Blue was Derek Jensen’s favorite color. It was the color of the bike he rode to work every day before a motorist accidentally struck him down June 14 on Golden Springs Road, ending his life. And it was the color of the wristbands worn by many of the nearly 100 cyclists who turned out to ride in Jensen’s memory.
This article contains reports from Amy Donaldson of the Deseret News of Salt Lake City, by special arrangement with The Star
“It is so touching and overwhelming,” Jensen’s widow, Mina Jensen, said of the turnout after releasing a heavy sigh. “I’m really grateful for all of the support from the community.”
Sponsored by the Northeast Alabama Bicycle Association, the memorial ride consisted of a one-mile trek down Golden Springs Road. Jensen, 37 of Oxford, rode the same road every day to his job as director of public affairs at the Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston. The association held the event to honor one of its own, but also to bring attention to traffic safety.
Meanwhile, in Utah on this same Wednesday morning, other family members and co-workers from Jensen’s previous jobs held a memorial service and a different bike ride.
There, Jensen’s younger sister, Lisa Jensen, and brother, Kurt Jensen, wore matching blue cycling shirts as they rode from the capitol building in Salt Lake City to Ensign Peak, a steep six-mile climb up to an elevation of about 5,400 feet. Their uncle, Russ James, rode with them as well. It took the three of them about an hour and a half to finish the ride, which they began about 6:15 a.m. local time. The ride was meant to coincide with what was happening in Alabama.
“It was good, but we were pretty beat,” said his brother, Kurt Jensen, the one who lured Derek into mountain biking when the two roomed together at Ricks College in Idaho. “We stopped and took some pictures; we talked. It was really nice.”
In Anniston, the blue wristbands were sold prior to the event to create a scholarship fund for Jensen’s three children. Preston York, vice president of the association and a long-time friend of Jensen’s, said the goal was to raise at least $1,000 from the sale of the wristbands.
“We’ve surpassed our $1,000 mark already and we’re still selling,” York said. “We have ordered more.”
Kurt Jensen said they’ve ordered wristbands to sell in Utah, and they will likely try to organize another ride next year, albeit a little easier course.
York said he was not surprised his sales goal was quickly met and was glad about the large turnout of cyclists.
“I think this is wonderful and heartwarming,” York said. “I see a lot of familiar faces, but it’s great to see a lot that I don’t know.”
Rusty Nall of Oxford was eating a Pop-Tart as he prepared his bicycle for the ride. Unlike others at the event Wednesday, Nall had never met Jensen.
“But even though it’s somebody you don’t know, it hits us all close to home,” Nall said. “We all ride these roads.”
Nall said road safety can be an issue for cyclists in the area.
“It’s typically not, but on a lot of the back roads with traffic, it can be,” he said.
Anna Shea-Nicholls, who prepared the balloons, said she knew Jensen briefly as a fellow member of the association.
“The club is strongly supportive of any member and what Derek stood for,” Shea-Nicholls said. “Cycling safety was very important to him as a parent.”
Haley Gregg of Oxford just started cycling about three months ago, but had known Jensen for almost a year through her job operating the Leadership Calhoun County program for the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce. The program provides leadership training for young professionals.
“He graduated in the 2012 leadership class … he was very humble and fun to be around, very athletic and had his priorities in order,” Gregg said.
Jensen’s character was recalled by people who loved and admired him from his years working in Utah, too. Family members, extended family members and friends held a memorial service that included life sketches by the three who rode for him in the morning.
“It was a wonderful celebration of Derek’s life,” said his mother, Susan Jensen, of the simultaneous rides and the memorial service that allowed extended family to mourn the family’s loss. “It was so healing and so comforting to hear beautiful stories of what a neat young man he was.”
For Derek’s siblings, it was a chance to say goodbye in the place where they grew up, surrounded by the family who loved them all.
“The last two weeks have been kind of in between somewhere,” said Kurt Jensen. “This feels like it was kind of closure. I don’t know what the new normal looks like, but we’ll figure it out. Today felt like a turning point, a beginning.”
Amy Donaldson of Deseret News can be reached at email@example.com. Patrick McCreless can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org 256-235-3561