He hurtled down the hill faster than anyone, reached the bottom, then leaped off his bike and raised it aloft in celebration as World Cup champion.
And nearly 1,000 people watching the video of the race at Steve Smith’s celebration of life May 21 at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre clapped and whooped, as if watching a live broadcast. We wanted to cheer him one more time. We wanted to cheer on Stevie Smith, the Canadian Chainsaw, Canada’s greatest gravity racer, one of Nanaimo’s best-ever athletes, period.
He lived on two wheels, and then he died on two wheels this month after crashing his dirt bike. He was 26.
En route to becoming a world-renowned rider, Smith grew up riding his bike in Cassidy, then discovered the Nanaimo BMX Association track.
“I knew there was something special about this kid – his love for riding, and the fierce, competitive drive to be the best that he could be,” said Mike Davidson, longtime BMX exec, at Smith’s celebration of life.
(Slick) Steve Smith, as he was known then, would go for a risky pass in the heats, even when he had already qualified for the finals. Second wasn’t good enough. When the dust settled at the BMX track, Smith had won 114 of his 165 career races.
He was fast on a BMX track. He was faster when gravity came into play, especially on Mount Prevost, which he rode over and over, his mom Tiann driving him back up to the top each time.
He began racing downhill, and winning, and reached the pinnacle of his sport with the overall World Cup title in 2013. He was a legend in downhill mountain biking, but not everyone knows that he was at the same time a mentor and a riding buddy to so many here. He had a way of coaxing people a little bit outside their comfort level on the trails. Even now, he will remain an inspiration for other riders.
“I’ll ride for you forever, bro,” said George Brannigan, his teammate.
Smith raced around the globe, rode his bike for a living and conquered the best and fastest courses. And then he would come back home, where the riding is every bit as world-class, if you know where to go and if you ride like Steve Smith, who would “literally carpe diem every damn day,” as his friend Jenna Frajman put it. It was an awesome ride, Smith would have said.
Kara Harrington said her brother lived three lifetimes in his short one.
“He filled his days with adventure and joy. He lived…” his sister said. “And there’s something that I hope we can all take away from this and learn from him. Don’t waste your days.”
Caily Schenkeveld, Smith’s girlfriend, said he inspired her, and so many others, to make the most of the moment.
“Whatever gets your blood racing is probably worth doing,” she said. “Steve knew that and lived by it.”
Eric Smith, Steve’s uncle, said when his nephew started downhill racing, “I knew I’d be standing here one day talking to y’all,” about Stevie Smith, “the man with no fear and balls of steel.”
And inevitability collided with invincibility, and we’re left with memories and, maybe, meaning.
No one will ever ride quite like Steve, who cycled down a hill faster than anyone else in the entire world. How could we keep up with him? Of course we couldn’t. No one could.
You and I won’t race in the World Cup, and we might not even ride down Mount Prevost, but to be sure, we’ll find our own ups and downs. Maybe we won’t seize every damn day, the way Steve Smith did, but maybe we can seize some more of them.
Will it be an awesome ride? Or are we just along for the ride?
— Greg Sakaki (@BulletinSports) May 24, 2016