BY WINNIE McCROY | The tight-knit group of gay and lesbian cyclists in New York's Fast and Fab Cycling club were shaken badly last summer when Lee Gorman, a valued member of their family, died suddenly of an aortal aneurism at St. Luke's Hospital in Manhattan.
Now with the generous donation of her surviving partner, Katherine Timon, and the dedication of club members, her legacy will live on through the Lee Gorman Memorial Cyclist of the Year award. The first such honor will be presented February 2 at the sixth annual Awards Dinner of Front Runners New York, the longtime athletic group with which the cyclists are affiliated.
“It really hit us hard…. she was someone we all knew, and the next day she's gone,” said Fast and Fab's Bob Nelson, his voice cracking. “You can't imagine how it impacted the people in the club; she was the woman who was the most involved with [Fast and Fab].”
According to Timon, her partner of three and a half years, Gorman suffered the fatal aneurysm last July, at the age of 51.
“It came as a shock to me and to others, because Lee was a very healthy individual, and did a lot of long distance riding,” said Timon, recalling how her partner had completed the New York to Boston AIDS Ride (raising money for HIV programs at the LGBT Community Center) six or seven times, and the Boston to Provincetown Ride at least a dozen times.
Gorman was an active cyclist who led many rides during her 10-year involvement with Fast and Fab. She also volunteered with the Century Road Club Association, doing the setup and breakdown at their Saturday races.
More than the shock of her death, said Nelson, is the void that her passing has left. As a cyclist, Gorman had the passion and stamina needed to lead long-distance bike tours. But her biggest strength, in Nelson's eyes, was her ability to bring people together. Gorman was somebody Nelson and other club leaders relied on to step up to take charge on new cycling ventures.
“She related to people on a natural, one-on-one level,” Nelson explained. “If new people were standing in a corner, she would go right up to them. She was the kind of person who had the emotional strength to pull things together and not make a big production about it. She is irreplaceable; there is no question about it.”
“Lee sparkled with energy, had a great personality, and found the joy in people,” Timon said of her late partner. “She was an outgoing person who always welcomed others into her circle; anyone who ever met Lee couldn't help but be touched by her spirit. That's how I want to remember her.”
A visit to the Fast and Fab website illustrates the impact Gorman had on her fellow cyclists.
“There were lots of comments on the memorial page that say things like 'I didn't think I could do the Boston to P-town ride, and Lee looked at me and said, “Of course you can,”'” said Nelson.
Cycling may not seem to be a sport requiring any particular technical ability, but Nelson stressed that it demands endurance and mental strength. He recalls how Gorman, during her many treks from Boston to the Cape, provided the encouragement that made others realize their own potential.
“You would get into the hills around Truro, and think, 'Will it ever end?' and to have someone like Lee there made a difference,” said Nelson. “She kept you there, kept you in the moment, engaged, and involved with what you were doing.”
“She was passionate about bicycling, played a big role in both Front Runners and Fast and Fab, was keen on safety, welcoming to new cyclists, and had one heck of a sense of humor,” added Michael Benjamin, president of Front Runners.
“I am buoyed by my many happy memories of Lee, and her other friends all agree that Lee wouldn't want us to wallow in our grief, but remember her life,” said Timon. “And this award is a way to keep her memory alive.”
Rather than let Gorman's passion and memory fade, Timon approached Nelson with a $1,000 contribution and a plan to commemorate her partner. The Lee Gorman Memorial Cyclist of the Year award will consist of a statuette and a $50 gift certificate redeemable at a local bike store.
Prior to this, the only award given to a cyclist in Front Runners or Fast and Fab had been Cyclist of the Year, which carries no endowment. The Lee Gorman Memorial Cyclist of the Year joins several other memorial Front Runner awards, including those commemorating longtime club members Guy Zelanek and Mickey Zacuto.
“The winner of the Lee Gorman Award is someone who has a lot of enthusiasm for cycling, team spirit, leads the rides, and looks out for each other,” said Benjamin.
Timon, who now resides in Winter Park, Florida, will return to New York City to present Fritz Van Orden with the award.
Van Orden is a 58-year-old cyclist who covered thousands of miles last summer in three bike tours – the Erie Canal Ride, Le Grand Tour in Quebec, and Braking the Cycle, the new name for the LGBT Community Center's AIDS fundraising event. In order to take part in the Quebec tour, Van Orden rode from Red Hook, Brooklyn to Montreal and back, racking up a total of 4,322 miles. Roughly a third of that total was with his bike fully loaded with a tent, sleeping bag, and other gear.
“You can define leadership in number of ways,” Nelson said, “and the guy we are giving it to this year gave in other ways. He was not a fast cycler, and only started as a serious biker in April, but this past summer he did three enormous rides, where most of us just pick one. A lot of people do different things in the club, but he did things that none of us do.”
Van Orden's newfound passion for cycling is one Gorman would appreciate, Nelson and Timon agreed, making him well suited to receive the inaugural award.
“Cycling was a major part of who Lee was, and the best way to honor her memory and love of cycling was to make an award so that others could share the joy and exhilaration she found in cycling,” Timon said. “This award will commemorate that spirit. I think Lee would be pleased.”
The Front Runners Awards Dinner will be held on February 2 at Union Theological Seminary's Banquet Hall at West 121st St. and Broadway. For information and tickets visit the Front Runners web site at frny.org. To share your memories of Lee Gorman or read those of others, visit fastnfab.org/leegormanmemorial.html.