DARIEN — Michael Taylor and his friends could often be found in the midst of various shenanigans around town, building a platform over a pool to hold jousting matches, installing a ramp at the end of a backyard slip-and-slide.

A natural athlete and gifted tennis player, Taylor was the first to try out anything and never seemed to get hurt, whether they were cliff jumping or tubing, friends said.

“When we weren’t on the tennis courts, we were on the water,” said Will Herling, who befriended Taylor on a trip to Africa in middle school. “It was always the next adventure.”

Taylor, a 2008 graduate of Darien High School, embraced his struggles with substance abuse with the same tenacity. Friends and family said he was never shy when it came to talking about his addiction.

“He always wanted to be helping people and was not shy about speaking his mind,” Herling said. “The anonymous part of Alcoholics Anonymous was not his forte. He wanted to get the word out.”

When Taylor died last April of a heroin overdose at the age of 26 after two months of recovery, his loss was felt profoundly by his family and group of friends. Over Labor Day weekend a few months later, his friends were discussing ways to memorialize him. What started out as an idea for a fun day with family and friends has since turned into a full-scale fundraiser, “For Michael,” to benefit Shatterproof, a local organization dedicated to ending addiction.

“We were never focused on money,” Herling said. “We want it to be fun, but one of the main points of this is erasing stigma. It’s about awareness and making a statement in the community that this isn’t something to stigmatize.”

On May 20, friends and family of Taylor, as well as community members will gather on Weed Beach for a relay race where 19 teams will compete using boats they build themselves. There will also be games, a dunk tank, food trucks, a silent auction and music by “Tramps Like Us,” a Bruce Springsteen cover band. Community organizations are pitching in, from Ring’s End who will provide boat-building supplies, to volunteer lifeguards, who will be on standby if the boating doesn’t go as planned.

Tickets to the event are $10 and the boating teams are also taking donations. All proceeds will go to Shatterproof. Taylor’s friends and family are hoping to honor his life not only by donating to a cause that helps battle addiction, but by doing so in a way that’s fun and lively.

“We wanted to come up with something unique and different,” Herling said. “It couldn’t be a normal thing. It had to get attention.”

Though Taylor’s friends and family are hoping to boost Shatterproof’s mission with their donation, the event isn’t about the money as much as it is remembering and honoring Taylor, particularly his dedication to ending the stigma around addiction. The event will be substance free as a way of embracing the local recovery community that tried to help Taylor.

Taylor’s family members, including his mother, AnnMarie, have also spoken at local schools to help spread Taylor’s experience and honor his memory.

“[Addiction] has touched so many people’s lives and sometimes people don’t know what to do,” his mother said. “Michael was comfortable with it and wanted to make a difference. We feel we could honor him and carry on what he wanted to do.”

“You’ve got to be ahead of what happens,” Taylor’s father, Frank, added.

Despite the sorrow surrounding their loss, Taylor’s loved ones are looking forward to the event as a way to remember him. Friends from San Francisco to Boston will be coming to Darien to celebrate, including friends from his alma mater, Villanova University.

Despite being spread across the country, Taylor’s friends and family have chipped in their talents and take time each week to meet via phone or in person to help plan the event in their friend’s honor. From helping design the website to getting sponsors, Herling said each person has gone out of their way to support the cause and get a chance to remember their friend.

“As horrific as this loss was, he’d want us to be laughing and remembering him,” Taylor’s mother said.

ekayata@hearstmediact.com; @erin_kayata

More Information

For more info

Learn more about “For Michael.” Visit formichael.shatterproofgetinvolved.org/home.