“love is stronger than death even though it can’t stop death from happening. but no matter how hard death tries, it can’t separate people from love. it can’t take away our memories either. in the end, life is stronger than death.” – unknown – compiled by sean badenhorst
the average modern western world male lives to his late 70s. it’s enough time for him to live a full and a fulfilled life, even with a few failures and setbacks and restarts in some areas. even with some chronic illnesses and injuries to battle. even with a pessimistic outlook. his priorities will usually be his family, his friends, his work and his hobbies or passions. not necessarily in that order.
burry stander’s passion was racing bicycles and he became a regional phenomenon as one of the most brilliant cyclists to come out of kwazulu-natal. he then built on that and became south africa’s most versatile cycling star, able to challenge for victory in any bike race he entered – one day road race, road stage race, mountain bike marathon race, mountain bike stage race, mountain bike cross-country race and mountain bike singlespeed race… referred to often by his nicknames of ‘africanmtbkid’ or ‘the dart’, stander became a world famous bicycle racer and then became loved by most of south Africa, following his courageous medal chase at the 2012 london olympic games.
there are so many specialists these days in sport, avoiding any kind of deviation in competition that might expose a weakness or tarnish their reputation, or create an injury. they periodise their training and racing to such an extent that their entire year can hinge around one event or just few weeks of peaking.
burry wasn’t one of those. he was hip and current, but also classically old-school too… a sensitive soul and a tough guy in one. never one to turn down a challenge. his specialist bicycle racing discipline became xco but he didn’t soft-pedal his way through the year to only shine at the key xco races. nope, the 2009 under-23 xco world champion raced from january to december for most of his racing career and he raced anything he felt like racing. he didn’t demand appearance fees. he never sat in his vehicle to avoid having to expend energy on fans and media. no race was too small and no person was too insignificant.
significantly, burry also rode bikes for fun. he took part in a unique mountain ascent duel against 2010 tour de france winner andy schleck; he rode some of our highest profile marathons in baggies at the end of 2012; he entered the zany 2012 singlespeed world championships in south africa, dressing up, downing beers at the beer-stops, winning it in a sprint, getting the compulsory champion’s tattoo and then downing more beer from a dirty old gumboot. burry wasn’t a serious pro either. well he was serious, but not all the time. he had a sense of humour and a sense of style. but he also had a sense of responsibility when necessary and he loved his family more than anything in the world. he seemed to get all his priorities just right. burry was the person you want your son to be…
nope, burry willie stander wasn’t your average western world male that lives to his late 70s and who reflects on his long life with a few pangs of regret. burry lived for just 25 years and a couple of months and in that short time, he achieved greatness and lived a far fuller life than most men.
as with most mountain bikers, burry meant a great deal to us at tread. we miss him more than we ever imagined and we wanted to create a tribute that will not just honour his success as a bike racer, but his amazing qualities as a human.
we love the way burry just got things done, never really thinking about failure, always an optimist, always ambitious. we love that he didn’t let little things become big obstacles. we love that he never bothered using capital letters when he wrote anything (that’s the reason we’ve removed all capital letters from this special tribute). we love the way he made us feel proud to be south african. we love the way burry stander changed our world…
burry the athlete by dr jeroen swart
the burry that south africa knew and loved is also the burry that I enjoyed and had the privilege of working with these past few years. the high-profile, race-dominating, cool-cat, smiling burry that everybody got to see in the magazines, news media and on tv was great fun to be involved with. i won’t lie, i loved riding that wave as one of the many cogs in the winning burry machine.
but by working with him I also got to know the other burry. the one with a heart of gold, a selfless soul, and with a boundless love for his family and for cherise. but also the one with the self doubts and worries that beset all of us from day to day. getting to know that burry was the real privilege.
on the surface, the winning seemed to come with consummate ease. a genetically gifted, well-conditioned and well-oiled machine came to mind when you watched him compete. however, many people would be surprised to know that burry’s laboratory stats were great but certainly not exceptional. if championship medals were handed out based on laboratory results, burry would have had a smaller coffer of trophies and medals than many of his south african brethren. however, his insatiable will to win and his deep-seated fear of failure drove him to achieve lofty heights that belied these more modest physiological traits. he knew this and therefore kept his laboratory results as a closely guarded secret, lest his competitors see it as a weakness they could exploit. fittingly, they should remain that way. but many of the riders that will now take up the mantle he carried for so long could benefit from knowing that similar achievements are also within their grasp, they only need to be prepared to do what it takes and to believe what can be.
more important than his race wins and the glory he achieved in his short time with us, is the legacy that he leaves behind. our innate sense of inadequacy as south africans is an oft-limiting factor in our achievements. burry shattered that glass ceiling and opened the door to the future for so many of the young south african athletes that we see competing on the world stage now. in addition, he gave back to the riding community by mentoring and supporting upcoming junior riders and became a patron of the songo charity that supports underprivileged township cyclists. the list of ways in which he gave back are too long for this page.
the side of burry that the public didn’t see is the side i really cherished knowing. the committed family man, who put family ahead of all else. the community member who decided to stay on in the south coast and invested in the town and people he loved rather than move to a big city. the loving husband who found his soul mate so early in life and who shared his life to the fullest with her.
there are two memories in particular that i recall fondly.
the first was from the day before the 2012 world cup in pietermaritzburg. the home round of the world cup series was a big focus of the season and we had worked extremely hard to make sure that burry would be fighting for the win. knowing that he should be nervous, i decided to give him some re-assuring thoughts and comments over a cup of coffee. but to each of my remarks he responded with a very dismissive, “i know” or “i’m fine” and left me with the feeling that as a coach, i was a bit redundant on the day. this guy was so in control and confident that he didn’t need any reassurance or psychological preparation. the next day, while we were on the course watching him compete, cherise told me how glad she was that we had scheduled the session over coffee and that before our talk he was full of anxiety and nerves. afterwards he had seemed calm and re-assured. that was typical burry. he held his cards close to his chest.
i learned a lesson that day that no matter how confident or able an athlete seems, there are always elements of self doubt and fears of failure. this became a big focus in the lead up to the olympic games. as a result, burry told me after the games how he had felt serene and calm on the morning of the race and how this had really helped him in his preparation and in giving his all.
another memory that i will cherish is that of the closing day of the olympic games. the men’s mtb race was held only a few hours before the closing ceremony. after the race, the other athletes were running around and getting dressed for the closing ceremony. however, burry chose not to go and instead cherise, burry and i went out for a quiet dinner in south end on sea, the sleepy village where we were based during the games. over pizza and some wine we reflected on the year that had been, the trials and the triumphs. we spoke about how this was only to be the beginning of much bigger things to come. 2013 was to be burry’s year. how wrong we were. every year to come will be burry’s year.
thank you burry for the good times. you taught me much and you will forever leave your mark.
burry the hero by cian, cameron & beani
burry the hero by cian leveridge, 12 years old
burry was my hero because he was the best bike rider around in South Africa. he was friendly and always willing to sign posters. before races he would help us on the tracks to pick the right lines at obstacles before race day. when i watched burry race i would cheer him on, i mainly watched him race at the world cups in pietermaritzburg, i felt excited, proud of him, and watching him come down tree house rock garden was awesome, so was banging on the boards coming into the finish at the world cup. watching him compete on tv or on the ipad late at night still brought the same joy as if i was watching him race live. when i spoke to burry he made me feel special. he was never arrogant, even before or after a hard race, he would still find time to speak to us kids. when i heard burry had been knocked over by a car whilst he was out training and had passed away i could not believe what i had heard, i thought that i was hearing things. i was devastated when i heard what had happened to burry, even the next day i still could not believe what had happened. i will always remember him when i ride at cascades mtb park because it feels like he is there in the forests, racing his bike. i will always remember burry as i have got a giant autographed poster of him in my room and a signed race jacket which hangs on my wall. burry you will live in my memories.
burry the hero by cameron wright, 12 years old
i remember when i was seven years old, dreaming to be like burry one day – a great mountain biker and always humble. since then, i always wanted to meet burry. when i was nine and at the 2009 kzn mtb awards dinner at tala game reserve, they auctioned burry’s signed, specialized race jersey. i wanted this so bad and I kept pushing my dad’s hand up for the bidding and i finally got it. we had it framed and it hangs in my room. my dad then arranged to have a ride with burry, which we did down at his house near port shepstone. i will never forget that, because he rode the whole way with me and chatted to me. cherise was also there and rode with us. i also remember at the 2010 sa road champs, where burry and cherise congratulated me and i got a photo on the podium with them. whenever i could, i watched him racing, either on tv or at events. He would always have time to say hello. at the 2011 uci xco event at cascades, when he crashed and cracked his helmet, he gave the helmet to me. this, i also box framed and have it hanging with his race jersey in my room. the last opportunity i got to see and talk to burry, was at the 2012 toti enduro-x, where he posed with all the team jeep podium winners. these photos, i will treasure forever. when i heard the sad news of burry’s passing, my family and i were devastated. i was hoping that one day he would have brought home an olympic medal. my goal will be to follow in his footsteps and try and be a hero to others, but always remembering to stay humble like he always was. burry – i miss you!
burry the hero by beani thies, 10 years old
burry was my hero because he won his under-23 world champs with a gt zaskar, that’s what I ride now and because he was a very humble person. when i watched him race he inspired me as a young rider to follow in his footsteps and always give of my best. as a young lady i felt honoured to speak to such a legend and felt inspired by his words and his advice. at first i could not believe that my legend had past away for it had left me in devastation and i thought it would be the end of my mountain biking. but the last words he gave to us as youngsters is – live your dreams to the fullest and never say die. i ride for burry stander
burry the philanthropist from songo.info
it was with great shock and huge sadness that we received the that burry stander had been killed in an accident while he was riding his bike. as the news slowly started to spread across south africa, shock and utter disbelief ricocheted through the songo programme; a great hero and role model, someone so close and so special to us was lost.
the information received seemed completely unlikely and impossible. is it really true, a number of the kids asked? how can someone so exceptional with so much potential, destined for greatness, with an incredible wife and loving family, leave our world so suddenly, so abruptly?
it still seems so wrong.
at songo.info we have had the privilege of sharing some very special moments with burry and these memories will forever remain close to us. from christoph sauser’s inception of songo.info through to burry being the first south african to win the absa cape epic in 2010. we were there in jonkershoek when burry won the african continental championship title and religiously watched world cup races and world championship events around the world with the songo team squashed into the songo.info office, glued to the computer screen, shouting support for christoph and burry.
burry was a great icon and role model for the songo boys showing our guys what can be achieved not just on the track but off the track too from a business perspective, a relationship perspective, a family perspective, a public perspective and a social contribution perspective. for a young man he had broad shoulders, a wise mind and a big heart. he was really stepping into his power in a big way.
songo fipaza has great respect and admiration for burry. the thing is we all did. we were continuously impressed how together and focused this young man was, with a great mind for not only conquering trails but also in business. He made powerful contributions to songo, always coming up with these great ideas for the program and generously donating many special mementos so we could raise much needed funds.
to burry, we are so honoured and privileged to have shared such special times in your short life. we are so grateful for your contributions to songo and for being such an exceptional role model showing just what can be achieved by any south african; by anyone with focus and determination. we so appreciate your kindness, compassion and generosity. You will forever be in our hearts.
burry the best friend by craig paul
tell us about when you and burry first became friends?
my first memory would have to be when i first started riding mountain bikes – around 1998/99. we had a xc race on his family’s farm and i did a practice lap with him the day before the race. i was two years older than him and there was no ways i could keep up with him. i couldn’t understand how he could ride a bike pretty much the same weight as him so fast! we became good friends a little later on (2002) when we were on the same team and would travel to races together.
was burry always so focussed on success?
yes, definitely on and off the bike. he knew exactly what he wanted and was going to do it no matter what. even if he suffered a puncture, broken chain or a crash, he knew he could still win and most the time he did. giving up was never an option.
what was burry’s greatest ambition when you and he were growing up?
he wanted to compete against the best in the world and beat them! in his youth, on the national circuit, he would race in an older age category just to race against tougher competition. the competition was often twice his height, twice his age and he would still beat them.
what were your common interests, besides mountain biking? burry and i had so many common interests and a huge passion for bikes. we would talk almost every day, whether it was about bikes, cars, girls, movies, music, tv anything and everything. i would always know he was on the throne if the conversation was about cars, particularly the intricate details for a given car. when he was away on the world cup circuit, the conversations would mostly be about the track and bike setup – which bike, tyre tread, gearing, prototype bits the team was trying etc. burry’s family were with out a doubt the most important part of his life. his trust in me made me feel more than just a friend – more like a member of his family…
did burry give you anything (material) over the years that you hold really dear? everything he ever gave me i hold dear to me now, but if i had to pin point one thing, it would be the last helmet he handed on to me. it is the helmet he rode with at the 2009 world champs where he became under-23 world champion.
you were best man at burry and cherise’s wedding. What was burry like in the build-up to that day?
burry was always confident; it was hard to tell when he was nervous. on the morning of his wedding he was suited up and itching to leave well ahead of schedule!
did burry fear anything?
that’s a tough question. i would have to say he feared letting himself down. never once did he blame a competitor, equipment or conditions for a bad race. he would take note what went wrong and move on. he applied this to life in general, not just on the bike.
is there anything else you’d like to say about burry the best friend?
the saying usually goes that money and fame changes people. over the years in his transition from a regular schoolboy to world famous superstar, burry was always the same person. the same friend. nothing changed. he will never be replaced.
burry the teammate by christoph sauser
burry was talented, a fighter, very fair, a worker, mature, down-to-earth, a family man and gentleman.
it was in January 2008 at the total sports challenge when i asked burry (recently turned 20) to race the absa cape epic with me. i was not really serious about it, since i thought he would never have the courage to do it with me at his young age. he asked me for my cell number and the next day i got his reply that he wants to do it. i seriously was not 100% sure about it, but i thought to give it a try. we very quickly became good friends and after an okay prologue in knysna, we rode ourselves into the leader’s jersey on day one. unfortunately his knee did not hold up, and we had to withdraw while in the lead three days later. i still remember on that day in citrusdal that he was not even sure if he can ride to the start line. we made it over the first pass in the leading bunch but then his knee was so painful we could not keep up on the flat section just after. somehow he managed to ignore all the pain and we rode all the way to the front again. He seriously gave a 110% to that point until his knee “exploded” and we had to withdraw halfway into that stage. this showed me his dedication and fighting spirit. all or nothing! from there on I knew he will be my very best cape epic partner and friend for the future.
during difficult moments you get to know people the best, and man we had some very difficult times at the absa cape epic. winning every stage until we broke the front wheel or suffered sickness. burry would never go back to the camper “crying” or giving up. the first thing we would do – still in our race pants – is check the stage book and plan on which climb we wanted to attack the next day! he was quite shy to people he did not know but to his close friends, he was super open and very talkative.
i always had an awesome time with him traveling, training, at the eating table or especially in the camper. when he was not sure about a tyre decision, chain blade size, enough sleep or with what ever small problems we racers have to deal with, he could talk non stop about it and wanted me to support his decisions. i sometimes did and sometimes i just made fun of him. sure, i got slapped back right away with something.
burry was very mature in many ways. no way I could have kept up at such a young age at an absa cape epic or also in his business. like importing bike bags and rotor chainrings from the age of 22.
he always wanted to win so badly and that is what he was living for in his sport. He definitely had the “I want to beat everybody”, on the other hand he could not even kill a fly. burry did not take any stupid risks in races, but still crashed quite a bit in cross-country or at the cape epic. I think he was breaking the most material of us. i know he does not like to hear it, but i think it is true.
i wish we could have spent many more years together on the road. it’s been always fun, burry! now I cannot wait to race my heart in your memory out drinking your beloved chocolate milk.
burry the rival by kevin evans
burry was the one competitor who most caught my attention when heading to a race. a race with burry, always completely changed the approach, and you knew who the rider to beat would be. we raced together for the better part of 15 years, and I got to see a world champion in the making, right before my eyes. one of my greatest victories, was the 2010 south african marathon championships in sabie. why? because it saw a full field competing, including burry. beating burry there for the win, gave the credibility that you had beaten the best to earn your title. he became the benchmark. he was a local rider that you could compare yourself to the best in the world. he was a colleague. he was a rival.
burry the rival by nino schurter
it was with horror that I received the news of burry stander’s death. i am deeply saddened about the loss of yet another great personality of the cycling community. burry was an exceptional athlete the kind of which you seldom come across, extremely fair and an example to us all. with his death we have lost one of the greatest bicycle racers ever, and we will all miss him on the track and off it. since our junior years, burry and i were involved in many pitched battles against each other, and the rivalry drove us both to better heights. i wish his wife, family and his team every strength to cope with this loss.
“the best way i can honour burry is to pursue my career and take my opportunities with the same passion and commitment that he did. he was a true professional in every way.” – philip buys
burry the mentor by james reid
as a junior growing up in the years when burry stander really ‘made it big’ on the international xc scene, I had the privilege of riding for his junior team, started as mr price/scott and then evolving into mr price/specialized in 2009-2010. over the years we drifted apart, but burry remained an incredible role model and strong influence in my life as well as in the lives of others. as a pioneer and trailblazer on the circuit in europe, I believe he inspired a generation of young mountain bikers to believe in themselves and their goals, always asking the fundamental question, “what can I do to go faster?”
burry had style – his classic ‘capital-letter free’ tweets and race reports set a trend, approval of a product or colour meant wide swept approval amongst racers. he was incredibly strong – on the bike he had incredible ‘vasbyt’ and off the bike, he showed an interest in everybody and their story. i would go as far to say as he was largely responsible for the rising tide of professionalism not only amongst athletes but also within the growth of events across mountain biking in south africa.
one particular story that stands out for me, was going to sabie experience, a four-day stage race in mpumalanga, as a junior and racing with fellow junior arno du toit. burry was cruising with cherise, as it was late December and spent a good part of 4-5 hours out on the race route everyday. he would get in around 1pm, ask about everybody’s day, shower and have some food, and get back out on his road bike for another few hours, or lace up his running shoes and get back out into the mountains. for me, it epitomized burry – he had a huge appetite for hard work, he was human and had fun, and he had a lot of energy that was infectious.
another example would be any uci world cup that we as younger under-23 racers went to – there would be a sense of ‘i can do this thing’, almost because it had been done before. it was almost as if the europeans had a certain respect for south africans that you could be immensely proud of racing abroad, and I often got the sense they regarded us as ‘the little country with the big punch’.
to a champion that will stay in our memories forever. rip africanmtbkid
burry the businessman
not content just to be a top international bike racer, burry turned his hand to business at an early age. barely into his 20s he was dabbling in the business side of the bicycle market, importing rotor bike components.
“burry couldn’t just do nothing when he wasn’t riding his bike,” recalled bobby behan, who managed the specialized international racing team until recently. “burry was a natural businessman. he was a great negotiator and very aware of opportunities”
burry’s care for his family and his aptitude for business saw him open his first concept cyclery store in waterfall, near hillcrest, in 2010, appointing ‘middle’ brother, duane, to run the store. then, in early 2011, opened a second concept cyclery store in shelly beach, near his home on the kwazulu-natal south coast, where he got his dad, charles to assist him in running the business.
and in december 2011, he opened a third concept cyclery store in ballito on the kwazulu natal north coast.
your average 25 year old does not have that kind of drive, ambition and vision. but then burry wasn’t ever content with average…
all three stores are trading, keeping much of burry’s family and some close friends employed in an industry they’re passionate about.
that’s a pretty cool legacy to leave.
burry the brother by duane stander
burry was the youngest brother, but he was the most well known due to his bicycle racing success. did he ever change in any way towards you, his brothers, as he became more successful?
no, burry didn’t change at all towards us. not just us, but also towards his closest friends he remained unchanged, true and loyal throughout the years. charl and I on the other hand became most probably his worst critics, but only because we knew what he was capable of and what he deserved through all the hard work and sacrifices he had made. he made us so proud! win or lose and in the way that he always conducted himself. the only way things possibly that did change was that he was now giving us a hard time for riding so slow!
what do you think made burry such an achiever?
determination. i think being the younger brother of three he always felt that he had to prove to us that he could do what we could do, and prove us wrong. try and ride up the hills that we would ride up, try and keep up on the downhills or master a technical section that we would ride. and i think as time went on and his riding progressed, he wanted to prove to himself and to the doubters and the world that being from south africa does not put you at a disadvantage, if you are willing to do what it takes. he also had confidence by the bucket loads, essential in our sport. but maybe he had so much confidence because he knew that he had always done his best in preparation, training and racing. the picture of cape epic last year, where burry is riding and everyone else is pushing, sums it up!
we’ve heard how much burry valued his family. are there any stories you can share that highlight this?
i think it was in late 2008, i was still living in london and feeling very homesick and missing the family. and burry must have picked up on how i was feeling, whilst talking to me over the phone. so this was november and he had just finished his season, which involved flying all over the world. so i think the last thing that he wanted to do was see the inside of another aeroplane! nevertheless, i woke up a couple of mornings later and there he was! in london at my front door knowing that i would have given anything for a visit from a family member. so, after calming myself down and after all the excitement had settled, i made us coffee and sat down only for our mom to walk in! just as much as i was missing them, my mom was missing us, so burry booked her a ticket to come along. i think nothing made burry more satisfied than seeing his family happy and being able to do kind things for us!
some people might have heard this story already; his friend and specialized manager, bobby behan, told it at burry’s funeral. not immediate-family related, but goes a long way in illustrating the kind of man my brother had become. in short, when burry was in negotiations with specialized on his first contract, when everything was finalised and ready to sign, burry had one last request. he said to bobby that unless todd wells, his friend and gt teammate joined him at specialized he wouldn’t sign the contract. bobby had no choice but to sign up burry’s buddy todd! this was burry’s dream – he expressed at the age of 12 that he would like to ride for one of the best mtb teams in the world, but he was willing to sacrifice his dream for his friend!
you and charl both have kids. how was burry as an uncle to your kids?
the next generation of standers, our five kids, are still very young. logan, the oldest, will be turning six this year and charl’s son corban, the youngest is only a month and a bit. the three in between would always have the biggest smiles on their little faces when uncle burry was around! he really loved them all, and you could see this in the way that he made time to play with each and every one of them. he had a very caring nature as an uncle. our kids would often scoot along on their plastic motorbikes and pretend to be burry shouting out “i am burry stander!” out of all the kids, logan understands the most of what has happened. like many kids around the world, uncle burry was his hero! logan was his biggest fan! evident in the way he kept on questioning burry, and anyone who would listen about his infamous crash in the rock garden at the 2011 mountain bike world cup in pietermaritzburg. logan is already an avid cyclist and he was so proud of his uncle when he and christoph won the absa cape epic. this has become logan’s race that he would like to do some day.
telling logan that his uncle burry has gone to heaven was the hardest thing that i have had to do in my life. i took him cycling at our local XC track, thinking this the best and most fitting way to tell him. after drying his little tears he said two things that i will never forget:
“daddy can we still watch christoph race the cape epic?”
“will jesus look after uncle burry very, very nicely?”
the loss of burry had a major impact on south africa as a country, not just the cycling community. did it surprise you at all just how widely admired and respected your little brother was?
yes, the support has been over whelming. i don’t think even burry would have believed the impact that he had on people. burry obviously earned a lot of respect; from all over the world in the manner which he at raced the london olympics last year. the support for burry has really helped us as a family during this difficult time and i would like to thank each and every one. burry just had a way of leaving an impact on people. i remember when he first came over to the uk, still racing for gt, to take part in their national xc race series. again, the manner in which he had raced those races earned him the respect of riders and spectators and he soon established a solid fan base over there. he always enjoyed great support at the fort william and dalby forest world cup races. apart from wishing the obvious, like being able to say goodbye, being able to tell him what he meant to me, being able to thank him for everything; I would have loved nothing more for him to have known the respect, the love and the impact that he would leave behind.
is there anything else you’d like to say about burry the brother?
after all has been said and done, the reality of burry my little brother, not burry the cyclist, being gone is setting in. it’s the saddest I have ever felt and a huge empty void is there that will never again be filled. he didn’t have to be a racer for me to appreciate the amazing person that he was! yet I know, and I have been saying to my family all the time that he would want us to be positive. that was just the type of person that burry was, always smiling, always positive, always happy…
love you bro! gone, but never forgotten.
burry the husband by cherise stander
as a husband, what little things did burry do that made your life easier?
sjoe! he did everything to make my life easier actually. i woke up every morning we were together with breakfast in bed. my bottles got made for training and my equipment was always in top-notch condition. we shared every part of our lives with each other. i got hugs and kisses unexpectedly and just so much love every day. he took all my problems upon himself and would do whatever possible to sort them out. going into this year, i was a bit nervous about getting all my sponsors sorted out, but he was on the phone the whole time assuring me that he would sort it out without me having to worry about it. small things like having him tell me he loved me in almost every text message i received always put a smile on my face. he was a truly happy person and just having his positive vibe around me made my life easier. burry always saw the positive in every person and in every situation.
burry spent a lot of time riding with you. was this in addition to his training, or did he make it part of his training?
it was part of his training. when we were together, we trained together. he knew when to push me on intervals and when I’d had enough. most of the time when we trained he paced on the front and i just followed. throughout december, i think there might have been two or three days that we didn’t ride together. if we had intervals, we would warm up and cool down together and just do our specific intervals at our own speeds. we loved riding together, but burry always had a huge fear of cars. he told me to always think for the motorists as well and got so upset if i went around a corner too fast or even rode through an intersection on a green light without double checking that all the cars had actually stopped. he regularly changed his training programme to fit in with mine.
you and burry made a big effort to spend time with each other when possible while both travelling (especially in europe). sometimes your team management frowned this upon. that must all seem even more worth the effort and stress now.
his team has always been very accommodating towards having me around – specialized has always felt like a little family to me and I always looked forward to spending time with them. i was always welcomed to spend time with them. for me, supporting burry where I could and spending time with him has been always been my no. 1 priority and i didn’t care much about other people’s thoughts on that. i don’t think team managers realise what a big part family plays in an athlete’s performance. when athletes are around the people they love and that make them happy, they are bound to perform better. well that was the case for us. i am so happy that I have always followed my own head and knew what was most important in life, thus ensuring that i have almost no regrets when thinking about this. when i didn’t get selected for the olympic team last year, I thought it was the worst thing that could have happened to me. but burry carried me through this disappointment and arranged that i went over to france to watch his world cup race and we spent almost two weeks together, with some of the most amazing memories. i also ended up spending most of his olympic trip with him.
to everyone else, burry always seemed so in control. was he the same as a husband?
he was in control most of the time. he hated it when we fought and i was upset and he couldn’t make it go away. he said that to him, the most important thing in his life was seeing me happy and that was his mission. he even had specific roads that i was allowed to ride on alone and other roads that he deemed weren’t safe. he liked to be in control when it came to my safety, but other than that he was very easy going and considerate. our best relax time was staying in bed the whole day watching tv. we didn’t need a lot to be happy. he said to me a while ago “as 15-jarige burry geweet het hoe amazing sy lewe gaan uitdraai, sou hy homself becrap het” (“if 15-year-old burry knew how amazing his life would turn out, he’d have crapped himself”). he appreciated what he had and was grateful for the talent he had received.
we know that burry was a great family man, always putting his family first. it must have been similar with you?
we always had a new year’s eve party at our house and in 2011, each of us made a toast. we were going into an olympic year; burry and suzi had won the epic for the first time and were aiming to repeat. all of this I thought would be in burry’s toast. instead, his toast was: “to the 26th of May the day i get married.” no olympics, no bike shops, no cape epic – his highlight for 2011 was just getting married.
we got a lot of flack for the date we chose to get married because it clashed with my team’s racing schedule and i originally thought we should only get married this year. but burry was insistent that he wanted to get married before going to the olympics since this was the most important thing to him and he didn’t want to wait longer.
the week before the Olympics, i was in france and my ticket to belgium was for a late-night flight, while burry’s ticket to london was early in the morning on the same day. he chose to pay in a lot of money to change his ticket and get a flight later that night. we didn’t have a car, so he sat with me for 10 hours at the airport just so that i didn’t have to wait alone. the day before the olympic race I met burry at a coffee shop. he gave me a lift to my hotel on the handlebars of his bicycle. my hotel was five or six kilometres away and he didn’t want me to make that trip alone. at burry’s val di sole world cup in italy last year, I went shopping the day before the race. burry came with me, watched patiently as tried on 10 different outfits and told me which ones to take. these are just the first thoughts that come to mind. burry travelled all over south africa with me to support me and watch me race. he felt sorry with me when I was sad and angry when he felt that people were unfair, not just to me but to anyone. after the 2012 cape epic, burry had to race in america, but he made his trip so much longer to first come visit me in belgium and did the same on his way back. i always knew how much he loved me because it showed in every one of his actions.
it was the same with his parents. he phoned his mom and dad at least once a day and loved going to play golf or doing a ride with his dad. they were like his friends but he did what he could to make them feel special.
is there anything else you’d like to say about burry the husband?
burry was everything to me. he changed my life in so many ways… he was my love, my coach, my mentor, my manager, my training partner, my physiologist, my best friend and my hero. he truly was the best person i have ever met. i am so honoured to have spent so much time with him to have all these amazing memories and to have been loved by such a true and caring gentleman.
Originally published in TREAD Issue 22, 2013 – All rights reserved