Aron Koel: Adventurer. Action hero. Father. Friend. Born May 14, 1984, in Toronto; died March 9, 2019, near Squamish, B.C., of a leg wound to his femoral artery; aged 34.
Aron Koel was a man whose character was shaped by two of his idols growing up: Arnold Schwarzenegger, action hero, and Carl Sagan, cosmologist. He was as comfortable in a push-up competition as he was pointing out all the constellations in the night sky.
Growing up in the east end of Toronto, he led his friends through the ravines, he showed them the rings of Saturn and he scaled all manner of buildings and bridges. You would rarely see him without his bike, barrelling down streets in one of his trademark wolf or eagle T-shirts with the sleeves ripped off.
Somewhat obsessive and autodidactic from an early age, he educated his friends and beloved sister, Tiiu, about the pack dynamics of wolves, the mating patterns of frogs and the awesomeness of sharks. It came as little surprise that he chose the University of British Columbia, with its oceanfront campus, to study kinesiology. At UBC, he became vice-president of the Astronomy Club. With unsupervised access to the observatory, he held stargazing parties allowing revellers to explore the cosmos using the school’s state-of-the-art telescope.
After his studies, Aron worked as an arborist, dangling from trees while wielding a chainsaw, and for a while ran his own bicycle-towed and handsaw-powered enterprise, Pioneer Tree Service.
Aron first met his partner, Olympia, in university on a surfing adventure. They stayed in touch for years, and eventually their relationship blossomed. The couple had three boys, Leo, 8, Rex, 3, and Arno, 2. He was a larger-than-life provider and protector – with his kids, Aron would imitate the flight of falcons, collect fossils and take them skiing, snorkelling and canoeing.
Around the time Rex was born, Aron became a greensman for film and television, which offered him a more lucrative way of spending as much time as possible in the forest. Aron worked on some 30 productions, including Star Trek Beyond, Deadpool and War for the Planet of the Apes.
Aron’s co-workers knew him as much for his hard work as for his haircut – described by his colleagues as “kind of indescribable.” But Aron was also well loved for his Arnold impressions, his generosity, the pranks he constantly played and – we’re sure he wouldn’t mind our mentioning it – his biceps.
In his spare time, he would paddle with orcas, swim with wild sharks and dolphins, and swing from trees. His travels, almost always to swim with some sea creature or another, took him places, from Vancouver Island to Hawaii.
In March, Aron was at work in the forest when he slipped and fell on a spear-like tree stump that punctured an artery. Most would likely survive only a few minutes after such an injury but Aron climbed through dense brush and got into his pickup truck. He drove to a ridge from where he would have seen, through heavy eyelids, the sea in Howe Sound framed by towering mountains.
To his loved ones, there’s not much comfort in thinking about the next stage of his journey, as too many will miss having him along on theirs, but Aron always marvelled at the stars, and now, at least, he’s joined them.
Barnabe Geis is Aron Koel’s friend.
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