By Sal Ruibal
I heard the terrible news about the death of South African mountain bike racer and former Olympian, Burry Stander, while I was sorting through the carbon fiber and muddy rubber jungle that my bike room has become this winter.
Early reports said Stander, 25, was on a training ride with his wife Jan. 3 when hit and killed by a taxi, which fled the scene. I don't know the particulars but I really don't need to know them. Another rider is down and there doesn't seem to be anything we can do about it.
I'm lucky to live near great forest trails, but I know that the most dangerous five minutes of my ride is the quarter-mile on Carrleigh Parkway to the access trail. My wife worries enough about that suburban neighborhood road that she always takes the sidewalk while I assert my macho right to use the road, looking over my left shoulder to scan for distracted soccer moms in SUVs or neophyte drivers from the nearby high school multitasking their brains on the curving, rolling parkway.
When I'm on the woods trail, the danger is always in front of me, where I can see it and react: a slippery log, a fallen branch, a loose rock or an unexpected deer. I know what its is like to be hit by a car. In 1971, two weeks before my high school graduation, I was struck by a pick-up truck while walking home on the dirt shoulder of a county road a minute after getting out of a friend's car.
That's all I know about it because the truck driver didn't stop. Luckily, my friends saw me knocked through the air and took me to the emergency room. I woke up the next day in a hospital room, looking up at my mother's face. I asked her why I was there. I had no memory of what had happened, but I had a big scrape on my forehead and a large hematoma on the back of my right thigh. I made it to graduation but I had to sit on a pillow during the ceremonies.
I've had some hard knocks, including a concussion playing "combat football" in the Army and a handful of endos in my first year of mountain biking, but I've been lucky to escape collisions with cars. I've put in a lot of road bike miles in France, Italy and Belgium as well as the U.S., but as I get older, I'm beginning to prefer bike paths and rocks and roots instead of sharing the fast lane with land missiles.
Yes, I have a right to those roads and I'll defend cyclists' right to use them, but my personal choice is to avoid cars whenever possible. That's why I live so close to the woods.
It is a shame that cyclists around the world, even pros like Burry Sander — who competed in the past two Olympic games and was a former under-19 and under-23 world champion– are so vulnerable to death while enjoying the most practical and healthy form of transportation on the planet.
I'm preaching to the BIKE choir here and I'm sure most of you are well aware of the dangers out there. I find it hard to encourage local kids to ride to school because I fear for their lives. That is sad.
There are too many Ghost Bikes out there now and a great athlete and human being is dead.
Rest in Peace, Burry.