It is always a sad day when a sporting hero passes on. His followers, fickle or fervent, tend to lose some small piece of their own lives, and for a while, lose themselves in reflection of a wealth of memories.
When Tony Greig passed away, the cricket world mourned the loss of a voice that boomed louder than most; controversial, colourful and concerned with the game moving forward. Those in the Channel Nine stable called him “the most Australian Englishman they ever knew”, which is saying a lot coming from a collection or Test-hardened veterans who never pass a compliment when it is not due.
Similar sentiments were shared when “The Major”, Christopher Martin-Jenkins, also departed at the start of the year. Another who made his name in broadcasting of the highest order, “CMJ” was a fixture on Test Match Special, and if you were lucky enough to listen in on his conversations during a Test in England, your cricket education was all the better for it.
Greig, like “CMJ”, came from a different time, and they had done their time. Their losses, though hard to accept, were expected, because nature had taken its inevitable toll.
That happens, of course, when the hero is long in the tooth, with a full life at least for us to look back on. Tragically, this week, we learnt of the untimely demise of Burry Stander, at just 25.
It is shattering enough to hear of a life that ended so suddenly, but when we consider all the plans that Stander had for his future on the bike, it makes the sense of loss that much more acute. As they say, the good die young.
Those who followed his epic pursuit for a medal at the London 2012 Olympics will know that he would have been primed to challenge for honours in Rio in 2016. He had said as much in several interviews, with a modesty and innocence that is typical of the lesser sports.
They appreciate what support or coverage they get, and are more than happy to give up their time to chat about their aspirations. Stander was no different, full of hope and excitement for what the future held, on and off the bike – especially having just got married.
It’s the personal details that make these sort of tragedies even harder to digest.
I can’t speculate on the manner of his death, but the mere suggestion of a taxi being involved has already sparked outrage from the cycling community on various social media platforms, who still put their lives in the hands of motorists whenever they go for a ride.
Stander’s accident is not the first of its kind, and it will surely not be the last – unless some drastic steps are taken to protect those who pursue a life in the saddle as a sport.
Sadly, in this country we operate with a mentality that relies on horses bolting before anything happens. The increase in cyclists, casual or world-class, in KZN especially, has long necessitated their needs being met more readily, but they’re still treated with near disdain, because “they shouldn’t be on the road”. Ignorance and arrogance should not be allowed to rule the roost on our roads. And it is not just taxis who treat cyclists with near disdain.
That ridiculous stance simply has to change.
As people try to lead healthier lifestyles, more and more are turning to mountain biking or road cycling, not least because it doesn’t take as big a toll on creaking knees and ankles.
The increase in participation at events like the Absa Cape Epic,which Stander was a winner of, points to a nation that is increasingly aware of the need to be active to stave off health issues.
But they need protection.
Sadly, for Stander and his family, the change – if any arrives – will be too late. But at the very least, his highly promising career will not go completely to waste if his untimely passing marks a watershed moment for cyclists on our roads.
But what an unnecessary waste this all is.