ST. LOUIS - At Big Shark Bike Company in Richmond Heights, Casey Saunders was more than a dedicated employee.
“He was a great person all around. He was always willing to do anything,” said store manager Kayce Shelton.
To some, he was more like family.
Owner Mike Weiss added, “I don’t feel like I was his boss. I was somewhere between a work parent and a buddy.”
The 29-year-old Webster Groves native was considered a trusted friend, a dedicated teammate and most notably, a master of the sport he spent much of his youth working to perfect.
Shelton said, “I only knew Casey through bikes, but that’s how you know Casey. It was such an important part about him.”
“If it was on a bike, he’d do it and he’d do it really well,” Weiss said.
Saunders traveled the country and the Midwest as a competitive cyclist. But as successful as he was, those who knew him best knew it never went to his head.
Weiss said, “He had these gifts, but he still enjoyed working and hanging out. It was all in perspective for him. He wasn’t going to be in the Tour de France.”
And to those who competed against him, Saunders was never an enemy.
“He was the kind of guy who would beat you in a race, but stop afterward and encourage you,” Shelton remembered.
But tragically, the very sport that was so close to his heart is also the one that killed him.
Saunders died Sunday while racing in Kansas City. Witnesses and those familiar with the accident said he slammed into a metal barrier along the race route.
Emergency personnel were unable to revive him and he was pronounced dead on scene from a head injury.
Weiss struggled to make sense of the tragedy.
“There’s almost not explaining it,” he said.
So now the St. Louis cycling community is left to cope with Saunder’s noticeable absence.
“I don’t think we’ll have another one like him in the Midwest,” Weiss said.
On Monday night, a group of about 50 people rode from the Grove neighborhood to Penrose Park in north St. Louis in Saunders’ memory.
For those who worked and rode with him, it was therapeutic to see so much support.
“Casey was such a fixture for so long as such an amazing person. It’s not surprising at all, all the outpouring of emotion and support,” Shelton said.
And for others, the lasting legacy of Saunders’ talent and humility will be to keep his spirit alive.
“Maybe our takeaway is that we’ll all just try to be a little more like him,” Weiss said.
Saunders leaves behind his parents, a girlfriend and countless of other relatives and friends.
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