"Larger Than Life" - After Tragedy, Friends And Family Remember Baxter Waldman
Jason Graziadei •
Baxter Waldman was a “larger than life” 16-year-old who loved a challenge almost as much as the company of his family and friends.
He was a gym rat who made his second home at the Nantucket Health Club - a place where he found a community of people that he embraced and who embraced him. And he was an uncommon young person who could be found more often outdoors rather than in front of a screen, pursuing his passions for snowboarding and biking.
But Waldman’s life was tragically cut short last Thursday when he was killed in a motor vehicle accident on Milestone Road.
“Bax, first and foremost, he was a really thoughtful, caring human being,” said his mother, Elise Norton. “He had a great sense of humor, he was always joking around and being silly. He was a very colorful character, a larger than life kind of personality, which is why he’s made such an impression on the community. Baxter was very determined. Once he set his mind to something, there was no stopping him or talking him out of it. His whole life he was like that.”
He died doing what he loved. Waldman was riding the motorcycle that Norton said was his pride and joy when the accident occurred last Thursday just before 3 p.m.
“Riding that motorcycle was the thing that made him the happiest in the world,” she said, recalling how Waldman had searched online for the Kawasaki Ninja 400 and saved his money to buy it.
“He could not wait for his 16th birthday and the first thing he did was get his motorcycle permit,” Norton said. "Then he got his car permit, but that was totally secondary. He had to have his motorcycle permit, it was the first thing he did...He just loved riding. He really found his thing. He was a motorcycle guy. He was a true biker. If you’ve got to go doing what you love, he did.”
In their home in Tom Nevers on Tuesday, Norton and her partner Chris Oberg, who was a father figure for Waldman, shared stories of an independent and determined young man who lived his 16 years to the fullest.
“He was doing so well,” Norton said. “We have no regrets, he was so happy.”
While Waldman was born on Nantucket, he moved with his family to Washington state for 10 years before returning to the island in 2016 to start the fifth grade. But those years spent living in the mountains of the west coast were formative for Waldman. Norton remembered how when Waldman was eight-years-old, he spent 60 nights in a row sleeping in a tent in the woods in their backyard.
“Baxter was really a mountain man,” she said. “He was self-sufficient, confident, he was ready to take on life, head-on. In snow and sleet and rain, he was out there in that tent sleeping in the woods.”
If Waldman saw a challenge or had an idea about something he wanted to accomplish, “you couldn’t stop him,” Oberg said.
For example, in middle school, Waldman told his mom he wanted to go to Martha’s Vineyard by himself. His idea was to take the ferry over on his own, spend the day on the Vineyard and visit its skatepark, and then return later that day.
“He tried to get some of his friends to go, but all their parents said ‘no way are you going to the Vineyard alone.’ But I let him go,” Norton said. “We had a plan, we stayed in communication, and I knew someone over there if there was an emergency. But he was so determined he was going to. I wasn’t going to talk him out of it. And that’s how he always was.”
In his high school years, Waldman joined the Whaler football team, and thanks to Oberg, found that he had a passion for weight lifting. Looking to help Waldman find an outlet, Oberg called up Dave Schulz at the Nantucket Health Club and got his stepson a membership. Before long, Waldman was not only working out at the club, but also became a beloved employee.
“He was a gym rat,” Norton said. “He loved the gym and loved weight lifting. He was really passionate about that. That (the Nantucket Health Club) was his second home. Dave and Patti are like his other parents. He left a giant hole at the Nantucket Health Club for sure.”
In their blended family, Waldman was the younger of two brothers who are Norton’s children, and the older step-brother to Oberg’s son and daughter, ages nine and six.
“Chris’s son said the most touching thing,” Norton said. “He said ‘maybe God needed a bodyguard’ because Baxter, we all looked to him as the big strong one in the family.”
In the aftermath of last week’s tragedy, Waldman’s Nantucket High School classmates have created a roadside memorial near the intersection of Milestone and New South roads, where the accident occurred, leaving behind flowers, photos, a football helmet, and other mementos of their friend and teammate. The school is planning several other tributes to Waldman, principal Mandy Vasil said.
“The most important thing we can convey to our students is the best way to honor Baxter’s life is that we live our life everyday,” Vasil said. “He believed in living life to the fullest. What I truly loved about Baxter is that he just took things as they came. He never got too ruffled or upset. When I think about him, I think about a kid who really enjoyed being with his people. And he enjoyed being here because his people were here.”
Meanwhile, friends, family, and neighbors have mobilized to make meals for Norton, Oberg and their children, as well as to contribute funds to help them navigate through the heartbreaking loss of their son.
“The response from the community has been unbelievable,” Norton said. “All the people we’ve known and loved coming out to support us has been amazing, but also seeing all the people that knew and loved Baxter, the life he had outside our life and how he touched people in the life he was leading. At school, at work, at the gym, everywhere he went, it’s been amazing to see.”
Remarkably, it was those people - Waldman’s classmates and teachers - who Norton and Oberg said they were concerned about following their son’s death.
“We know also there’s a lot of other people in the community really feeling this grief and tragedy as much as we are, and they need support too,” Norton said. “Our thoughts are with them. Our thoughts are with the students at the school, the young people and the other adults in the community who were very close to Baxter.”
Norton and Oberg have invited the community to join them in a celebration of Baxter Waldman’s life at the Nantucket Hotel, on Tuesday, Dec. 20th at 3 p.m.
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