After losing her husband and best friend, Burry Stander, on 3 January 2013, Cherise Stander has been on an emotional journey that’s taken her to the loneliest places. Her mountain bike and her friends and family have been major factors in her healing process. – Sean Badenhorst
Cherise Stander’s life went from one extreme to another on January 3. Still basking in the afterglow of newly wedded bliss (their wedding was seven months before), she became a widow when her husband, Burry Stander, was killed while training. That morning she had a lifetime of dreams to chase with her soul mate. That evening, her life was her worst nightmare. And it’s been a nightmare ever since really.
“You can’t ever be prepared to deal with something like this. It’s so sudden, so horrible, so not part of anything you’ve ever thought of. But it’s reality and it’s not an easy reality to accept,” said Stander, the current South African marathon champion.
Despite the incredible outpouring of support from so many thousands of people from around the world and around the corner, Stander has never felt so lonely.
“I got – and still get – so many messages of condolence and support from so many people on text, email, twitter, Facebook… I read them all and appreciate them. But some made me angry. Anyone that says they ‘know what you’re going through’ doesn’t! They cannot know what I’m going through.
“They may have had a similar grief to deal with in their life, but they don’t know what I’m going through actually. No words can make you feel any better as much as people really do intend to help make it a bit easier. No words can change that I have lost my husband and my best friend and my training partner; my everything…
“A local young newly wed South Coast couple was torn apart in a similar way last week. He died of injuries sustained in a motorbike crash. I bought her a card and I still have it. Because, thinking about my situation, I realised there is nothing I can actually write in that card that will make a difference for her.”
Stander admits that since Burry’s death, she’s struggled to focus on her career as a professional bicycle racer.
“I’ve struggled with motivation. I really have. I’ve raced a lot because that’s a forced ride. And mountain bike stage races are a series of forced rides, which has kept me moving. Kept me in the mix. There are times when I really just want to be alone with my thoughts and deal with the mourning process. But I’m in the middle of a start chute with hundreds of reminders about Burry around me. I don’t think anyone really knows how to act when you lose someone suddenly. I’ve done lots of races this year, but I’ve not been in racing condition. Not physically and definitely not emotionally.
For Stander, and Burry’s family, the 2013 Cape Epic was a key focal point. Completing the gruelling stage race was their way of paying tribute to Burry, who is a Cape Epic hero. Cherise rode with Burry’s brother, Duane; while Charles, Burry’s dad, rode with Charl, the oldest of the three boys.
“The Cape Epic for us was all about Burry. It was about nothing else. We all wore his replica kit. We named our teams africanmtbkid 1 and 2. Duane and I got a couple of podium finishes in the Mixed, but that’s only because there’s not a huge amount of racing depth. It did feel good to race a bit though and it did remind me that I am a naturally competitive person.
“I will race again. I am committed to racing for USN and Specialized. My sponsors have been so understanding and supportive during this time. Albe Geldenhuys (USN) and Bobby Behan (Specialized) and all their staff have been just great.
“Burry designed this kit I’m going to race in this year. We changed it a bit to have Burry’s image on the back with ‘angel wings’. It’s part of my healing process I suppose. A way to feel closer to him if that’s possible. Or a way for me to feel like he’s always there; like he’s got my back.”
Stander says she’ll be keenly involved with the Burry Stander Foundation, a foundation that’s been set up to ensure Burry’s death is not in vain and that cyclists are given more respect and awareness on a more structured level, both in South Africa and abroad.
“At this stage, there’s a website and some basic elements in place. But we’ve not really tackled it yet. It needs to be done properly and it needs to make a real difference and that’s going to require a lot of input, not just from me, but from others who have experience with this kind of thing. So if anyone reading this can offer some solid advice or wants to contribute meaningfully, we’re open to that,” said Stander.
“My life has been rather chaotic this year (2013). All my plans and goals for the first half of the year never happened. They couldn’t. I do intend for that to change though. I will regain structure and focus. I don’t know exactly when, but I will get to a point where I will make that decision. But for the foreseeable future I’m just riding. Sometimes I ride to remember and sometimes I ride to forget…”
For more on the Burry Stander Foundation, visit www.burrystanderfoundation.org
Cherise is currently living and training in Stellenbosch and rides for Team RECM/Specialized www.teamrecm.co.za
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Originally published in TREAD Issue 23, 2013 – All rights reserved