Loved ones remember ‘Iron Mike’ Schlichtman for a spirit that inspired those near him
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Those who loved Mike Schlichtman’s engaging personality, his genuine interest in others and his love of adventure remembered the man who made a huge impact on them and the community.
“I describe him as the best friend you didn’t know you had,” said longtime friend Chad James. “Mike was one of those guys that made every person feel like they were his best friend. He had great questions. He was engaging, and he always invited you to go and do things. I was really attracted to just his kind of verve, and his sense of living life with adventure.”
Mike’s family and closest friends are trying to fill the void left after the Steamboat Springs resident died Oct. 6 when the ultralight aircraft he was in crashed southwest of Evansville, Indiana.
Mike was the husband of Lisa Schlichtman, the editor of Steamboat Pilot & Today, and was also a member of Routt County Search and Rescue and a well-known endurance athlete.
“He was just the most genuine, amazing, warm, loving, interested dude ever,” James said. “I think Mike was supremely vulnerable. He let you all the way in, and he didn’t put up walls or fences.”
His appetite for adventure was something that followed the 57-year-old throughout his life. He competed in full Ironman races in Panama City, Florida, and Boulder, and seven 70.3 Ironman races, including a trip to Mont-Blanc, Canada, where he competed in the 2014 Ironman 70.3 World Championships.
Lisa said two of his biggest accomplishments included completing the Tour Divide, a 2,745-mile unsupported mountain bike race along the Continental Divide trail, in 2015 and the inaugural American Trail Race, a 5,100-mile unsupported ride from North Carolina’s Outer Banks to the West Coast in 2017.
“I think both of his rides across the country were huge for him,” Lisa said. “It wasn’t just the physical piece. What he really gained was the mental toughness of riding on your own and having to problem-solve every day. He was very, very proud of those.”
However, she said his biggest accomplishment had little to do with tests of endurance. Those accomplishments included his marriage and his two children.
“He was really good at making me feel loved, and not just loved, but cherished every day,” Lisa said. “He put me and the boys first.”
His commitment to family helped him find sobriety in 2005, something she said he did for her and the boys.
“He has been sober for 15 years, and I believe his recovery is what really opened up his world to all these adventures,” Lisa said.
Mike grew up in Cassville, Missouri, graduated from Cassville High School and attended the University of Missouri in Columbia where he graduated in 1985 with a degree in agriculture economics. He was a member of the Farm House Fraternity as well as the rugby team. He met Lisa, a junior at the time, during his senior year. The two were engaged by Easter and got married in summer 1985. Mike remained in Columbia until Lisa finished her senior year and earned her degree in journalism.
The couple returned to Cassville in 1986 where Mike played a key role in his family’s hog operation and food waste recycling business. After selling that business, Mike and Lisa invested in the Cassville Democrat newspaper and then the Wheaton Journal. The two ran the operations, with Lisa as editor and Mike as publisher, for more than 10 years before selling in 2005 to Rust Communications. Mike purchased the Baywash car wash in 2006 and built the Baywash II car wash in 2007. Both car washes are still owned and operated by the Schlichtmans.
In addition to their business success, Mike and Lisa raised their family in Missouri before coming to Colorado. Nick, 32, and Ryan, 31, were inspired by their father’s adventurous spirit. Nick, with his wife, Kera, and Ryan, with his longtime love Rachel Mathews, all live in Colorado.
A former high school football standout, Mike encouraged his boys to be active. When the boys chose soccer, a sport that Mike had not grown up playing, he remained enthusiastic.
“He would introduce them to every sport, and when they were in kindergarten, they took up soccer,” Lisa said.
As much as Mike wanted football players, he embraced soccer, and then became their soccer coach up until high school. After high school, Nick went on to play at Truman State University in Missouri and Ryan played for Colorado Christian University in Lakewood.
Ryan said his father taught him the importance of hard work and how to control his fear.
“My dad’s messages to my brother and I growing up was how to just conquer fear and not let it run your life,” Ryan said. “Which definitely shows up in what he did in his own life.”
Nick echoed his brother’s thoughts.
“He taught us to not be afraid to try something just because you don’t know how to do it,” Nick said. “He didn’t want us to let fear be a reason to not try and do something, and then to problem-solve through that fear and be able to pursue whatever you want to do.”
A new chapter
The Schlichtmans came to Steamboat in 2013 after Lisa was hired as editor of the Pilot & Today. Steamboat’s active community fueled Mike’s passion for the outdoors, and he quickly found his place, joining the local Rotary Club and exploring ways to get involved.
He became a seasonal employee at Steamboat Resort working first as a lift operator and then as an ambassador. He finally found his niche as a ski instructor. In his time in Steamboat, he also developed a love for backcountry skiing.
“He was an integral part in getting us all together and out there training. He was just always so encouraging on whatever adventure you thought you’re going to be on,” said Tasha Heath Thrasher, who met Mike as part of the Iron Edge Triathlon team. “He was always up for an adventure. It was never a dull moment with him, and he was always encouraging with his spirit, his soul, his words of wisdom. He always believed in you even when you didn’t believe in you. He knew you could do it.”
John Mertz met Mike while the two were working at PowerIce five years ago, and Mertz was quickly captivated by the hog farmer who had become an Ironman triathlete.
“I would say that people need an ‘Iron Mike’ in all aspects of their life,” Mertz said. “I think we need to have people like that not just in the physical parts of our life, but in our work life, in our spiritual life and in all aspects of our life.”
Mertz said Mike had a way of making people feel at ease around him, and inspiring them to find their own adventures.
“He really exemplified what I consider the perfect teacher, a kind of a patient forger,” Mertz said. “He was leaps and bounds ahead of me in terms of fitness level; however, as long as I responded to the poundings he put forth, whether that was skinning up the mountain or rides up the mountain, he just keep gently but firmly forging away and shaping me, and, I’m sure a lot of other people, into stronger and better versions of themselves.”
John Williams became good friends with Mike when the two joined Routt County Search and Rescue a few years ago. Williams said he was drawn to Mike’s childlike mischief that always seemed to challenge the status quo — in a good way.
“We all kind of meet friends at different stages in our lives that are actually perfect for that period or that stage,” Williams said. “Mike was the guy that had no fear. He would jump into things that he didn’t know about but didn’t care because he was going to learn, and there was never trepidation. He had the confidence in life that he could figure it out.”
The two had planned to do the Tour Divide — Mike’s third — this summer prior to COVID-19. Williams was an ultrarunner but had not been a biker before his friend encouraged him to give it a try. He said Mike introduced him to bikepacking, and the two would often take off on three- or four-day biking adventures. The two were also both pilots and shared a love of flying and the freedom that it brought.
“He was a soft, kind of lead-by-example guy,” Williams said. “He adopted me, and he saw this kind of city-like kid, engineer, runner and he just knew I could be better. He encouraged me to go play in his world … and he really enjoyed bringing people into his world, which was so joyous, and sharing that with them.”
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Jonathan “JC” Norling, who has been the interim leader at Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs since September, has been named the permanent vice president and campus dean at the school.