Steamboat cyclists rally to ride, honor memory of Cody St. John | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat cyclists rally to ride, honor memory of Cody St. John

Dave Shively

If a man’s character is, as Winston Churchill once said, measured, “by the choices he makes under pressure,” then it would be easy to quantify who Dean “Cody” St. John was by the decisions he made day in, day out during his tenure on the Steamboat Ski Area Ski Patrol.

Ski Patrol Director John Kohnke knew from the moment he interviewed him that St. John would be the kind of guy to “walk through walls for you.”

St. John joined the patrol in January 2004 and quickly established himself as a dedicated patroller who could always be relied on.

After just three years with a tight-knit patrol whose members averaged 16 years of experience, St. John earned Colorado’s 2006 Ski Patroller of the Year award. Not only was he the youngest person to ever receive the award, he also was the first snowboard patroller to win it.

“I felt that he would be a star – his character is so strong,” Kohnke said. “He has this energy that’s indomitable.”

St. John, 29, died April 8 from injuries sustained in an April 2 car accident with a southbound logging truck on Colo. Highway 127 near the Wyoming border, where St. John was traveling to his nursing program orientation at the University of Wyoming.

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St. John’s network of family and close friends were thrust into an emotional tailspin. Suddenly they were the ones forced to respond to an accident and to make decisions under pressure.

Almost exactly two years before the car accident, St. John had been the first to respond when Wann McNiff took a spill on Mount Werner. The pair ended up friends, and McNiff introduced St. John to her best friend, Katrene “Kat” Lewis, sparking what became a serious and lasting relationship.

So when it was McNiff’s turn to react to St. John’s accident, she felt the choice came down to two options.

“I figured there were two roads you can go down – the negative, going out to bars or doing bad things to your body versus doing the positive thing,” McNiff said, inspired by the thought of St. John’s plan to ride in the 100-mile Tour de Prairie Cycling Adventure on June 23 in Cheyenne, Wyo. “Everybody just kept saying they wanted to do it.”

McNiff rallied the support of 22 of St. John’s friends to show for the tour. Some rode, others were part of the support vehicle.

Lewis wasn’t sure she could complete the ride, pained from the loss of the man she considered her “soulmate, the absolute love of my life.”

“Physically, the most I had ridden before the tour was probably 15 to 20 miles,” Lewis said. “I thought that maybe I shouldn’t ride, but I quickly stopped that thought and asked, ‘What would Cody do?’ and that thought alone got me out there. :Without any training and to feel that strength – I had to have gotten that from Cody.”

“Kat was an animal that day,” Ryan Thompson, a roommate and fellow patroller with St. John, said about Lewis’ showing at the tour.

Thompson also said St. John provided the inspiration to get him out on a road bike, so he decided to make 12 custom “Ride for Cody” jerseys for the cyclists to wear.

The pack included riders like Michelle Baxter, who had trained and bought a road bike specifically for the tour, and Paul Gilbertson, who kept up with the roadies by plugging away on his mountain bike. Even with stops, everyone finished the tour in less than six hours.

Chris Jakubowski separated from the pack and rode ahead, knowing that Cody would have wanted to do it in five hours.

Jakubowski had been riding seriously for about five years before he got St. John hooked on the idea of road cycling during long winters at Ski Patrol headquarters. In the three since St. John started riding, Jakubowski was amazed at his progression.

“He’d come along with me – I guess I kind of took him under my wing,” Jakubowski said. “But then he became my training partner. We’d go two to three times a week, and he’d really push me. It’s hard to find someone to ride with where you get equal satisfaction out of the ride.”

Cycling became St. John’s passion. Lewis chalked it up to “a fire in his belly that would keep him going in the rain and the wind.”

Jakubowski and St. John gave last July’s Triple Bypass Bicycle Tour (from Evergreen to Avon) a crack after their first Tour de Prairie, missing the five-hour mark by only 15 minutes.

Jakubowski had the goal and Cody’s memory in his mind. He shaved off minutes, but still missed the mark.

“With Cody, I would have broken it,” Jakubowski said. “I felt this year he would’ve passed me and kept pushing me…you’re always stronger with someone than you are alone.”

But in the end, whether it was in the riders’ hearts or minds, St. John’s energy seemed to be present and proved to be exactly how those closest to him saw it – indomitable, unable to be conquered.

“When we were in the wind where you want to draft off one another, in those moments, we were drafting in our mini Cody pod in the jerseys, and it felt like Cody was there with us,” Lewis said. “It was very surreal and comforting.”

McNiff said plans are already in the works to make the ride an annual tradition.

St. John’s friends and family hope to preserve his legacy through the formation of a memorial scholarship fund for ski patrollers pursuing additional college education in a medical field. Visit http://www.whatwouldcodydo.net.