Friday, July 06, 2007

July 6th, 1997

Ten years ago today, Santa Barbara cyclist Barrett Holmen lost his life due to injuries sustained in a crash during a circuit race on Shoreline Drive. I only knew Barrett casually, the way you know somebody from a bunch of small snippets of conversation during group rides, but it was clear to me that he was a very good young man. Like many bike racers in their early 20s, he was full of enthusiasm and energy. And talent too, evidenced by his rapid progression through the USCF categories. If I remember correctly, he had just graduated UCSB and was giving a go at bike racing. He was Keith Horowitz' roommate.

That 4th-of-July weekend in 1997, through the hard work of Marty Church and Doug Knox among others, SBBC promoted a three-day four-stage omnium. The event was unique for Santa Barbara racing in that there was only a single race--pro/1/2--and it had a large cash prize list. That brought many top racers to town, including Tony Cruz, Roberto Gaggioli, Chad Gerlach, Adam Sbeih, and Steve Hegg. SBBC had a full squad led by Jamie Paolinetti and also including Chris Hahn, Marty Church, Steve Wright, me, and young Barrett.

The Friday-afternoon first stage was a 100-lap crit at Research Park. A couple of us made it into a large break that lapped the field, but we didn't do very well in the sprint. Saturday morning was a six-mile tt on Cathedral Oaks, and then the afternoon featured a fast crit around Alameda Park. We were out-gunned in these stages too, and thus were not in gc contention going into the last day. Because of our relatively poor results, the team's mood was not very good. Except for Barrett--he continued to be upbeat and forward-looking.

Sunday's stage was a 65-mile circuit race up and down Shoreline Drive. The top looped through the parking lot above Ledbetter and the lower part made a U-turn in front of City College. It was a scenic ocean-front course and a beautiful Santa Barbara summer day. The race was fast and furious from the start as the gc contenders and their teams tried to control the race. About an hour into it, there was a crash involving Barrett, and the race was stopped temporarily to allow an ambulance on the course. None of us knew the extent of his injuries as he was taken off to the hospital.

The race was restarted and within a few laps Chris Walker and I broke away with one of Cruz's teammates sitting on. Being that none of us were in gc contention, our gap was allowed to grow. We settled into that small-breakaway auto-pilot rhythm where you take the same fluid lines through turns and rotate smoothly and quickly. It was oddly peaceful despite the loud music, raucous announcing, and spectator noise. After about 30 or 40 minutes, as we crested the rise to Shoreline Park, we came upon a surreal scene--it was silent and several officials were standing in the road in front of us with outstretched arms. They were telling us to stop. I made immediate eye contact with John McCarthy and without any words I knew what had happened. Barrett had died. I coasted over to the grass, fell down, and began to cry. There were hundreds of people in stunned silence. Friends, family, racers, and strangers alike, all trying to comfort each other and process the enormity of what had happened. It was too much. A random and tragic accident during a bicycle race. A young life--full of hope and promise and positivity--had ended that morning.

I went to Barrett's memorial service and listened from the back row as his friends and family remembered what an upbeat and funny character he was. Jamie spoke about how refreshing it was to mentor a young bike racer so eager to learn. He also wrote a touching article in VeloNews. A hundred SB cyclists rode to the bluffs in Hope Ranch to quietly memorialize him.

The next month SBBC raced at the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix. The 180-man field allowed us to lead the first lap as a tribute to our fallen teammate. From lap two onward however, it was non-stop full-gas speed. I'm not sure I ever saw the front. In one of the most inspired performances I have ever seen, Jamie won the race from a breakaway. (And breaks almost never succeed at that race!) Truly incredible.

Now it's been exactly ten years since the crash, and the intensity and sadness of that day are forever impressed on my psyche. But so is the class and warmth that the cycling community showed in the days and weeks afterward. We all share a strong bond--bike racing is hard and can be dangerous. Cyclists are passionate people and the goodness shines bright when tragedy hits one of our own.

9 comments:

Jason said...

Thanks for sharing that Marco. I just got choked up reading it. Amazing and scary how the world can change in an instant.

Gary said...

Wow, I am speechless and saddened by your story. Thanks for sharing.

Gary Scott said...

I was there that day Mark i had only arrived in the states a couple of months before that, didn't know the lad but i shed tears of sorrow as if he was my bast mate, the memories of that day are still in my head often..

Marco Fanelli said...

You know, a week or so ago I realized that the 10-year mark was approaching. I considered not writing anything--it is kind of depressing--but then I thought "hey, it happened, it was real, don't forget about the guy" and also figured it would be good for some of the newer cyclists around SB to be aware of that part of our community's history. Plus, I do still occasionaly run into people who were there that day (like Gary Scottie), and we all shared that surreal and intense sadness. Marty Church and I talked about it just last week at Manhattan Beach.

Patrick Lee said...

I was fortunate to meet Barrett in 1996 at the Corral Hollow RR (now Patterson Pass). We were both collegiate cyclists, i rode for Cal Poly SLO and we both ended up in the top 5 that day - him 2nd and myself 5th. I remember how complimentary and friendly he was after the race, he made a point to come up to me to let me know I rode a good race. And this was a guy that just finished ahead of me and didn't really know me. It's a simple gesture and a simple memory, but one that stayed with me and I was deeply saddened to hear of his passing. Thanks for sharing that story and remembering a good person.

Ryan said...

I had the pleasure of working with Barrett at Velo Pro for couple of years before his crash. Barrett was quite an inspiration to this thing we all call life. He will truly be missed. I look over his memorial to remind me now and again how precious life really is.
>Ryan Vellanoweth

Anonymous said...

Mark - in the even that you even still follow what you wrote... Barrett was a close friend and teammate of mine at UCSB, now 20 years ago. I still remember his positive attitude and spirit. He constantly motivated and encouraged me to do my best on and off the bike. I'll occasionally swing by your blog to read this memorial of him. It always makes the tears flow. I appreciate your memory of him, and I share your sentiment of his life. He hasn't been forgotten those that knew him. Nine years after your initial post, I can finally gather the courage to thank you. I'm sorry it took so long.

Marco Fanelli said...

Thank you for your heartfelt comment. Even now, 19 years later, it is still an intense memory. Certainly for his friends and family, but also for all the bike racers there that day. Young people aren't supposed to die.

Gina Grant said...

Hi Marco, I was Barrett's girlfriend during his later years in SB and I just want to thank you for what you wrote. It is such a gift to get to spend another moment with him through your memories. He was a truly exception human being with so much charisma and life in him. It was more than unbelievable to lose him... I don't even know how to describe it. But more than that, it was such a gift to get to know him. It's clear from your words and those of some who commented here that even the briefest of encounters with him conveyed how special he was. I cried reading your tribute like it was the first day of his departure, and even in that way it is just such a gift to spend another moment with him. Thank you for your post. I wrote one myself... http://soulcandyinstitute.com/happy-birthday-barrett-holmen-81672-7697/