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Tyre Nichols loved skateboarding. That's how his friends say they'll remember him

Childhood friends of Tyre Nichols best remember him at the skateboard park practicing new tricks on the mini ramp.
Austin Robert
Childhood friends of Tyre Nichols best remember him at the skateboard park practicing new tricks on the mini ramp.

Updated January 29, 2023 at 3:49 PM ET

In one video, Tyre Nichols is about 17 years old, skating along a mini ramp as the sun paints his hometown of Sacramento, Calif., bright orange. In another clip, Nichols trips off his skateboard while practicing a trick but remains unfazed. Instead, he tries again and again until he eventually gets it right.

Nichols' childhood friend, Austin Robert, recorded these videos more than a decade ago. At the time, filming was simply a creative outlet for Robert, Nichols and their small circle of friends.

But recently, the recordings have taken on new meaning. One video in particular has been shared countless times on social media in an effort to remember Nichols' life — not just his death or the harrowing way he was killed.

"I want him to be remembered as the kid smiling in the skate video and not the kid that was fighting for his life," Robert said.

Nichols, a father of a 4-year-old son and FedEx worker, died on Jan. 10 in Memphis after being brutally beaten by five Memphis police officers at a traffic stop three days earlier. He was 29 years old. The officers have since been fired, arrested and charged with his murder. They are scheduled to appear for a bond arraignment on Feb.17.

Over the past few weeks, people across the country braced themselves for footage from the night Nichols was beaten — footage city officials described as heinous and inhumane.

That's when Robert's old home videos resurfaced. Attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Nichols' family, was among those who shared Robert's archival footage. He wrote on Twitter: "This is who Tyre Nichols was — a talented and dedicated skateboarder with SO much life left to live."

"He never wanted to quit"

Across the country, skateboard communities have been holding memorials in honor of Nichols and his love for the sport. Regency Skate Park in Sacramento, where Robert and Nichols met when they were teenagers, is organizing a candlelight vigil on Monday. Nichols' mother, RowVaughn Wells, has also been raising money to build a memorial skate park dedicated to her son.

According to Robert, Nichols was long fascinated with skateboards before he built up the courage to ride one. One day, Nichols decided to try it out and he became committed to the sport from that day forward.

Nearly every day for eight years, he and Robert would meet up with their group of friends and practice skateboard tricks until it got dark. Thursday's were known as "Thursdays with Tyre," said Robert. If the two of them were not at a park, they were at McDonalds choosing from the Dollar Menu.

What he remembers most vividly about Nichols was his positivity and "infectious" laughter.

"He always tried to bring everybody together and put a smile on anybody else's face before his own," Robert said.

He added that Nichols was like a "scientist" when it came to his dedication to land new skateboard tricks.

"He analyzed everything he was doing wrong and why he wasn't learning the trick and change all those little things until eventually he would have it down consistently," Robert said. "He never wanted to quit."

Friends remember how supportive he always was

Nichols was equally supportive in seeing his friends' succeed at skateboarding. If his friend was learning a new move, Nichols would set his board down, grab a camera and patiently wait until his friend mastered the trick, even if it took hours, according to Robert.

Nichols' childhood friend Jerome Neal also remembered how encouraging he could be, saying Nichols was the kind of guy who could "make you feel like you could do anything."

The two also met at Regency skate park during their high school years. Aside from skating, Neal said, Nichols loved listening to music on his iPod and practicing his videography skills — something the two of them continued to bond over when they became adults.

In November, when Neal visited Memphis, he told Nichols that he planned to start a video production company soon, in part because of how supportive Nichols was throughout the years.

"He was the very first person I told, and he was the first person I said I would want to hire when I got it going," Neal said.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.