There will never be another Burry

2013-01-07 00:00

THURSDAY, January 3, 2013, will be remembered as the darkest day in the history of South Coast sport.

On that day, the region lost its favourite son. South Africans everywhere were devastated at the news that two-time Olympian Burry Stander had been killed while on a routine training ride only metres from his Concept Cyclery Shop in Shelly Beach.

The country went into mourning. And while the South African cycling fraternity grieves, it is in Stander’s hometown where his death has taken its greatest toll.

The Hibiscus Coast, a popular attraction for students during the summer holidays, has been transformed into an eerily silent stretch.

The community is still in shock, numbed and struggling to come to terms with the fact that their pre-eminent sportsman, at just 25 years of age, has died in the prime of his life.

The sombre atmosphere will prevail on the South Coast for many days yet because Stander made an impression on every member of the community with his humility, indomitable spirit and extraordinary talent.

He was a cornerstone of the community, a source of pride and inspiration to local athletes who dream of representing South Africa at the highest

level.

His lengthy list of accomplishments — clinching the Under-23 cross-country world title, historic back-to-back Absa Cape Epic victories with Swiss partner Christoph Sauser, his competitive performances at the Beijing and London Olympics and a host of national and African titles — is superseded only by his humility.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 embraced his South Coast roots. While other leading local sportsmen, such as Springboks Marcell Coetzee, Peter Grant and Warren Britz (all of whom attended South Coast schools), paddling icon Ant Stott and enduro motorcycle great Jade Gutzeit (both born in Port Shepstone) left the coast to continue their careers elsewhere, Stander stuck to his roots.

He put South Coast cycling on the map, both locally and abroad, and strove to spearhead the development and transformation of the sport in the region.

In doing so, he became an ambassador for the sport, and although he was treated as a celebrity, he never saw himself in that light.

He was a member of the local mountain bike club, Bundu Bashers, and went on their weekend rides whenever he and his wife, 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.

Stander was also easily accessible to the local media, especially to The Fever newspaper, his maiden sponsor, in which he provided readers with a personal account of his mountain biking exploits in a weekly column entitled Turning Wheels.

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.

It is the combination of his mountain biking prowess, class, character and endeavours off the track that makes Stander much more than a once-in-a-lifetime athlete. His legacy will live on, but the void left by his tragic death will never be filled.

There will never be another Burry Stander.

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