Lotoja finish lineRob Verhaaren was the first cyclist who died while participating in LOTOJA race last year. Considered by many as a freak accident, Verhaaren was reported to have swerved to avoid a pothole in a bridge in Wyoming. He then crashed into the guardrail on Highway 89 which is about eight miles from the finish line and fell about 35 feet to his death into the Snake River.

Verhaaren was considered an experienced cyclist as he had participated twice in the LOTOJA race. He worked for an equity firm in Mesa, Arizona and was survived by his wife Bridget and his three young children, Ansel, Helena and Karl.

Rob Verhaaren is the first fatality of the 30 year history of LOTOJA race. This cycling event was started in 1983 by two Logan cyclists David Bern, a student of Utah State University and Jeff Keller who is the owner of Sunrise Cyclery. According to the LOTOJA’s historical account, these two men wanted a race that has the same difficulty of a one day European classic like Paris Roubaix or the Tour of Flanders. Seven cyclists competed in the first LOTOJA race for a 192 miles stretch that starts at Logan to a finish line in Jackson’s Town Square. The first recorded winner was Bob VanSlyke who clocked in at just over nine hours.

At present LOTOJA is an annual event for amateur cyclists who want to test their physical and mental stamina. LOTOJA is now a 206 miles stretch and considered the longest one day USAC sanctioned bicycle race in the country. Cyclists will conquer three mountain passes as they pedal through the scenic view of Utah, Idaho and Wyoming to the finish line located below the rugged Tetons at the base of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

This is the same race that Rob’s sister Brenda Verhaaren of Alpine Utah participated in. She said she wanted to finish the race to honor Rob’s tenacity and determination. She was accompanied by two friends from Mesa. Mike Verhaaren, Rob’s brother, completed the entire race on one of Rob’s bikes. His brother told people that he wanted to be like Rob. This year’s LOTOJA Classic was Mike’s first. He got a medal from the race. Verhaaren’s youngest son awarded the medal to his uncle. Bridget also received a medal in her husband’s honor.

Bridget said that she missed her husband very much. She is glad that life is still good and she is positive that her family is going to be alright despite Rob’s absence. She has Rob’s family for emotional support and they choose to celebrate rather than be overwhelmed by the sad memories.

The cycling community was affected by the freak accident that claimed the life of Rob Verhaaren. Support for the widow and the children did overflow. It was reported that a woman from Georgia sent an anonymous donation to help cover funeral expenses. The family also received countless emails and letters of support. The family even felt the prayers of strangers and for these reasons Bridget Verhaaren choose to be happy despite her circumstances for she has people around her who are truly supportive to the family.

Image courtesy of Philms