Jeff Dusenbury, a 51-year-old avid cyclist, was killed by a motorist on Saturday, July 19. Within 30 hours of Jeff’s death his best friends organized, via social media, a gathering where he died at Spruce Park. Over 100 people who could attend on short notice huddled together on this quiet, sunny afternoon, absorbing the shock that Jeff was gone.
A mountain of flowers marked the location where the collision occurred. Photos, cards and small remembrances were placed lovingly in tribute to one of the community’s best friends.
Jeff had friends and colleagues spanning many environments, from cycling with the Arctic Bicycle Club, to serving the needy with Habitat for Humanity and working at Food Services of America where he was a model employee. Even his competitors at Sysco Food Service of Alaska paid him high compliments and offered assistance to the grieving assembly.
Today I visited the site again for quiet introspection. The mountain of flowers had grown larger over the week. Old bouquets wilted and sank into the grass. But there were new ones thoughtfully arranged, looking fresh as though others had left them earlier in the day.
A lone bike glove was placed atop a park bollard uplifted by blossoms. In its palm lay a coin and a Coast Guard medal. I could only imagine the magnitude of this symbolic gesture by someone who misses Jeff.
A motorcyclist interrupted my quiet moment when he stopped, turned off his engine and stood with me, side by side, witnessing the expressions of love before us. The stranger reflected with me silently then squeezed my shoulder as he turned to leave. I don’t know who the gentleman was, but I felt connected to him. Any friend of Jeff’s was a friend of mine.
A young driver struck and killed Jeff as he did what he did every Saturday morning — ride his bike to meet up with his buddies for the weekly group ride. I imagine he was smiling, enjoying the prospect of putting the hurt on his friends as he rode down East 84th, a quiet residential street littered with speed bumps. Lake Otis Elementary School is a few blocks westward—no doubt the neighborhood is chock full of families with young children.
In the cycling community, Jeff was known as Mr. Safety. He always wore a helmet and wore brightly colored clothing to be visible to motorists. He was always the one who said, “We’re out here to have fun. Let’s be careful.”
Jeff competed in bike races long and short, summer and winter, mountain and road. He loved to ride fast and he loved to suffer. One of his favorite sayings was, “Why suffer a little when you can suffer a lot?”
Mike Vania, one of Jeff’s PipSport/Chain Reaction Racing teammates, says that Jeff infected countless others with his love of biking.
“He always took the time to get someone’s toe in the water and show them how cool cycling is,” Vania explained. “The light switch would go on — I can do this and I had no idea. He did that with me. He had the patience to take time out of his life to introduce that to people. He had the ability to expand their universe.”
Jeff was known for his kindness and support of people as well as his athletic accomplishments. He served on the Fireweed—The Race Across Alaska Committee since its inception in 2003. He provided the food and beverages for the aid stations serving throngs of cyclists. And he did so with a sense of calm and ease. He never asked for gratitude, accolades or attention. He enjoyed being involved in his community, which was enough reward for Jeff.
Jeff’s celebration of life at ChangePoint Church approached room capacity of 1,500 guests. The Arctic Bicycle Club canceled the evening’s race so that its members could attend. Instead, the Club encouraged people to register for the race anyhow so that the entry fees could be donated to the Boys and Girls Club in his memory. One hundred and eighty people, the largest field ever, entered to “race” for Jeff.
Vania summed it up nicely.
“Jeff was my best friend,” he said at Jeff’s celebration, “but Jeff had many best friends so I knew that I would have to share him.”
No matter whom you were Jeff gave you his full attention and in that moment he made you feel like you were his best friend.
As I contemplated the display of flowers and personal tributes to Jeff at Spruce Park, I couldn’t help but think that with a split second to either side of the impact, Jeff would still be with us. The event seems so random. It could easily have been a child walking to the park; a woman walking a dog; a line of kids riding their bikes.
The bouquets may wither and their colors fade, but not our memories of Jeff Dusenbury and the way he touched so many in our community.
Note: Jeff Dusenbury is the third bicycling fatality this year on Anchorage’s streets. Charges have been filed against the driver who hit him.