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Letters special: Garrett Lemire
March 20, 2003
The tragic death of young American rider Garrett Lemire in last weekend's Tuscon Classic was a profound shock to us all, especially coming so close on the death of Andrei Kivilev. The following are letters from people who knew Garrett or were touched by his death, and once again our thoughts go out to his family, friends and team-mates.
March 28 Update: We're very pleased to be able to add a story from Steve Bohn, Tuscon Classic race director, on the memorial service that was held for Garrett last weekend, as well as some more of your letters.
The Garrett Lemire Memorial Ride
March 22, 2003
By Steve Bohn, Tucson Bicycle Classic Race Director/Founder
Wow-what a gathering for the service in Ojia, California. I stayed with JT, a friend of Garrett and local cycling guru who spearheaded and planned the memorial ride. A beautiful, sunny day greeted us as we arrived for the noon gathering at a local school parking lot. An estimated peloton of 220, including former and current team members, cyclists from near and far and friends, donned Garrett's #148 and prepared for the 6 mile ride to Meditation Mount to honor and celebrate the life of Garrett Lemire. I was able to share long-awaited hugs, tears and private moments with members of Garrett's family prior to the ride beginning at 1:30 pm. They are wonderful, strong and brave people whose open hearts and minds overwhelmed and touched me.
Led by a police escort the cyclists and cars rolled through downtown to the outskirts of this lush foothill community approx. 90 miles northeast of Los Angeles. Upon arrival to the hilltop chapel at Meditation Mount, the service began with Larry Yee, father of Garrett's best friend Ryan Yee, sharing his thoughts. Others followed who were acquainted with this remarkable young man. Tears and laughter alternated as sorrow for his loss and celebration of his life, lived to the fullest until the moment he began the ascent to a higher place, were shared by many.
Garrett Lemire was a gentle, kind soul whose love for life, respect for nature and dedication to cycling was unparalleled. The amazing thing about Garrett is that in a short span of 22 years, he impacted so many people in so many positive and inspiring ways. His family, friends and those fortunate enough to have met him can be proud of this. For those of us who did not know him, we now know of him and that in itself is a special feeling.
A special thanks for the warm welcome I received from the Ojai cycling community. My presence at the memorial was very appreciated and I took all of the heavy hearts from Tucson with me to share for the weekend. The healing process now begins as we all try and put our lives back together, but Garrett's smiling face and spirit will be with us for the rest of our lives. Keep his family, friends and the cyclists and race personnel involved in the Category 2 crash in your thoughts and prayers. A Tucson memorial for Garrett Lemire is in the works and as plans are finalized they will be shared with all.
Thanks to Josh
Thanks to Josh Horowitz for telling us about Garrett and his trip to the Tucson Classic. Thanks for bringing Garett alive for us, and giving us a small glimpse of what we've lost.
Condolences from fellow riders
My name is Roger Williams and my fiancée and I came out from Virginia to do the race. It was I felt very well run and we enjoyed ourselves very much. It is unfortunate a fellow cyclist died doing what he and we love so much, riding and racing our bicycles. We wish to send our condolences to Garrett's family, friends and teammates.
Sincerely, Roger Williams and Kay Lynn Lehman
I met Garrett for the first time last year and we instantly became friends. Because I ended up racing for a team based in northern California I did not see Garrett as much as I would have liked to in the season. As Josh mentioned, Garrett was one of those guys you wanted to see at races and you almost felt cheated when he was not at the start line.
One of the most important moments I had with Garrett happened last year at a Santa Monica Barnes and Nobles. I was passing through the magazine rack when I saw Garrett reading the latest Cycle Sport. Once he saw me he greeted me with a big smile and a handshake. I asked him what he was doing in Santa Monica and he told me he had came into town from Orange County to do a ride that was starting later that afternoon. Garrett then said that he had not seen me in person in a while but had been keeping up with my team's results. At that time I was a bit burned out on racing and some minor team problems. Garrett sensed this and mentioned how great it was that I was living my childhood dream and congratulated me. This one comment made me realize so many things that I had been taking for granted. For the rest of the season whenever I found myself in a slump I thought about Garrett and what his comment and spirit meant to me.
I hope everyone that reads this and the rest of the messages about Garrett will understand what a great guy he IS. I say IS because I am sure Garrett is still with us everyday in all aspects of our lives especially when we race and ride.
I found out about Garret's death on Tuesday of this week. The day after, it was really hard for me to get on my bike and go train with my team. Garrett is the fourth friend of mine from racing that has died in the last three years. Only one of my four friends that died did so when he was not on his bike. This made it extremely hard for me to jump back on my bike, then I realized the spirit Garrett had and I knew he would want me to continue to ride and race.
Garrett's dream was to be a pro bike racer. In my mind Garrett did much more than becoming a pro bike racer he became an inspiration to everyone that rides and races a bike. For the rest of my life I will remember Garret's great spirit and will look forward to the day I can see him again, in heaven!
I was with Garrett, the California bicycle racer who died this weekend. He was one of my best friends.
Garrett was an amazing guy with unlimited potential as a bicycle racer. I met him for the first time at Tour of the Gila 3 years ago and we instantly clicked. We had the same dream. Garrett was always smiling and the smile reflected in his eyes. Many people who met him would comment that he seemed very young. I believe they meant this as a compliment. He had a youthful spirit as if nothing could get him down and the world was full of possibilities.
When my teammate Matias Mendigochea told me that Garrett was going to be joining us for our trip to Tucson I remember actually getting excited. As a bit of a loner myself, Garrett is one of the handful of people in this world, that I truly look forward to and enjoy spending time with. I knew his presence would make the trip more fun and more memorable.
I know I've earned a reputation for brevity in my race reports. Please allow me this one indulgence. I'd like to recount the last few days of Garrett's life.
The drive to Tucson
On Thursday night, Rachael Petrue, Garrett and Matias met at my house in Los Angeles to make the long trip to Tucson. Garrett, Matias and I had all done the race together last year and were looking forward to another hard, fun weekend. We arrived in Blythe late that night and all 4 of us crammed into a tiny room at the Motel 6. We awoke at 6 to the realization that although we had made this trip a dozen times before, we had somehow forgotten about the one hour time difference. After a frenzied packing job, Rachael and I rushed off to make her 12:15 time trial start time. Garrett and Matias went back to sleep for a while, but ultimately ended up spending the morning futzing around with their bikes.
We made it to the Old Tucson Studios where the 3 mile prologue time trial was staging in plenty of time and Rachael succeeded in her goal of not finishing dead last. Garrett and Matias arrived later and we all successfully completed the short but challenging race. We were all pretty disappointed in our times which were slower than the previous years and blamed our bad legs on the long car ride. It turned out that all of the times were a bit slower than the previous years so maybe the wind was to blame.
That night we ate dinner at a strange restaurant that we compared to a Chucky Cheese's for binge drinking adults. Afterwards, we headed to East Tucson to meet our host family, Mike and Susi Burdick. They were a friendly older couple with a beautiful house. They had two private rooms for us, each with it's own bathroom. Much nicer accommodations than most of us weekend warriors are used to.
The next morning Rachael left early for the road race. Her race started an hour before ours and was only 42 miles giving her plenty of time to finish up and head out to the feed zone.
Garrett, Matias and I sat together at the Burdick's breakfast table. A playful argument ensued. Garrett had had a little trouble sleeping the night before because Matias was snoring. Matias categorically denied that he had on that night or on any other night ever snored. On the way to the race Garrett wanted to stop for coffee. As was his usual easy going style, he didn't insist and would have been agreeable to continuing on straight to the race, but we had a few minutes to spare so we stopped. Garrett bought us each a cup of coffee (hot chocolate for Matias) and we continued on.
Back in the car, another light hearted argument ensued. Matias, who was holding my coffee for me, was afraid of spilling it on himself so he was holding it over Garrett's lap. Garrett and I were insisting that he put it in the cup holder. Needless to say, the coffee not only ended up in our laps, but all over the car as well.
The races went off smoothly that morning. My race, the Pro/1 went off first with Gord Frasier and his Health Net team preparing to defend their lead. Matias and Garrett in the cat 2 race went off a few minutes later, with the Eclipse team holding the top G.C. spot. Each race would do 5 turns around a 21 mile course with 1,000 feet of climbing on each lap. The center piece of the race was the dreaded accent over Gate's Pass, a windy narrow 13 percent grade over rocky, cactus infested dessert terrain.
As the 2's were about to begin the fourth climb over the pass, Garrett rode up to Matias, winded but smiling. He had gotten a flat and had to chase back by himself. Still, he was laughing about it and joked that the effort had been even harder than the time trial the day before. Halfway up the climb, he took a water bottle from Rachael who was in the feed zone. He was looking strong. Stronger than any of the previous laps.
Matias had been having a good day so far, but having already climbed the pass three times, was starting to get tired. Cresting a few seconds off the back of the pack, he began the quick winding descent. Less than halfway down he was forced to swerve to avoid some bikes in the road. Apparently there had been a crash, but he went by too fast to see any details.
When Matias came to the start/finish line a few miles later, he found that although there was still another lap to go, the 2's had all stopped. Those in the group had witnessed a horrible accident and decided that this particular race over. The pieces began to come together. A rider, trying to pass on the inside of the road had bumped another rider and they had both gone down. Another rider right behind them had swerved to the left to avoid the crash. The swerve sent him over the yellow line and directly into the path of an oncoming car. He flipped twice in the air and when he hit the ground his body was limp. The rider was wearing a KB Home uniform. Matias jumped in the car and raced back up the mountain. By this time, police were already on the scene and had blocked the road. Matias drove through two road blocks before he was finally physically stopped by police.
A helicopter had already arrived at the scene and somebody was being loaded into it. However, Matias was informed that it wasn't Garrett. If Garrett had been hurt the worse in the accident, why wasn't he the first to be loaded into the helicopter?
At this point, Matias could see a body on the ground covered by a black body bag, but no one would allow him to get close enough to identify it. Finally an understanding fireman agreed to check. The rider was indeed wearing a KB Home jersey. Garrett was the only KB Home rider in the race.
Meanwhile, the Pro's had been neutralized on the backside of the course, but no one had told us what was happening. Just as we were about to make our final ascent up the climb, a police car pulled in front, forcing us to stop. He briefly told us that the pass was closed due to a bad crash and we should turn around and ride back. The race was over. He didn't have any details.
Riding back, we chatted about the ramifications of such a serious crash. There had been much more traffic on the course this year and we all agreed that it had been a potentially dangerous race. I wondered to myself if anyone I knew had been involved. I met up with Rachael back at the start finish line. She was urging me into the car. Matias was up on the mountain by himself and in hysterics. Garrett was missing. A KB Home rider had been killed. Halfway up the mountain it finally dawned on me. Garrett was dead.
By the time we found Matias, he had calmed down and was sitting in my truck by the side of the road. We weren't able to get within sight of the accident scene. We sat there in shock. What do you say? What do you think?
We had to do something. Anything. We had to call his family. I left a message on his parent's answering machine asking them to call us. Matias left a similar message on his girlfriend Janae's voicemail. We sat there in utter shock. Suddenly Matias' phone rang. It was Janae. He told her what had happened. She was hysterical. She hung up and apparently called Garrett's parents who were also inconsolable.
Matias spent the rest of the day and into the night talking on the phone with various members of Garrett's family, including his sister and his parents. We also talked to the race promoter to help decide what should happen with Sunday's third stage. The three of us had already decided we weren't going to race.
After a sleepless night, we woke, dressed in our cycling gear and headed down to the race. The promoter, with the blessing of Garrett's parents had decided to run the race. A 30 second moment of silence would be held before each wave of races and the first lap of the race around the 5 mile circuit would be a neutralized memorial lap. The races would also all be shortened by one lap in Garrett's memory.
The Pro/1, 2 and Cat 3 fields were called to the line for staging. The promoter said a few tearful words and then handed the microphone over to me. My throat had closed and I could barely speak, but I managed to get out a few words.
'There's not much I can say. Garrett was an amazing guy. He was perusing his dream of becoming a professional bicycle racer. He died doing what he loved.'
A 30 second moment of silence was held. Tears were in almost all of the 200 pairs of eyes that were lined up at the start. Gord Frasier was weeping openly and constantly drying his eyes with his sleeve.
The Pro/1 field pushed off and Rachael, Matias and I moved onto the front of the Cat 2 field. Rachael wore Garrett's KB Home t-shirt over her LaGrange uniform. I carried one of his jerseys in my back pocket. The three of us lead the slow procession around the rolling course. Not a word was spoken by anyone for the entire 5 miles.
After the start/finish line our trio pulled off to allow the race to continue. Amazingly, one by one, each and every single rider, pulled over to the shoulder with us. It just wasn't worth racing that day. The 3's would also pull off and many of the Pro field as well. One by one, tearful riders who hadn't even known Garrett came up to us to wish their condolences.
After the race, the three of us went to the supermarket, bought candles and flowers and headed back up the mountain. We found the spot where it had happened and using rocks set up a small memorial. The pavement was marked with chalk where the accident happened. It was stunning to see where the car had stopped and where Garrett had landed. It was a good 50 yards.
The police had left a few pieces of chalk by the side of the road so we marked the site and left some small messages. With candles still burning, we left the mountain and headed home.
I guess if you knew Garrett, you also knew what an amazing spirit he was. If you didn't know him, then all I can say is that you missed out.
This morning, I had to move his truck to the other side of the street so it wouldn't get a ticket. I noticed a Peace sticker on his window and another one that said, "The Earth does not belong to us, we belong to the Earth."
The day before he died, I noticed that he was in the midst of reading Jack Kerouac's, 'On The Road'. He had been going through a transitional period in his life. He and his girlfriend, who he loved very much had been living together, but had just decided to take up separate residences. He hadn't re-enrolled in school because he thought it was interfering with his cycling. His parents and girlfriend were opposed to this decision. Referring to the book, he told me that it was a dangerous thing for him to be reading right now. He might get inspired and one day just "take off". I guess that's what he did.
A terrible day
It is hard to read about this event on your site. I was driving in a support vehicle for another category both days. It was not until late Saturday evening that I found out about the tragedy. It was then, in an effort to confirm what I had been told by a third party that I called a friend, and the store manager of the bike shop that I work at, that he told me that he was about the first person on the scene. He was with Garrett in his last minutes. It is very hard to have worked with this event for many years and to finally have to meet with such a terrible day. It is never expected. For everyone in any way connected with the Tucson Bicycle Classic I feel that I speak for all of us in giving our most heart-felt condolences to Garrett's family, teammates and all the people that knew him.
Rare and honorable
To the family, and please pass this on, I am sorry for your loss and although you do not know me, my deep condolences. Garrett's father I feel is seeing the truth behind the tragedy. Garrett died doing something he loved; this is RARE. He knew the risks, and yet he pursued his love; this is honorable, and truly tragic as well. Life is to be lived to its fullest, and those who indeed attempt to do that are special and precious for that very reason as well. I hope indeed you take some comfort in that fact. The father's statement stirred me to say this, but I really do believe it, I think it is very true.
Fragile and precious
As a 45+ masters rider entrant with a son also riding on a Pro team at this annual event we both were shaken by the tragedy. This truly was an accident of the highest magnitude and made every participant and spectator pause and reflect on how fragile and precious our ride through life really is.
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