By Jared Eborn
Matt Bradley was more than just a cyclist. He was more than an educator. And more than a friend.
Matt Bradley — a cancer survivor who lost a leg to the dreaded disease and refused to slow down as a result — was an inspiration to countless people in the Utah cycling community, at the University of Utah where he taught and among the civic and social causes he championed.
Matt Bradley passed away March 20, 2012 after an accident at his home. He was 41.
And though Bradley is no longer physically in the peloton at races or cracking wise from the announcer’s table at cyclocross races, Bradley’s influence is still felt.
“I just can’t believe he’s gone,” Jim Noble, a cyclist who shared the common bond with Bradley of surviving cancer is his leg, said after an impromptu memorial ride up Emigration Canyon to Little Mountain after learning the tragic news. “I just had to hammer it a little hard up that hill for him. That was something we had together, we hit those hills hard.”
Bradley is best known among Utah cyclists as the guy with one leg who raced his heart out and didn’t let something like a missing foot keep him from enjoying life to the fullest. In fact, Bradley embraced his situation with grace and humor – even having the name ‘Gimpy’ printed on his cycling gear.
A competitor to the end, Bradley was named Cycling Utah’s Utah Overall Rider of the Year in 2011 (see the Fall/Winter 2012 issue online at cyclingutah.com).
While it might be easy to focus an article on Bradley’s cycling life, he was far more than just another member, albeit a one-legged one, of the local peloton. Matt Bradley was a role model, a mentor to many and a leader.
“He was the most genuine human being ever,” friend and elite athlete Kelsey Withrow said. “He was an inspiration to be around and someone who could make anyone laugh. I took away a lot from him. With all the crappy things that had happened to him he continued to stay positive and always figure out a way to look at the bright side.”
He was also uniquely adept at looking at things from the viewpoint of others.
Actively involved in community organizations that championed the human rights of others, especially the local Hispanic community, Bradley sought to make a difference.
“One of the greatest mentors I've had the privilege of learning from has left this world physically,” is how Mariana Ramiro-Gomez remembered Bradley in one of countless posts from friends on his Facebook wall. “And I didn't learn enough from him. Matt Bradley changed my life. His love, passion and dedication to social justice was a catalyst that not only kept me engaged as an undergraduate student – but continues to do so now.”
After word of his passing got around, his Facebook pages were inundated with dozens of photos and memories from friends. The first, a short but heart-breaking post from his brother, Seth, announced his death.
“Matthew Wade Bradley (8/19/70-3/20/12). Activist, Cancer Survivor, Scholar, Writer, Educator, Athlete, Friend, Brother, Uncle, Son,” it read. “You have touched the lives of more than you will know and will be greatly missed.”
Passionate about many things, cycling held a special place in Bradley’s heart. Indeed, even after discovering he had a fast-acting form of cancer in his leg, he chose to ride his bike with friends to the Huntsman Cancer Institute where he had the leg amputated below the knee. Almost immediately upon his return home from the hospital, one of the first things he did was arrange his bicycle, a trainer and some furniture to support him while he displayed the determination and fire he was known for by turning the pedals for a few miles.
Rather than downgrading as a cyclist, Bradley continued to race as a Cat 3 and was among the fiercest competitors on the road. Less than a year after having his right leg amputated, Bradley was racing at the USA Paracycling Championships and competed in the World Paracycling Championships as well.
“We are shocked and saddened by this tragic news,” said Charlie Huebner, U.S. Olympic Committee Chief of Paralympics. “Matt was a valued Paralympic team member who inspired others and was the epitome of class. He was not only passionate about cycling, but also dedicated to teaching, mentoring and giving back to his community. He will be greatly missed.”
Numerous memorial rides were organized in the hours following Bradley’s death. Dozens of cyclists hit the road with heavy hearts and shared memories of their friend.
“Matt and I came up through the categories together, 5's, 4's, 3's and some masters,” Shane Dunleavy said. “We did a ton of races together, he was always the guy you wanted to be near in the peloton; upbeat, positive, smiling, aware and considerate.”
“He would let you in in an echelon and never put you in the gutter,” Dunleavy said. “He'd always try to slow the field if someone had a mechanical or crash so they had a chance of getting back in. I remember when he flatted a few miles into the Capitol Reef Road Race, I was so happy to go to the front and slow everybody down so I could repay him for all the times he had done the same.”
Bradley, in addition to his work as an educator at the University of Utah, was a partner with his brothers and friends at the DNA Cycling clothing company.
With a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University, Bradley continued his education at Indiana University where he earned masters and doctorate degrees.
His activism was not limited to the Mestizo Arts and Activism Collective. He was a frequent volunteer at a variety of causes ranging from political rallies to community 5K runs where he helped serve cups of water to runners in an effort to raise awareness of cyber-bullying at Utah schools.
Bradley won numerous awards and honors at the University of Utah for his education, mentoring and activism.
Most importantly, though, Bradley won the hearts of many as he served them.
“The one thing I'll always remember about Matt is his smile, it was always there and just radiated kindness. I can close my eyes and see it now,” Dunleavy said. “Funny, the only time I saw him not smiling was one day in the parking lot before (the) Hell of the North (race). I could tell something was wrong and stopped to ask him what was up and if he needed any help. Turns out his dog was injured and needed surgery and he was stressed out and worried about her – he smiled all the way through his cancer and amputation fight, and comeback but his dog’s injury had him down. Don't know why this sticks in my mind but it does and it made me like him even more. I mentioned it to some teammates and before I knew it everyone was passing the hat to help him out and we came up with enough to cover a good chunk of the surgery. I don't think I've ever seen someone so appreciative in my life, he literally thanked me every time he saw me for the next year, and brought fresh veggies from his garden for me (and others) to the cyclocross races.”
Bradley raced as recently as the weekend before his death, competing as a Cat 3 in the prestigious San Dimas Stage Race in California. The local racing community remembered Bradley with fondness at a criterium at Rocky Mountain Raceway where each field held a one-legged lap in his honor.
Bradley leaves behind brothers, nieces, nephews, parents and many friends.
“Not going to be the same in the peloton without him in there,” Dunleavy said.
It’s a sentiment shared by many.