Ed Sander Memorial Cyclo-cross: A Father’s Legacy As Told By His Team


by Gus Grissom
Ed's son Chris on a tandem back in 2001
Ed's son Chris on a tandem back in 2001
There’s the old saying “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” And most amateur bike racers know that the same rule generally applies to long training rides, road trips and afternoons spent hanging out at a race course. Regardless of a racer’s particular discipline, there will always be at least a few stories that begin with “you won’t believe what happened this one time.” Not that all of those stories are negative, of course. In fact, most racing team stories are told through tears of laughter and end with the consensus that “that’s just the sort of thing he’d do” for his friends on the team. In some respects, stories like this are every rider’s future legacy for the cycling community, a legacy that not many think about regularly. But for one team and one family in the Mid-Atlantic region, the stories of a racer’s life have helped his son know the sort of man his dad was and have formed the basis of an amazing legacy left behind by a life cut short. For Ed Sander, the Ed Sander Memorial cyclo-cross race and scholarship fund established by his team is his legacy; for the National Capital Velo Club (NCVC), the annual race and the support it has provided for Ed’s family is a tangible sign of the strong bonds a committed cycling team can forge.
The relationship began in 2001 when Ed Sander was killed in a tragic training accident. While his family was understandably devastated, his teammates, like so many cyclists across the country, began wondering aloud “what can we do?” Knowing that Ed was survived by his young son Chris, the team focused their efforts on helping with Chris’ education and began searching for ways to establish a college fund. According to Greg Abbott, current NCVC president, they started by putting on a century ride that began and ended at the Lilypons Water Gardens in Adamstown, MD where Ed was “remembered fondly by the community he built around him.”
Erik Leaver, the current race promoter adds, “we cooked up a pancake breakfast with all of the Lilypons’ employees for the riders. And since then, they've been willing to help us in any way possible with the race. We are so lucky to have their support.” The team was even able to include Ed’s son directly by putting him on a tandem with one of the NCVC riders for one loop of the clover-shaped course.
While the century ride was successful, the team noticed that cyclo-cross was the fastest growing discipline among cyclists and that the Lilypons Water Gardens offered a unique opportunity for a first-rate cyclo-cross course. “It seemed that there was a boom starting for ‘cross,” Abbott explains, “and it was just a natural progression to give folks a chance to race for charity instead of simply riding.” Racers from across the Mid-Atlantic agreed and flocked to the new cyclo-cross venue. Abbott explains, “the cyclo-cross boom has helped us raise money so effectively for Ed’s son.” These efforts have resulted in nearly forty-thousand dollars being set aside for the memorial scholarship. Chris, who is an endurance athlete in his own right and races cross-country, is now making use of that college fund as a freshman at York College of Pennsylvania.
The beer barrier tent
The beer barrier tent

But it’s not just the money that has helped the team form a bond with Ed’s son. Abbott explains that Ed’s family, including Chris, has been involved with the race since its inception. This involvement has given Ed’s former teammates so many opportunities to talk to Chris about his father as he has grown up. While the stories initially helped Chris heal, Abbott explains that they later helped him understand the kind of man his dad had been and the sort of man he should aspire to be. “Just hanging out at the race with Ed’s teammates,” Abbott explains, “opened up a little window for Chris to see what his dad was like as an athlete and as a person. Chris has been able to see a side of his dad that he might have never seen even if had not been for the accident.” Other family members confirm that having the support of his dad’s teammates and the stories of his dad as a racer really helped Chris to heal and then to grow up with a wiser perspective and a strong sense that “his dad mattered.”
Though Ed’s son is now in college and doing well, his father’s teammates are absolutely committed that the relationship should not end. In fact, they see Chris’ current status as a college student simply as the start of the next phase of the memorial scholarship. Recently the team announced plans to broaden their fund-raising efforts by establishing “the Ed Sander Memorial Scholarship fund.” According to the press release, “this scholarship will be specifically designed to help students who have lost a parent in a bicycle accident,” and will help to soften the blow this sort of tragedy wreaks on the entire cycling community.
As for the race itself, the event has grown steadily over the years is now considered one of the “marquis events” on the Mid-Atlantic cyclo-cross calendar and is part of the Mid-Atlantic’s Super8CX.  As Abbott explains, “just like almost every cyclo-cross race these days, our team has gotten caught up in the ‘arms race’ to make the event as popular as possible and to make it stand out from the others in a very vibrant Mid-Atlantic schedule.” To that end, he explains, the race now features a beer tent that both raises money for the scholarship fund through the sale of pint glasses and encourages spectators to hang out throughout the course of the day to enjoy the atmosphere.
One of the more exciting features, however, is that the beer tent is also part of the race
course itself as competitors enter one end of the huge tent to face both the crowd of party-goers as well as the regulation barriers. “We’re trying to put the social aspect of the event right alongside its heated competitive aspect.” Abbott adds that, “yes, we’ll be serving food and trying to tempt folks to stick around even longer by offering free waffles to go along with the beer.” For the families, of course, there is always a moon bounce, a L’il Belgians race and other family-oriented activities. The event, after all, is designed to celebrate not only the memory of a life spent racing with friends, but also the reality of a family with whom Ed Sander’s team has bonded.  As far as a racer’s legacy goes, the National Capital Velo Club is certainly a team that has gone beyond swapping stories about racing exploits; they’ve given these stories as memories to a son who might otherwise not have realized just how much his father mattered to what would otherwise be a random group of adults having fun on their bicycles.

This Article Published November 2, 2013 For more information contact:
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