Over 60 riders got on their bikes at the Tahuna BMX track on Wednesday night for an emotionally-charged memorial ride for Nelson superstar freestyle rider Kelly McGarry who died suddenly in Queenstown on Monday.
The 33-year-old tragically died after suffering a cardiac arrest while biking on the Fernhill Loop. Two paramedics from Queenstown were flown to the track after reports of a mountainbiker suffering a medical incident but Kelly died at the scene.
Nelson photographer Grant Stirling says Tahuna’s BMX track was a fitting venue for Kelly’s memorial ride because that was where the “tall, skinny kid” from Wakefield first launched his bike into the stratosphere. Kelly was a keen BMX rider before switching to mountainbikes and becoming one of the world’s top professional freestyle riders.
“I remember the first time I saw him on a bike was at the BMX track at Tahuna,” Grant says. “I was photographing a wedding and we were having a break when I saw a “tall, skinny kid” on a BMX bike doing this amazing stuff.
“I went over and started taking photos of him doing these out-there jumps. He was doing things back then that are still crazy today.
“I remember standing in the dips of the jumps and he was flying through the air five metres above me doing front flips. It was absolutely amazing.”
Grant says there was a “subdued” feeling at Wednesday’s memorial ride organised by a Nelson cyclist Chris Sharland, who was a close friend of Kelly’s.
“Everyone was asking ‘how did this happen’. It was pretty solemn and subdued.”
Grant says he was impressed with the number of young riders attending the memorial, reflecting the big impression Kelly always made during his regular visits to schools around Nelson.
Kelly, who attended Wakefield School, Waimea Intermediate and Waimea College before pursuing a career as a professional free-rider, backflipped to fame in the Red Bull Rampage in Utah in 2013. The GoPro video of Kelly’s electrifying and now famous backflip over a 21.9m canyon received over 28 million views on YouTube.