Lees-McRae coach remembers Megan Baab

After cyclist Megan Baab was killed on Thursday, Dec. 15, in a tragic collision with a swerving truck, Luke Winger, her cycling coach from Lees-McRae College, traveled to Texas to attend Baab's funeral, which was held on Tuesday, Dec. 20. After returning back to Avery County, Winger spoke with The Avery Journal-Times to share his memories and thoughts about Baab.

"I certainly want the general public to know what kind of person she was. As a coach, I really enjoyed having her on the team."

Winger, who recruited Baab for the LMC cycling team, remembered a fun-loving, enthusiastic young woman.

"She was a blast," said Winger. "Absolutely, a very positive person. In cycling, you get all types, but she was very upbeat, fun, even goofy a lot of the time. She seemed to get along with everybody."

In Winger's mind, it is Baab's fun-loving, goofy idiosyncrasies that will stick in his mind.

"She was proud of eating a lot of food," recalled Winger, who explained that while other girls would shy away from a big meal, Baab would dig in, joking about growing a "food baby."

"She was very upbeat, motivated and driven," said Winger, pointing out that Baab's perpetual enthusiasm made her an exceptional athlete in spite of being new to collegiate cycling competitions.

"She was a freshman, but she was doing every discipline, which is amazing.

She had already gotten on the Kenda team," said Winger. "She was new, but she was very good. She had a lot of potential; a lot of talent."

According to Winger, however, her talent and athleticism were not as big a factor in her success as her personality.

"Her attitude and training ethic would have gotten her any goal she set in front of her," said Winger. "She was a very motivated rider."

According to Winger, Baab had planned to fly back to her hometown in Euless, Texas on Thursday, Dec. 22. Although Lees-McRae classes officially ended on Thursday, Dec. 8, Baab had stayed in the area to continue her part-time job and ride.

"She was training and racing for a few extra weeks before heading home," said Winger.

Although the cycling team typically rides in groups, on the day she died, Baab was training alone. She was completing a route that serves as a common course for training in the mountains, according to Winger.

"She was on what we call "the Pyatte loop."

When asked what lesson bikers and drivers should take away from the tragedy of Baab's death, Winger spoke frankly.

"With this particular incident, hands down, if you are tired, get off the road," he said. "Driving while tired is worse than driving intoxicated."

Winger also spoke about a response that he found disturbing.

"We get phone calls and they tell us 'get your riders off our roads.' That's the thing that is really hard to hear. Bicycles are legal vehicles ... We see the bicycle as a vehicle for social change," said Winger, who also pointed out the health benefits of cycling. "This area is viewed by much of the country as one of the best places to ride. It was her dream to come here."

According to Winger, more than 350 of Baab's friends, family and fellow riders convened outside of Dallas, Texas, for a ride in her memory.

Another bicycle ride in Baab's honor is already being planned for Thursday, Jan. 21, 2012, in Copperas Cove, Texas, to raise funds for the Megan Baab Memorial Scholarship Fund. For more information on the race and scholarship established in Baab's memory, click to http://www.bikereg.com .asp?eventid=14785.