The 2014 version in July in Pincher Creek will miss having a caring presence with the recent passing of cycling enthusiast Joe McMurdo, who passed away last month.
McMurdo leaves behind a 30-year legacy for cycling events in the Southern Alberta Summer Games, being involved in the Games as a whole even pre-dating that.
“Other areas who have hosted the Games often used him as a reference for how to do things. From a whole Southern Alberta Recreation Association (SARA) board perspective, Joe was the epitomy of grassroots participation which is what the Games are about,” said Aline Holmen, leisure services manager for the Town of Taber, who is also involved in SARA.
If a child was interested in cycling, McMurdo made sure he could compete in the Games regardless of financial ability — he would find a bike somewhere for the child and fix it up.
“He used to haul bikes in the back of his truck to different Games. One year in Crowsnest Pass, he hauled bikes in the back of his truck and slept in his truck because he was scared someone would steal the bikes and he wanted to make sure the kids could compete,” said Holmen.
“He was amazing that way, if kids wanted to ride but didn’t have a bike, he’d find them a bike somewhere. He’d borrow one, or repair an older bike. And he would haul them for them if they couldn’t get it there. If you rode for him for the Summer Games, he would send a child a birthday Loonie.”
Since 1983, the M.D. contingent for the Southern Alberta Summer Games held the championship every year except 1989 and 1990, due in no small part to McMurdo’s influence, encouraging youth and adults alike to participate in cycling as the team quite often outnumbered other regions in participation.
The only reason for that gap in Taber Cycle Team tiles was because of the format that changed, much to McMurdo’s chagrin, not because of losing the titles, but because child participation was getting phased out.
The Max Gibb Award winner McMurdo did not sit idly by, writing letters to make cycling the grassroots event it was meant to be, by getting away from it being geared for adults only.
“We all remember riding our bikes as kids, it’s natural. Our SARA board said it’s tough to find someone that passionate about the Games in general and keeping it grassroots. He fought for the kids,” said Holmen.
“It used to be a four-kilometre bike ride and he fought for two kilometres so the little kids with the smaller bikes could still participate in a manageable distance. He was always trying to do things to include people. He did some amazing things.”
As McMurdo’s final days were winding down, he asked Janny DeVlieger and Jane Bydevaate to carry on the tradition for the Games.
“When Joe got older and more tired, Jane Bydevaate and I started to help him a bit and he asked us to keep the cycling going after he would pass away. We made that solemn promise and we ran last year’s Summer Games already for and with him, we learned a lot from that experience and Joe was happy with our leadership. Now we hope to keep our promise for as long as the “Good Lord” as Joe would say, gives us the strength and energy to do so,” said DeVlieger.
McMurdo trained DeVlieger’s children at the Stake Centre in cycling and convinced Janny herself to compete in a relay for the Games in the early 90s’ in Fort Macleod.
“After I finished he said; ‘if I had known you could bike like that, you would have been biking for me for years already.’ Well these Dutch legs of mine, pretty well cycled right after birth, so no wonder he made me join the team. He took me that winter to buy a good bike and I enjoyed years of cycling for him in the Summer Games.”
If you saw the cycling events these last few decades, wherever they were in Southern Alberta, McMurdo’s passion for it was self evident.
“He is certainly going to be missed. If you look at cycling in the Games, 90 per cent of the participants are from Taber and the M.D. Last year we had over 100 cyclists which was the largest cycling event in years at Summer Games.”