In an article published the day before, Velonews called the 26-mile memorial ride and 1-mile walk planned for 19-year-old Tommy Ketterhagen on Sunday, Jan. 29, a “somber” event. But while the group had the gravity of a funeral procession, a palpable sense of meaning and importance, there was nothing dark or subdued about it. The group more than 550 riders strong, in their bright rainbow of colors, was reminiscent of one of those aerial views of the Tour de France peloton strung out serpentine through the hills, the footage that makes you question whether the guys at the back even know whether they’re in the race.
On Jan. 23, Tommy was struck and killed riding on a quiet stretch of farm road in Georgetown. These riders who had arrived en masse six days later to honor him were his family, his friends, his 787 Racing teammates, those who raced with him, those who knew him, and perhaps just as many people who didn’t know him at all but recognized that he was among their extended network of cycling brethren. The memorial ride started at East View High School, where Tommy graduated in 2015, and followed one of his regular training routes.
“We were struck by a few things,” said Shiva Mayer, one of Tommy’s teammates and a board member for 787 Racing.” The extraordinary turnout on very little notice. The outpouring of support for the Ketterhagen family. Perhaps most palpable was the overwhelming sense of camaraderie—even those who didn’t know Tommy personally shared common memories of the cyclists ‘accidentally’ killed before him, and the specter that any one of us could have been in his place.”
A few miles in, the group stopped by the lonely stretch of Patriot Way where flowers were piled, visible from all around. Where Tommy had fallen seemed to be less than 2 feet from the edge of the road. More questions were raised by the arrest of the hit-and-run driver on Thursday than answered, and here is where you seemed to feel them the most. Was it truly a “dropped phone” that had caused the man to veer into the oncoming lane of traffic and wide shoulder where Tommy was riding, in that exact moment? How could the driver, as he had claimed in his written statement, not seen Tommy’s body or known that he had struck a person head on, especially since a witness had reported that he and his passenger got out of the car to look? Many pieces don’t fit, a narrative that seems to expect us not to ask simple, important questions simply by virtue of the fact that the victim was on a bike. As we got off our own bikes and stood shoulder to shoulder, there was a sense of unreality to it all, and a simmering anger—which would wait. This day was more about Tommy’s life than his death.
“Quite frankly, he’s probably saying, ‘Dad just move on, will you? Let’s go ride.”
Tom Ketterhagen, Tommy’s father, spoke above the place where his son had died, telling the hundreds of riders who’d encircled him that he wanted everyone who knew Tommy to remember his smile, and to keep riding: “Quite frankly, he’s probably saying, ‘Dad just move on, will you? Let’s go ride.” Tommy’s dog, who Tom said normally never remains still more than an instant, wouldn’t leave the spot.
If you were expecting a protest or demonstration, a collective wail of anger and grief, this wasn’t it. One rider compared it to a group hug. The sky was blue and endless, the road was rolling, the wind was merciless over flat fields of brown grass, and you were a part of this fluid, beautiful thing that was both bigger than itself and as small as any single rider. You forget, if you haven’t ridden with a group in a while, the magic of how so many moving parts fit together – the endless, indescribable ebb and flow of it.
The group split up eventually along the route, whether segmented by the hills or wind or stoplights, and mock breakaways and chase groups formed here and there. Riders pulled at the front with all their strength; other riders held onto the back with all of theirs. An impromptu race happened at the finish when 20 or so riders, including Tommy’s older brother Robby Ketterhagen, sprinted to the line. Lungs heaved, legs ached.
“This,” you might have thought, if you were there that day. “This is what it’s all about.” It went back to what Tommy’s father had said before we rolled out that morning with one friendly, shining, unforgettable young face missing from our midst: a mix of joy and pain.
Donations are being accepted to help with funeral expenses and the education of the Ketterhagen children. Visit the T. Ketterhagen Memorial Foundation gofundme HERE.