Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Losing a Treasured Soul

It's difficult to pinpoint the exact moment you met someone who seems like they have always been a part of the community.  For me, I'm sure I first met Laura at one of the AMBCS mountain bike races in 2012.  I had been mountain biking for years before that but that was the first year I started racing competitively.  We were both in the beginner CAT3 division that year and I remember seeing her at the same races I attended and talking to her about how she hadn't been riding very long (relatively speaking) and just started racing and had done a couple of races in 2011. We both shared in each other's growing pains in learning how to race and marveled at the skill, fitness and ability of the more accomplished racers.  Little did we know that one day we would be accomplished riders ourselves and bringing new people into the sport we love.  

Laura was never shy about trying something new - here at her first road "race" (Scott-Tucker-Scott 2014)

Thinking back, one of the first rides I probably did with her was pre-riding the course at Eureka Springs in 2012.  I remember running into her on the trail just before we climbed up to Miners Rock and the first impression I had was just how friendly and enthusiastic she was.  She graciously allowed me to pass her and her friend saying that it would take them a while to do the climb.  I wasn't in any hurry myself and ended up riding with the two of them for a while.  I would ride on ahead just a ways but I could hear her laughing and chatting not far behind.  That was just the type of person she was - even just meeting her for a brief moment you got the sense that she was someone special.

Pretty soon, we would run into each other occasionally on the trails here in Little Rock and would often stop to chat.  That was one thing Laura reminded me of was to "stop & smell the roses"  (or take photo ops which she LOVED to do) every once in a while.  While I co-headed up the mountain bike at Spokes, I considered her my counterpart for Team CARVE.  We both lead group rides and strove to introduce new people to riding and/or racing.  Over time, we became friends and we often rode at the other's organized rides.  It wasn't uncommon for us to message each other before a group ride with weather threatening to see whether we should cancel the ride.

We joked recently about how she was recruiting all the female newcomers to CARVE while she maintained that Spokes had a monopoly on the more veteran female riders. Ohhh, burn. We may have represented different teams while racing, but we agreed that the rest of the time we were all part of the same mountain biking family.  Even on different teams, we were always cheering for every single racer (maybe a bit more for our own teammates), but still encouraging everyone to do their very best.  Seriously, I have never met someone who was always encouraging, always positive, no matter the situation or conditions.  

One of Laura's favorite group photos with trees in bloom- Spring 2014

Laura would be too humble to admit this, but she is a true paragon of a mountain bike ambassador.  The beginners womens mountain bike clinic that she was in charge of (and I had the honor of helping out with) and her leading the Cyclofemme rides were two of my fondest memories of her being selfless and being an advocate for women's cycling in Arkansas.

20+ women showed up for the first women-only beginner's mtb clinic

In the face of tragedy, we often strive to make sense of why it happened.  We may never know but what we can do is let Laura's legacy live on through each one of us.  It's apparent how widespread Laura's influence can be felt through the testament of all the photos people have shared on Facebook in which they are pictured with Laura.  We can all learn and follow the example she set.  The world is quite a bit dimmer with her loss but we should all strive to Live Like Laura.  I know that she would be proud of us for each person we encourage to start riding. 

I was just starting to get to know the rest of her family a bit better as of late.  We were making plans on getting her son Gregory and my kids together as they shared a love of riding and gaming.  One of my most treasured memories will be participating in the CATA parent-child trail work day on Pfiefer Loop with her and her son just a week ago. The bridge we repaired and the section we reinforced will be a special spot for my family.

Rules to Live Like Laura:

1) Wear crazy socks once in a while (not just while riding!)

2) Smile at everyone.  :)

3) Ride for fun more often (& document with photos!)

4) Lead a group ride or two or more.

Wrapping this up, I wanted to paraphrase Red from The Shawshank Redemption:
"It makes me sad though... Laura being gone.  I have to remind myself that some birds aren't meant to be 'caged'.  Their feathers are just too bright.  And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to keep them here DOES rejoice.  But still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty that they're gone.  I guess I just miss my friend."
She truly had the most beautiful feathers of all, and I know wherever she is, she is smiling down at us with that unforgettable smile of hers and shredding the coolest singletrack she can get her tires on.

A memorial fund has been established in Laura's name for any who wish to contribute.  #GiveLikeLaura

Pfeifer Loop #LeanForLaura - one of Laura's favorite trails and
many of the women Laura got into mountain biking rode here for the very first time.


  1. Nice tribute, Cliff.

    I wanted to let you know her kindness reached beyond Arkansas as well. Because I live and race mostly in Texas, I didn't know Laura, but we spoke briefly at the Spa City 6 Hour earlier this year. By day's end, I was feeling very lonely, having no friends or family at that race. Every lap I finished, I heard nothing but crickets as I passed the scorer's table. So there I was about .5 mile from finishing my last lap and about to lap Laura. Here's how our conversation went:

    Me: Rider behind you but I don't want to pass.
    Her: Come on around.
    Me: No, I don't want the pass.
    Her: Come on.
    Me: No, I'm from out of town. I haven't heard any cheering all day long. You're a local. You'll get applause and I want to sponge off it.
    Her: No, you're going to pass me. (Pulling off the trail but still rolling.)
    Me: (Passing her) Fine damn it! Thank you.

    I didn't talk to her after that race, but I think Laura did that because she wanted me to do my best even if it meant finishing just a few seconds faster. From what I understand, she apologized for delaying someone else's ride on Saturday when he stopped to help her. Such a high level of consideration for others is something we can all learn from.

    I plan to race more frequently in Arkansas over the next year, and when I do, Laura and my friend and teammate Ray Porter, who we lost in late 2013, will be in my thoughts continually.


    1. Sounds just like Laura, and you are definitely not alone in what you experienced meeting her. She had that rare ability to make every acquaintance a friend. Hope you will find your way back to Arkansas to race again, and I hope your experience with racing in our State is a better one next time around. I believe that we really do have a strong (and mostly friendly) mountain bike community here. My condolences on the passing of your friend, as well. -David Yarbrough, SPOKES

  2. Thanks all. I keep thinking of things it wanted to change or say after the fact but a good friend told me to leave it the way it is. To Anonymous from Texas, feel free to stop by the Spokes tent if you ever see us out at a race. You're more than welcome to hang with us if u need a home away from home. Thanks for sharing your story with us.