we could ride together. I didn’t tell him directly, but the truth is that the idea scared me. I know how exhilarating it is to ride really fast, and I have seen too many things go wrong. I have written too many Shred Hood stories about larger-than-life characters dying young.
Mike’s fatal crash took place on Highway 26 on Mount Hood on Wednesday, August 17. There were no other vehicles involved, and his injuries were numerous and severe. His sister Colleen wrote on Facebook August 19 that her brother was “broken in a thousand pieces and barely hanging on to life.”
A few hours later Mike’s son Mac wrote, “After 3 days of nonstop fighting, my father, Mike Heffernan, passed away this morning. I have many mixed feelings about this whole situation but I find comfort in knowing that he is in a much better place now and that he no longer feels pain. I will miss you Dad, but I know that I won't be the only one. I'll be telling my children of you.”
The Heffernan ski cabin in Government Camp has been converted into a Mike Heffernan memorial since his death, and the tributes from friends and family have been flowing freely through Facebook.
From Kristin Brown: “You were a special kind of crazy and a very special friend. I'm going to miss you!”
From Julie DuPont: “He was the quirkiest person I ever knew and my life was better for sharing some time with him.”
From Tacy Parker: “You were a one of a kind, and it was the good kind Mike Heffernan.”
Mike’s daughter Kennedy wrote, “Oh I'll miss our father daughter dances. Those nights were the best times of my life. Thank you for making me dance and smile. Thank you for everything daddy.”
Mike Heffernan’s funeral has been scheduled for 10:30 am Thursday, August 25, at St. Rita Church. 10029 NE Prescott St, Portland, OR 97220.
In lieu of flowers, 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, OR 97023, in honor of Michael V. Heffernan, Jr.
Rest in peace, Mike. We will miss you.