The First Bike-A-Thon Riders: Bruce Matasci

Dennis Westler, former Different Spokes President, wrote this obituary, which was originally published in the March 1991 ChainLetter. Dennis’ recollection of Bruce is spot-on. Bruce had the distinction of having having been a member of the Specialized Bicycle racing team and having raced against a young Greg Lemond. He was the cyclist that many of us in the club aspired to emulate. I interviewed Dr. Bob Bolan about that first BAT and he recalled that he rode the event at full speed and that only one guy was ahead of him. He kept trying to reach this guy and never could—he just vanished up the road. At each rest stop he’d pull in just as this rider was taking off. He couldn’t remember who that guy was. Bob asked me if I was that guy! Uh no, it wasn’t me because I didn’t ride in the first BAT due to graduate school. Who was the ultra fast rider who got to Guerneville first? Bruce. And, as Dennis mentions Bruce had a fist full of Gay Games cycling medals as his palmares! Bruce’s BAR obituary is found here.

 

In Memoriam, Bruce Matasci 3/2/56-2/2/91

Out on my bicycle last weekend, in every strong graceful cyclist who approached, I thought I saw Bruce. And I had to tell myself over and over again that he was gone.

Back in the early 1980s when I joined Different Spokes, bicycle racers seemed like some godlike breed. I would see them training in their bright, tight clothes. They never seemed to smile; they would snarl at you as they passed. I loved the sport, but the practitioners of it seemed so awful.

And then there was Bruce—smiling, kind of quiet, but friendly. Fiercely competitive but so full of enthusiasm for the sport, he would always offer instruction and encouragement. He was attractive. He was effortlessly masculine. He was licensed! Here was a racer with no chip on his shoulder.

I remember riding with him in the road race in Gay Games II. I had been training furiously. We were both riding in mid-pack. The race was hard and exciting, and to me it was amazing to be able to keep up with him. In the last 200 yards, he put on a sprint and just sailed off. Hammering ’til I thought I’d bust a vein, I couldn’t stay on his wheel. That man was strong!

I remember the first Bike-A-Thon, riding up to the Russian River. That night Bruce, Walter [Teague], and I were driven to a party way out in the country. It was to honor the participants, we were told. Unbeknownst to us it was a radical faery collective. Surrounded by men in fanciful costume and aboriginal makeup, we were afraid to touch any of the food or drink for fear they were laced with psychedelics. As the group began some bizarre ritual led by a man seated inside a pyramid of saplings, we knew we had to leave. Bruce, Walter, and I walked miles back into town in the rural darkness, talking and laughing, and I felt close to Bruce for the first time.

I remember riding with Bruce in last year’s Bike-A-Thon. He had not been training heavily but was still able to work my butt off. He probably already knew at that point that his health was declining but he chose to tell no one but his partner Fred. He went to the Games in Vancouver despite his knowledge, and was triumphant as he had been in the two previous Games. The last time I rode with Bruce, he seemed as strong as ever. Early in December he was struck by a car while riding, and never really recovered from the accident. He died from complications of HIV infection.

I will remember Bruce for the rest of my life for many things—his humor, his skill, his honesty and clear sight, his ability to care, his big legs. I will see his image when I strive to be better on my bike. And I will see his image when I strive to be better as a person.

-Dennis Westler

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One thought on “The First Bike-A-Thon Riders: Bruce Matasci

  1. Tony, thanks for posting these reports about some of the people who participated in the first AIDS Bike-A-Thon. I was particularly interested in the one about Bob Bolan because I was also living in Madison during the late 70s (attending graduate school at UW from 74 to 79, to be exact.) That was when my love affair with cycling began. Cycling was the main way I was able to relieve some of the stress associated with grad school. It was probably the most stressful and lonely period of my life. Like Bob, I’d go for rides on my own, generally 20 to 40 miles, around lakes Monona and Mendota. I wonder how close our paths came, without ever actually meeting. Your report brought back lots of memories.

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