Steamboat’s Austin Eubanks remembered by friends for much more than surviving Columbine
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It would be easy to remember Austin Eubanks as the teen who hid under a table inside the library at Columbine High School as a tragedy unfolded around him 20 years ago, but for Scott Kindel, there was so much more to his longtime friend.
“He is going to be, unfortunately, remembered for the Columbine aspect of everything, but there was a lot more to him that just that,” said Kindel, who replaced Eubanks as chief operations officer at The Foundry Treatment Center in February. “He had a really quick wit and a really good sense of humor. Our friendship was built on mutual respect and a common goal. Those are the things that I’m focusing on and remembering.”
Kindel is still dealing with the news that Eubanks was found dead in his Steamboat Springs home Saturday at age 37. Steamboat Springs Coroner Rob Ryg is waiting for toxicology tests to come back before determining a cause of death, but foul play is not expected. He said those tests will be completed in two to four weeks.
Kindel met Eubanks in recovery, and for more than a decade, the two have made it their mission to help others struggling with addiction. Eubanks and Kindel worked together in a sober living house in Denver where they were called in to work more than a few late-night shifts.
“At the sober living house that we were running, we would have 24-hour staffing, and we had a few times where an overnight staff member would call in sick at the last minute,” Kindel said. “So, we would go in and cover the overnight shift just to keep everything going. We would talk about dreams of things to come and goals that were on the horizon. He was just a really good person and a really good friend.”
When the sober living house was sold, Eubanks and Kindel went their separate ways. Kindel landed in Carbondale where he worked at a treatment center, and Eubanks headed to Boulder where he found a spot as director of operations for NorthStar Transitions, a young adult, transitional treatment program in Boulder.
“He was really happy with NorthStar,” Kindel said, “but the idea of being able to help guide a residential program, to be involved and do what he was doing at NorthStar on a little grander stage really appealed to him.”
Kindel thinks those were the reasons Eubanks ended up in Steamboat Springs were he accepted a position as The Foundry’s business development director.
Scott Borden, who opened The Foundry in 2015, said getting Eubanks to Steamboat was no easy task.
“He joined us in the spring of 2016,” Borden said of Eubanks. “He was a light at the end of the tunnel. I opened the doors to a treatment center with robust services and facilities for 12 people and a staff for 12 on day one. By the time I came across his (Eubank’s) path, we were starving for participants.”
A business professional suggested to Borden that Eubanks might be able to help.
“He told me ‘no’ twice over the phone when I asked him to come up to visit,” Borden recalls. “He was happy with where he was, and he was happy with how things were going. I talked him into having lunch with me down in Boulder, and over lunch, I was able to convince him to come up and at least see the place.”
Shortly after that, Eubanks was hired, and within a year, Borden gave Eubanks the opportunity to become a partner. Borden said he is grateful for what Eubanks did for The Foundry from 2016 until just a few months ago when he stepped down to spend more time getting his ideas out in front of people as a professional speaker.
“He was someone that could think extremely fast on his feet and had a ton of conviction in what he was saying,” Borden said. “He could convince you in a short order that what he was saying was real.”
Mara Rhodes, who founded the Rx Task Force and the Mark McManus Foundation, met Eubanks shortly after he arrived in Steamboat.
“He was somebody that I got connected to immediately because I had chosen to share my own personal family story,” said Rhodes, who lost her brother Mark to a drug overdose. “It was always just very casual and very easy. I kind of felt like we both had something that neither one of us wanted to share with the community, but we knew that it was for the greater good.”
Eubank’s story included a decadelong battle with addiction that began in the days following the April 20, 1999, shooting at Columbine High School that killed 12 students and one teacher. Eubanks was shot twice, and while he was recovering from those injuries, he discovered that the painkillers doctors gave him also helped him deal with the trauma of that day.
Eubanks and his good friend Corey DePooter took refuge under a table in the library at the school as the shooting unfolded. DePooter was shot and killed as he lay next to Eubanks.
In the years that followed, Eubanks struggled with addiction until age 29 when he got sober. That was when he began a quest to help others dealing with the impacts of trauma and addiction.
In addition to his work at The Foundry and NorthStar, Eubanks served as executive director of Quiet River Transitional Recovery Community and was a member of the board for several nonprofits including Stout Street Foundation, a 180-bed therapeutic community serving primarily an indigent population, and 5280 High School, a 400-student Denver Public Charter School focused on prevention and addiction recovery in adolescents.
His work also included speaking to large crowds about his experience at Columbine and the impacts of the trauma he suffered. He found a national audience, working the past several years as a professional speaker on topics surrounding drug policy, behavioral health, addiction and trauma.
Kindel said Eubank’s TED talk helped him step into the spotlight.
“He recognized that his story would grab people’s attention and that it was a good vehicle to put out that you can overcome trauma — you can move on in your life and recovery is possible,” Kindel said.
Rhodes, who now works as regional wellness connector for the Northwest Colorado Community Health Partnership, said Eubanks was the perfect person to speak about addiction and recovery because he was well-spoken, good looking, charismatic, hard working and intelligent.
She hopes people will watch Eubanks’ TED talks and listen to what he has to say.
Kindel said he will miss hanging out with his friend, playing video games, listening to music or visiting with Eubanks on the roof-top patio of his second home in Denver.
“He was just a genuinely good person underneath it all,” Kindel said. “He was much, much more than just Columbine. There was a lot more to him than what happened 20 years ago, and I think that is the big thing.
“Like it, or not Columbine will define him, but I don’t necessarily think he would have wanted that.”
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