My fingers were about to fall off. My pick had fallen to the floor. He seemed not to have noticed the lack of melody, let alone the hurricane of sweat spinning off his body. In a room barely bigger than a closet, as his storm raged on, the kicks of the bass drum thundered through my chest. The miscellaneous objects scattered throughout the tiny space were vibrating with the beat; even my amplifier was shaking on the ground. Wielding a double bass pedal, he began to strike the drum with such speed that the illusion of thunder dissipated; I was being electrocuted, the sound piercing like a bolt of lightning. I gasped for breath. What intensity.
For several minutes I had shred with him as best I could. We had raged on in a musical staring-contest, each seeing who could outlast the other. However, while I stood in awe as my friend machine-gunned the snare, I realized that my perception of our competition was in my head exclusively. He played with too much passion for his motive to be as trivial as defeating me. We had held many a jam session together, never with an audience, so there was no one there to impress. We weren’t in any sort of band, nor were we playing for any reason in particular. The truth was that Riley Cockerill played with such ferocity in that moment for one single reason: because it was awesome.
One thing I’ve noticed while growing up is the way strategy and logic permeate themselves into my reasoning. There are few things I do that I cannot support the rationale behind. As a kid you might be able to get away with spending the day catching bugs in the yard without anyone questioning it, but as you edge closer to the whole concept of “adulthood”, you better have a good reason lined up as to why you’re digging around in the dirt looking for worms. However, when I think of the people I believe live fantastic lives, a common thread weaves throughout them. Sure, they do a great deal of things for strategic and justifiable reasons, yet, they are also the ones who find satisfaction in the things that (for lack of a better word) are awesome. These are not the silent masses that imagine doing such things, but the people who execute. Things like summiting mountains, surfing crowds, building forts, and blasting off on ten-minute drum solos without an audience. Done for no reason other than the thrill of doing. And when I consider the people like this in my own life, there is perhaps no more quintessential example than Riley Cockerill.
For starters: When I was in seventh grade my mom made me go out for the cross country team because she didn’t want me spending all my time at home watching reruns of Drake & Josh and eating Doritos. Man did I despise running. It baffled me; like why would anyone willfully subject his or herself to that sort of pain? Not to mention I sucked, amplifying the awfulness infinitely. Anyways, fast-forward a year and I meet this kid, Riley, on the first day of practice. Yes! Someone to hide in the woods with during workouts. However, to my dismay, he had no intention of slacking off. Whether fueled by the fact that his parents were running nuts (we’re talking dozens of marathons) or maybe he was just crazy, Riley was convinced running was a fantastic thing to do. He gained satisfaction not from race times, but from the fact that it was an activity that was really difficult to do and there is something inherently awesome about being out in a snowstorm at six in the morning on a Saturday putting on the miles. Unfortunately, Riley was too good at soccer to stick with cross for too long. However, thanks to him, I sure did. It’s an activity that changed my life, and if it wasn’t for him sharing his enthusiasm for doing awesome things with me in the fall of 2010, I have no idea where I would be today. Oh, and although he may have retired from the sport early, it didn’t stop him from running a marathon in 2015. Through Disney World. How awesome is that?
Awesome Item 2: Gratitude. The first few times I hung out with Riley I was struck by the way he always thanked me before we parted ways. He’d say something along the lines of “Hey man, thanks so much for including me, I really appreciate it,” which might not seem overly extraordinary, but it’s just that he says this with such genuine appreciation and consistency that it’s hard to miss. Now, six years later, rare is the time Riley won’t thank you for sharing time with him. Even if you just spend the day sitting around and doing nothing of note, he recognizes how incredible it is to share any sort of experience with other people that care about you, and never forgets to acknowledge that. It is an awesome thing to do that only adds to this kid’s net awesomeness.
Now we get to food. Food is amazing. I failed to recognize this fundamental fact for longer than I’d like to admit. Fortunately, I was saved by Riley. It began in eighth grade as we were sitting in his basement while his mom cooked dinner. She made some gourmet pasta dish with a salad, and the whole time she was making it, Riley was rambling on to me about how incredible his mom’s cooking skills were. This put me on edge, more used to friends’ parents ordering pizza or throwing some macaroni on the stove. Homemade pasta? What if it had tomatoes in it? Yuck. Anyways, I made it through the meal, even eating the salad with dressing on it. I surely didn’t appreciate it anywhere near as much as I would today, but what I did walk away with was an appreciation for Riley’s reverence for his mom’s cooking and food in general. He is the first person to expose me to the awesome nature of cuisine, dropping me down a rabbit hole where I’ve discovered a proper appreciation for my own mother’s culinary talents, as well as a love for dining. His experience with the Twin Cities restaurant scene is second to none, and he has introduced me to just about every one of my favorite eats. Riley realizes just how much more food can be than simply sustenance for one’s body. He has shown me the way it brings people together, challenges us as much as any other form of art, and is something on the highest degree of awesome. Also, Riley worked at Burger Jones, a solid local establishment. Extra awesome points!
Miscellaneous Awesome Items: He knows his way around a rock show. Riley has seen the big names (U2, Mumford, Avett, Jack White, Coldplay, etc.) as well as the up-and-comers (Hippo Campus, The Districts, Benjamin Booker, etc.). He appreciates live music in a way most people will never understand, not taking to Snap Chat or Instagram to announce his presence at a concert, but consciously experiencing each moment of raw artistic expression. Furthermore, Riley has built an immensely educated mind. I word it as such because he is also the poster-child for the value of hard work. Not that he is devoid of natural gifts or anything, but there is no question that he spends more asking questions and studying than just about anyone I know. And it has paid off dividends, the least of which are evident in his graduating towards the top of his high school class (500 students) and studying engineering at UW Madison. Finally, Riley also is an experienced traveler, having been to a large chunk of our country as well as Europe. A love of exploration is surely correlated with someone’s awesome-levels.
I know this has rambled on for a while. I recognize that my thesis may have been stretched throughout. But, the main point I hope you walk away with is that Riley Cockerill is a human being of the highest quality. He is someone who single-handedly improves my life experience, and I could not be more grateful. If this profile has lacked fun or illustrious anecdotes like the others, it is because it is meant for Riley himself more than anyone else. If it has overused the word “awesome” to the point where the moderate humor behind it has been sucked dry, that’s because if there is one goal here, it is for Riley to recognize how much I, along with so many others, appreciate his awesomeness. If you do not know him, I hope you get to. If you do, I sure hope you understand how lucky you are. I do.