In 1993, I had just begun to truly dive into mountain bike racing. It was obsessive for me. It surfaced all of the emotions I had racing BMX as a kid. It gave me goose bumps to dive back in. I looked at myself year after year becoming stronger. Leaner. Understanding that the attention I was applying on to myself and my health, made me feel better. Balanced. Happy. I rode. And rode. And rode.
Around that time I started following the exploits of Jason McRoy. A former BMX’er. An up-and-coming dual slalom and downhill rider. He was doing stuff that only a handful of folks at the time would even dare do on the primitive equipment being ridden at the time. Launching himself so gracefully. No footers. Flowing through corners. Floating. He was, and I say this unabashedly, beautiful. You couldn’t help but see this young life and smile. He radiated. You emulated his look, his moves, his style.
Jason died in 1995 riding the first cool thing he got as a sponsored rider for Specialized: a Harley.
The feeling I had was very surreal. I did not know him, but the image of him…of me…dying so tragically deeply saddened me. it was the first time in my life literally, that I could see how I could be stopped…as I felt unstoppable. How could that specimen of fitness, of life, just evaporate and stop existing? How could we never again be allowed to see his moves and flow on the mountain?
Today these feelings happened again.
Wouter Weylandts died tragically at the Giro d’Italia. Looking at this young boy, he just oozed pro cyclist. A sprinter. A prototypical Belgian powerhouse. Another example who likely was inspiring a new generation of riders with his panache as McRoy did for me. I could not bear to see the images of him on the tarmac with paramedics working frantically to try and save him. I saw myself for a moment lying there. I saw one of my friends for a moment lying there. It drove such a deep pain through me to see this life who moments before was flying, his tubulars gripping the corners of a typical Giro descent. His legs spinning. His hands in the drops. Suffering but he was suffering in a Grand Tour so the pain had to be sweeter…or so fans like us dream as we watch our heroes like Wouter do what we simply can not.
And now he is motionless here on earth.
I pray that Wouter experienced nothing when it happened. That he simply transitioned from this life to another…continuing to fly down the descent, reaching the finish line with arms up in victory. Like we all dream. I pray for his family and friends. I pray that they can harbor the feeling of his beauty and the excitement he gave us fans and not the the unspeakable fear Wouter experienced today. A fear that we all tuck into the recesses of our brains as cyclists. I pray for us, that we…our families, our teammates, ourselves…never experience this.
My sincerest thoughts are with you Wouter. Rest peacefully.