Scott Kornfield -- a friend, teammate and athlete client of mine -- and I set off for what was to be an epic ride into the mountains. The goal was to beat each other senseless and into submission. An overcast day, much like this Memorial Day in fact, was going to keep us cooler and allow for greater pummeling. Scott was a freight train. Sometimes I would get the better of him; more often I would be the nail.
Forty minutes into the ride, we turned on to Highway 36, a popular cycling corridor that stretches north from Boulder to Lyons and then on to Estes Park up in the mountains. The shoulders are super wide and riding two abreast can easily be done without incident with motorists. A minute outside of Boulder, jamming comfortably at about 25mph on a slight gradient of a descent, we were chatting -- I riding near the white line and Scott toward the grass shoulder.
Then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed it. A southbound SUV going 65mph started veering across the highway.
It was heading right for us. Time stands still in a time of crisis. The next 1-2 seconds felt like that many hours. Irrelevant senses shut off and the brain focuses all attention to those senses required to survival. In this case, our eyes. I remember vividly seeing the Ford Explorer coming at us; looking over at Scott and seeing his own look of incredulity; looking back at the SUV and realizing we were going to be hit.
And, then, I was calmly leaning hard left and veering into the northbound traffic lane, as if it were an evasive maneuver I had practiced hundreds of times for this occasion. As I veered, I looked right, to see if Scott had similarly veered off the road into the grass embankment. He didn't. I saw the collision. Heard it as I felt the rush of the SUV pass within inches of me. In that one moment, three things occurred: my friend was killed; I saw him killed; and I was nearly killed.
As I hit my brakes to come to a stop, I kept mumbling "Oh, my god; oh, my god" over and over and over. I threw my bike down, turned around and ran back to find Scott. His bike was still cartwheeling through the air and the SUV was bouncing through the grassy field off the road before lurching to a stop. I didn't see Scott, but somehow I knew exactly where he was. I ran past his severed leg in the road, barely registering it.
Scott lay off the road, on his back in the tall wild grass, looking as if he were taking a nap. I knew he was dead, but I had to be certain. I felt for a heartbeat, looked for a rising and falling of the chest. Nothing. The autopsy would state that his heart had been transected by the force of the calculated 85mph impact. At that moment, time sped back up. I looked up from his body to the SUV. Saw two teenagers climb out. Look back at me sitting by a prone, still body. The gravity of what just happened hitting them. The driver throwing his hands to the sky, looking upward and shouting to the heavens.
I suddenly felt adrift. I grabbed handfuls of the wild grass and pulled. I needed to ground myself.
Just as time slows down in crisis, the body can also shut down. Think of a circuit board. Any unnecessary circuits are tripped. It's self-preservation. The impact of this was incalculable; my body and brain had no clue how to process all of the inputs, so it decided to deal with it all later. I sat there, now in the drizzling rain and cold, for over 2 hours, never leaving Scott's side. Those 2+ hours felt like fifteen minutes.
My wife, a saintly woman who without question is my soulmate, came to get me. She helped me into our car and, as we prepared to drive away, a State Trooper asked Lori to roll down her window. The trooper had a pained look in her eyes. She motioned down the highway. "Do you want your bike?" she asked, apologetically. I looked hollowly out the windshield; my bike lay where I had dropped it. I just stared, unable to speak. Lori climbed from the car, jogged to my bike, wheeled it back and laid it in the back of our car.
How I got back on the bike is another story, for another time. What I would like to leave you with is the speech I gave a couple days later, at a gathering of Scott's friends, family and cycling brethren.
Today, I remember you, Scott ...
Phillippians 4:8 states:
“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things
are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure,
whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report;
if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
I think this passage is pretty poignant when thinking about Scott. Everything about the man is first-class. We are all gathered here to celebrate his life.
The first time I met Scott was on my first LVC ride. It was a Monday evening early last fall. As we rolled out of the parking lot and turned north on 95th, he came up next to me and introduced himself. I ended up talking to him quite a bit that ride and it never felt like I had just met him minutes before. It set the stage for a quickly burgeoning friendship. I think everyone gathered here has a similar story of his or her first encounter with Scott. Scott was an affable, caring, beautiful person.
My favorite memory of Scott is a rapport we recently developed. I started coaching Scott at the end of last year and we were doing things differently than he had been accustomed to. We had to rein in that boy’s enthusiasm and gradually let it out so he could hit the late-season races at the top of his game. At first, he worried that his fitness would suffer for it. “Trust me,” I would tell him. As we slowly let those reins out, Scott would talk about how strong he felt on group rides and in early races. He started to believe that some great things were going to happen come August and September; I never doubted that. Scott was a powerhouse on the bike.
So, one day Scott starts calling me before the evening LVC rides first and then later before the mid-week Mead crits. He would tell me he was feeling good and to listen for the sonic boom when he would drop the hammer. Then, after every single one of those rides, I would get a text message asking, “Did you hear it?”
I hear your sonic boom, Scott . . .
There is a Swedish proverb that states “Shared burden, half burden. Shared joy, double joy.”
The outpouring of love and support - for Kristyn, for her family and Scott’s, for me - from all those gathered here and from countless others not here has been tremendous. It has left me in awe. Our collective burden has been more than halved. And our collective joy in remembering Scott has so much more than doubled.
We have planted a seed this week. A seed for keeping Scott alive with us; for bringing us together and bonding us; for deepening friendships. As time passes and we all eventually re-engage into our normal routines, each one of us needs to remember to nurture that seedling. We need to foster it so it can grow into a big, strong, vibrant tree.
In Scott’s honor, we need to feed that tree.