Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Kelly McGarry - the Kiwi pioneer and daredevil

Kelly McGarry. Photo / Stephen Parker.
Kelly McGarry. Photo / Stephen Parker.

Kelly McGarry made an instant impact with everyone he met it seems.

The renowned Kiwi mountain biker, who has died aged 33 of a suspected heart attack while riding a Queenstown track, was a hard-to-forget freestyle daredevil.

He was a pioneer, a Kiwi making a living from freeriding, taking on the world. His high point, literally, was a 22 metre flip over a canyon and a second place finish at the 2013 Rampage in Utah. His feat has drawn a massive 28 million-plus online audience.

McGarry was a rarity, a big man on a small bike, taking on huge jumps and tricky terrain, trying to impress the judges. Although in McGarry's case, those who knew him say it was the journey that really counted and his personality which really made a mark.

Olympic BMX star Sarah Walker met him once, to film a segment called 'five adventures in one day" for a sponsor. Walker told the Herald that it was an "unforgettable" experience, due to the power and warmth of McGarry's personality.

"To leave such an impression from one day speaks volumes," Walker said from Cambridge.

"The way he lived his life was so inspiring. If you look at the photos being posted, not a lot are of his riding. They are mostly of him laughing and smiling and that is what stood out to me."

Friend and top downhill racer Brook MacDonald of Napier echoed that, saying McGarry was known as much for his magnetic personality as his riding. MacDonald, a team mate of McGarry's early in his career, said: "He was just one of those guys who put a smile on your face, who lived life to the full. He was a very, very good dude.

"He was part of the big community of cyclists around Queenstown - he was the smile of that group, the guy who was up for an adventure. He was always in the top 10 for events, but it wasn't his results, it was his personality.

"But in 2013 he opened a lot of eyes when he did a massive backflip over a 72 foot canyon gap. He pretty much opened a lot of eyes with that, and broke into the scene.

"He came across as a guy who was never down about his riding or results, was there for a good time, but I think he surprised himself with that big flip. He showed the world what he was capable of."

MacDonald said McGarry had always seemed invincible.

"He took massive crashes - ones I've seen on video and in person. He would take huge hits and get back up, fix his bike, carry on riding."

Another rider, Matt Walker - brother of Sarah - said the bike community was in shock.

"The guy was a legend - it's a big loss for the whole mountain bike community not just in New Zealand but worldwide," he said.

"It's pretty grim. You would never see him without a smile on his face."

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