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Amy Donaldson: Triathlete Braydon Nielsen inspired others with his joy for life

Tragic car-bicycle accident prompts friends, relatives to start memorial fund

Published: Thursday, Sept. 5 2013 9:10 a.m. MDT

Braydon Nielsen's Braydon Nielsen's "never quit" attitude inspired anyone who met him. The 36-year-old father of four was killed when he was hit by a car while on a training ride Tuesday night. (Courtesy Alex Santiago)

ST. GEORGE — It was a moment that would have devastated some.

After swimming 1.2 miles, biking 56 miles and running nearly 10 miles as he attempted his first Ironman 70.3 triathlon in May, Braydon Nielsen was denied his moment.

“He was pulled off the course with about three miles to go because he wasn’t going to make the time cut off,” said friend and fellow triathlete Lyle Anderson, who was riding with Nielsen when the 36-year-old father of four was hit by a minivan and killed while on a bicycle training ride near the St. George Airport Tuesday night.

Talking about the Ironman in May, Anderson added, “He was extremely heartbroken. But instead of letting it destroy him, he signed up for the Boise 70.3 four weeks later.” His friends from the Southern Utah Triathlon Club traveled to Boise so they could do for Nielsen what he did every time they saw him — cheer him on.

“It was coming down to the wire, and he wasn’t going to make the cut-off time,” said Anderson. “We all stuck around and waited and cheered for him as he ran across with minutes to spare. It was just that attitude he brought with him, congratulating everyone, cheering for everyone. You never heard him complain, ever.”

Anderson met Nielsen about three years ago at a race. Anderson was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis seven years ago, and exercise helps him keep the disease in check. “I think he had some health issues, and he wanted to try and lose some weight,” said Anderson. “I’d had numerous discusions with him about diet and what not. He loved that he was able to do these runs and triathlons. Just the accomplishment of being able to do these races.”

The two were members of the Southern Utah Triathlon Club and in the process of improving their health, they made a lot of great friends.

“The running and triathlon communities are very supportive,” said Anderson, who will compete in the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, in October as part of the Kona Inspired program. It was the support of his triathlon and running friends that helped him earn the votes to represent Utah in that race.

But Anderson said Nielsen simply had to smile or yell his trademark “Booyah!” to inspire others.

“To us, it was more inspiring to see him come in last place and finish than it was to see the person who came in first place with a smoking fast time,” Anderson said. “It inspired all of us not to complain. When we were miserable, when we struggle, there he was with a smile and a ‘Booyah!’ ”

The triathlon club is working on making T-shirts that they will sell to runners participating in the upcoming St. George Marathon.

“We want to get as many people wearing something to support Braydon,” Anderson said. The group has also set up a fund at Wells Fargo Bank, “The Braydon Nielsen Booyah Memorial Fund” to help his widow and four young children. Anderson said he thought donations could be made at any Wells Fargo branch by mentioning the name of the fund.

Anderson said the love and inspiration Nielsen provided his friends remains with them. Anderson will wear Kona Inspired gear when he rides in the Ironman World Championship next month, but he will find a way to take a little piece of his friend with him.

“I will find a way, maybe a visor,” said Anderson. “I’ve got to do something. … The thing about Braydon is that even when he was dead last, he was happy. To him, it was just as good to finish as it was to come in first. … He saw the accomplishment in just finishing. To him it wasn’t a matter of time. It was a matter of conquering the distance.”

Twitter: adonsports Email: adonaldson@deseretnews.com

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