As a person, Rob Verhaaren was someone who wanted to work for a good cause and give back to the community.
As a bicyclist, he was experienced, and an avid biker with a lot of experience who often participated in races outside of the Grand Canyon State.
But it was a “freak accident” that caused him to lose his life in Teton County, Wyo. during the 206-mile LoToJa bike race when he fell about 60 feet to his death after hitting a pothole on a bridge on Highway 89.
That’s the account shared by Ruth Collins, a friend and colleague at AZBrainFood, a Mesa nonprofit organization based which helps to provide backpack lunches of food to underprivileged elementary school students on the weekend.
Verhaaren, of Mesa, who would have turned 43 on Thursday, served on AZBrainfood’s board of directors.
The jolt from hitting the pothole caused a wheel on Verhaaren’s bike to veer off and cause him to hit the guard rail and caused him to catapult off the bridge, Collins said, adding that two of Verhaaren’s close friends were riding in front of him when the incident happened. The friends heard the commotion of the crash on the bridge and when they turned around to see what happened, Verhaaren was not there and another bicyclist was yelling his name, she saidd.
Rob is survived by his wife, Bridget, who was providing rider support during the race, and three children — Ansel, Helena and Karl. A member of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints Hermosa Vista Stake in east Mesa, Verhaaren also operated Verhaaren Companies, a financial and private investments firm in Mesa.
“Rob was a great person who was loved by all of us,” Collins said. “He was a very smart person and loved the fact that we were helping to feed kids and that he was giving back to the community. He became involved because he wanted to give back.”
The 206-mile race from Logan, Utah to Jackson Hole, Wyo. is sanctioned by USA Cycling, but was marred by serious accidents in Idaho and Wyoming. According to race organizers, about 200 of its 1,500 participants riders experiencing flat tires and at least two other riders were seriously injured during the race.
However, Verhaaren’s death was the first in the 30-year history of the race, according to a published report by the Associated Press in Wyoming.
Organizers plan to discuss the conditions of the bridge with the Wyoming Department of Transportation as this year’s bicycle crashes were more serious, according to the AP report.
“Rob became involved with AzBrainfood about two years ago because he was interested in it, and glad that we were helping to feed children in our own area,” Collins said. He was interested in helping out with the numbers and financial end of the organization. “He was very smart and did everything well. We’re all very sorry that this has happened.”
Funeral services for Verhaaren are scheduled for Friday (Sept. 14) and Saturday (Sept. 15) at the Hermosa Vista Stake of the LDS Church, 2701 E. Lehi Road in east Mesa near McDowell Road.
The viewing is scheduled for 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday. Funeral services are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday with another viewing an hour prior.
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