Marcy Tilmann said her son, Ian, was definitely a “free spirit.”
Marcy said her free spirit once hitchhiked and camped his way across the country with just the clothes and gear he could carry. She shared anecdotes of his travels through the western and southern U.S. At one point, he bartered his tent away and had to sleep under the stars. He met a man from India who had walked across several countries, and he partied with the Rainbow People in Montana.
“He was an awesome guy,” she said. “Ian had a smile that would light up a room.”
Ian, a Dunedin resident at the time, was skating with friends on May 16, 2005. Marcy said she received a phone call from her younger son, Jeff: Ian fell while longboarding down a hill on Hercules Avenue in Clearwater, and he wasn’t getting up. It took another call from Jeff before she realized the gravity of his words.
“His brain just continued to swell and just continued to swell until it herniated into his brain stem,” she said. “The brain stem controls your breathing, your heart rate, your temperature — all the involuntary functions. They removed part of his skull to alleviate some of the pressure, but they couldn’t get it to quit swelling.”
The former U.S. Marine died 10 days later. He was 28.
“To lose a child is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” Marcy said. “It puts a hole in your heart that will never heal. It never goes away — ever.”
Proceeds from the upcoming Benefit Rock Fest, Skate Jam & Board-A-Thon in Dunedin will go toward a nonprofit helmet program Marcy began in Ian's name. The all-day event features concert performances, a four-mile board run to the beach, skate contests and a festival atmosphere.
Marcy, who lives in Safety Harbor, is now consumed with The Ian Tilmann Foundation. She hopes the nonprofit will change the negative stigma associated with helmet use in the skate world.
“There are areas in skate in which it is actually disdained,” she said.
The foundation gives a free, custom helmet to a skater who pledges to wear it. So far, 3,600 people nationwide have participated in the Helmet for a Promise program (1,100 in northern Pinellas alone).
“Ian was a free spirit, which is why we honor him this way. We do not promote legislation to force people to wear helmets," Marcy said. "Ian would not be happy about that. He would believe you have the freedom to choose whether or not wear a helmet.”
At least 800 people are on the waiting list.
"I have testimonials from five skateboarders," she said, "with doctors telling them that if they did not have the helmet on that we gave them, they would not be alive."
Want to go?
- What: The event includes a Board-A-Thon, in which skaters board between and the Dunedin Causeway beach; a Rock Fest, which features classic and rock acts including Stix of Fire, Khora and Stormbringer, and a raffle for a Paul Reed Smith electric guitar; and a Skate Jam, which features skate contests and demos (with prizes).
- When: Saturday, Nov. 19. Board-A-Thon, 10 a.m.; Rock Fest, 1:30 to 6:15 p.m.; Skate Jam, 1:30 to 6 p.m.
- Where: (and Pinellas Trail to the Dunedin Causeway beach)
- Cost: $10; children 6 and younger get in free.
- Parking: Vacant lot at the 200 block of Lorraine Leland Street and at Coca-Cola Co., 427 San Christopher Drive. (No parking will be permitted at Stirling Skate Park.)
- Details: Skaters must be 12 or older. Helmets are mandatory (loaners available), and all skaters must sign a waiver (available on site or can be printed after clicking on the photos above).