TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WIAT) — Brian Smith made his way around.
Each year, the Alabama cyclist logged thousands of miles on his recumbent cycle, participating in events across the Yellowhammer State and garnering the affection of nearly everyone he met along the way.
This week, it was memories of Brian that made their way around, provoking solemn smiles and lamenting laughs from those who knew and loved the Tuscaloosa cyclist. Brian Smith had died Thursday from an apparent heart attack, according to an announcement by the Alabama Backroads Century Series.
“It is with a broken heart that I share this news about our very dear friend Brian Smith who passed today and was lost to us forever,” the announcement said in part. “He was a bulldog in his efforts to overcome what most could not imagine and was so loved for his strength and sense of humor.”
Immediately, the stories rolled in.
Among them, the word “delightful” appeared more than once.
Karen Clanton recalled Brian’s determination to finish a cycling event in 2017. Event officials had begun pulling people off the course, she explained, but a handful of participants refused to quit.
“Brian was literally the last person to come in that say,” she wrote. “He had such determination to finish what he started and had such a supportive group of friends to share those moments with him.”
His sense of humor, Clanton said, “was sly and delightfully unexpected.”
Joe Varner said he still remembers the first time he saw Brian Smith. Brian was a blur.
“He blasted past me at the Hot Hundred in Tuscaloosa,” Varner said. “I thought, ‘Wow.'”
Varner said he remembers Smith telling him that the Tristates 100 was his favorite ride. Verner had been the ride director for the event.
“Now he may have told every ride director that,” Varner said. “If he did, that’s fine. But I’m gonna hold on to that memory.”
Brooke Nicholls Nelson, ride director for the Cheaha Challenge, said Brian was one of a kind — delightful, she said. In its announcement of Brian’s passing, the century series had posted a picture of Nelson kissing Brian on the cheek as he finished the challenge.
“Look at that impish grin…” she said. “Brian overcame everything life threw at him and was an amazing example of how we should live our lives.”
Katherine Nichols was one of the many inspired by Brian.
“I wanted to complain, but after meeting Brian, I could not,” she wrote.
Brian had been in a car accident as a teen, she explained, and was in a coma. He hadn’t been expected to live. But he did. And Brian Smith not only lived, he thrived. He graduated high school and college. He earned a master’s degree. Eventually, too, he gained the love and respect of those who knew him.
In the days that come, Brian Smith’s loved ones will honor him the only know they know how — on two wheels.
“How blessed we all were to have shared the road with such an inspiring, funny, and determined guy,” Varner said of Brian. “My best memory was ‘helping’ him finish Glassner the year the route ventured north. We joined forces just south of Pine Level and encouraged each other all the way to the finish. He didn’t need my help but it was a joy to finish with him. Thanks, Brian. Ride on, brother.”