Like it does every year at this time, the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships are happening, but this year, it is occurring without South African Burry Stander, who was ranked #2 in the world at the end of 2012. Stander was killed when he was hit by a taxi when training in January.
The international mountain bike community gathered for the dedication of a memorial garden honouring Stander's life on Thursday evening at the Cascades Mountain Bike Park in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. The garden is the first thing you see when entering the world championships venue. It is a permanent installation and will remain after the Worlds is over.
Stander was just 25 when he died, but he achieved more than many racers do in an entire career. He was the U23 World Champion in 2009 and won a bronze medal at both the elite cross country and marathon world championships. He finished fifth at the 2012 London Olympic Games cross country race.
Friends and officials spoke in honour of Stander.
"Today we gather to celebrate a lost life. Burry was a tireless champion and a shining example to all. He achieved so much in his short life. He touched so many with his friendly and approachable style," said Cycling South Africa's William Newman.
"The cycling community is one big family. Today, we gather as one big international family."
The ceremony was attended by many other racers, Stander's Specialized Racing team, and his family.
Specialized's Bobby Behan, who used to manage the team back when it signed Stander, shared many fond memories of his former rider and good friend, leaving the audience simultaneously wanting to laugh and cry.
"It's been a difficult nine months for friends and family. It still hasn't really hit me. I think of Burry often. Our team is not the same," said Behan.
Behan reminisced about watching the young Stander surprise everyone and beat Julien Absalon at a World Cup in Champery in 2009. He also remembered Stander's prowess for business and his passion for his family.
"Burry was more than an athlete," said Behan. "I don't think we'd seen the best of Burry yet."
Brother Duane Stander also spoke, noting it had been a year of firsts for his family. "It was the first time we had Provincials without Burry. It was the first time we had Nationals with Burry, and now is the first time we are having Worlds without Burry. Cascades was one of his favorite World Cup venues. It's fitting to have his memorial garden here."
The ceremony closed with words bravely spoken by Stander's widow Cherise, who shared words with all encouraging everyone to live life fully in honor of Burry.
Cherise Stander unveiled the memorial stone and was the first to place flowers in front of it. Riders and friends then did the same to pay tribute to Stander's memory and his mourning family.