(Photos: Nate Gibson)
Friends, fellow racers and classmates are mourning the death of 26-year-old Justin Drawbert, who took his own life on Monday, November 12th.
Justin was an engineering student at Portland State University who moved to Portland in 2009. He was an avid bike racer and competed with the Trailhead Coffee Roasters cycling team. Prior to living in Portland, he was a bike messenger in San Francisco.
Justin’s friends are devastated by the news. Tym Lang, who just returned from participating in a “courier wake” memorial for Justin in San Francisco, shared with me this morning that he and Justin’s large community of friends, “are reeling in shock.”
Tym, who now works at Trailhead in Portland but who met Justin when they worked for the same courier company in San Francisco, said, “We aren’t a community unfamiliar with unexpected deaths of friends, as the nature of the job can be dangerous and I have had more than a few friends and co-workers claimed by accidents (which are hard on their own right), but suicide is not remotely a common occurrence.”
Even Tym, one of Justin’s closest friends, said he never suspected suicide. “I’ve seen his ups and downs, but the downs never were bad enough to make me think something like this could be possible.”
In hearing from several of Justin’s friends, they all mention the same things about him. He was devoted to his school work (although it didn’t come easy for him), he was lighthearted and “goofy,” he loved racing singlespeed cyclocross and short track, and he finished every race he started. No matter what.
Nate Gibson knew Justin both in the classroom and on the race course. “He always had a goofy smile and slightly crooked glasses.”
“The first time I met him was in 2010 at the Barlow [cyclocross] race, running the entire course with a broken bike for lap after lap.”
Justin was known to ride his bike to almost every race he competed in. He was carfree and also a proud vegan. “You could always spot him with a couple carrots sticking out of his jersey pocket in lieu of an energy bar,” Nate shared.
Like Tym, Nate also never suspected Justin was severely depressed. “I never saw any signs of depression.” Nate encouraged me to write this story to highlight the dangers of depression, “even to a talented 26 year old with a bright future.”
Friends said he showed some concerns about losing his school financial aid due to failing a class, but that he didn’t seem particularly down. Tym talked to him just hours before he took his life and said they spoke about a solution for his school funding issue and then Justin talked up plans for a big cross-country bike tour.
On the race course, Justin focused on fun. And he always finished. Tym recalled a race in California in 2008 where Justin got lost in the woods around Mt. Tam; but eventually made it back into Fairfax and finished DFL (racer jargon for “dead fucking last”). “Some people would have just given up then, but not Justin,” Tym recalled.
And Nate said that Justin never once in three years of racing had a single DNF (did not finish). “He would finish the race, no matter what, never giving up despite suffering flats or mechanicals.”
“Quitting was never something he liked to do,” added Tym, “which makes the circumstances of his death all the more confusing.”
There will be a celebration of Justin’s life on Wednesday, November 28th at 6pm at The Sweet Hereafter on SE Belmont between 33rd and 34th.
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