Quintin van Jaarsveld
On January 3, 2013, South Africa lost a national hero when its greatest ever mountain biker Burry Stander tragically passed away in a road accident in Shelly Beach.
He was 25.
Six years on, the two-time Olympian’s legacy lives on in the hearts of his family, friends, the global cycling community and through his foundation, with memorial rides taking place around the world today (Thursday).
The following is a tribute I wrote to Stander in the days following his untimely death…
One of a kind
The South Coast will never produce another athlete the stature of the late, great Burry Stander.
Thursday, January 3, 2013 will be remembered as the darkest day in the history of South Coast sport. On that fateful day, the humble coastal region lost its favourite son.
South Africa as a whole were devastated at the news that its greatest ever mountain biker, two-time Olympian Burry Stander, had lost his life while on a routine training ride mere metres from his Concept Cyclery Shop in Shelly Beach.
The country went into mourning; their fallen icon tragically gone too soon. And while the South African cycling fraternity remain at a loss for words, it’s in Stander’s hometown where his passing has taken its greatest toll.
The popular Hibiscus Coast strip, synonymous as the country’s party Mecca for students over the summer holidays, has been transformed into an eerily silent destination.
The community are still in shock, numb to the core, struggling and all but refusing to accept that their pre-eminent sportsman, at just 25 years of age, has passed away in the prime of his life.
The grim atmosphere will grip the coast a while still, and why wouldn’t it? Stander, knowingly or unknowingly, affected the lives of every single member of the community with his humility, indomitable spirit and extraordinary talent.
He was a cornerstone of the community, a source of pride and an inspiration to all local athletes who dream of representing South Africa at the highest level.
A champion on and off the bike
His unprecedented list of accomplishments – clinching the Under-23 cross-country world title, claiming historic back-to-back Absa Cape Epic victories with Swiss partner Christoph Sauser, showcasing his heart at the Beijing and London Olympics and his multitude of national and African titles – is superseded only by his humility.
Indeed, despite his great success, Stander stayed grounded. He was a true gentleman devoid of ego, a champion on and off the bike. What set Stander apart from other elite athletes – in all their guises – was that he talked the talk and walked the walk.
The Port Shepstone-born star not only stuck to his South Coast roots, he embraced them. Stander stayed true to his roots, put South Coast cycling on the map, both locally and abroad, and strived to spearhead the development and transformation of the sport in the region.
In doing so, he became an ambassador and although he was treated as a celebrity, he never saw himself in that light. He still joined the local mountain bike club Bundu Bashers, of whom he was a member of, on their weekend rides whenever he and his wife, top cyclist Cherise, were not on tour.
South African cycling’s golden couple added star power to local mountain biking events and freely interacted with other participants.
Above and beyond his charity work with Songo.info – an initiative that builds mountain bike tracks for disadvantaged communities – and with several other sponsors, Stander selflessly gave back to his community by throwing his weight behind South Coast charities.
Humble hero’s legend lives on
It’s the amalgamation of his mountain biking prowess, class, character and endeavours off the single-track that makes Stander much more than a once-in-a-lifetime athlete.
His legacy will live on forever, but the void left by his tragic passing will never be filled.
There will never be another Burry Stander. There will never be another Africanmtbkid.
(See link below for details about tonight’s Memorial Ride/Walk at the Burry Stander Bike Park in Umtentweni.)