“Hills are your Friend!” In Memoriam, Cheri Uelmen 1955-2014

We lost a cherished community member, athlete, and teacher when Cheri Uelmen died after a bicycle crash in Eau Claire in September.

Cheri was racing in the Cleghorn Harvest Fest Bike Race on September 7 when she was in a serious crash involving at least three racers. Apparently a rider went down in front of her. Another rider (before he too crashed and was injured) said he saw Cheri’s bike cartwheel. She flew over her handlebars.

Cheri Uelmen on her Trek.

Three days later, Cheri died of her injuries. As a 58-year-old woman in peak health, she was able to donate organs and tissue that have already helped three Wisconsin patients.

I did not know Cheri Uelmen in life. But I feel, as I’m sure many in the Wisconsin cycling community will, a certain bond with her, and a bewildered pang at her loss. We embrace bicycling as a healthy, joyful, life-affirming (and yes, relatively safe) activity. The suddenness and seeming senselessness of Cheri’s death on a bike is shocking. As we struggle with that, I hope we can draw closer in solidarity, humility, and in our resolve to live fully, as she did.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about Cheri, from her media coverage and obituary, and from her daughter-in-law and son, Rian and Brian Uelmen:

  • Cheri leaves behind her life partner, two grown children and their spouses, and six grandchildren, ages 2-10.

  • Cheri had recently retired from a 29-year career teaching first grade in Eau Claire’s public schools. Generations of students, teachers and staff loved her, turning out in large numbers to pay their respects at her memorial visitation.

  • Cheri was a passionate and inspiring athlete: a grandmother who cycled, skated, cross-country skied, and ran recreationally and competitively. She was a fitness instructor for over 20 years. Cheri loved biking and skiing the steep trails of Tower Ridge Recreation Area and the bluffs in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. She was famous for saying “Hills are your friend!”

Cheri Uelmen died doing what she loved doing; what all of us in the bicycling community love doing. Let’s honor her by living fully, by being there for those around us, and by remembering: hills are your friend.

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At her family’s request, the Bike Fed has created the Cheri Uelmen Share and Be Aware fund. Donations will go toward Share and Be Aware education in Cheri’s Eau Claire community. The goal of the Bike Fed‘s Share and Be Aware program is to reduce the number of crashes and traffic fatalities involving bicyclists and pedestrians.

Donate Now

The Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin is a registered 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.

You will receive a tax-deductible receipt for your donation. If you prefer, you can mail your donation to:

Wisconsin Bike Fed
Attn: Development/Cheri Uelmen Fund
3618 W. Pierce Street
Milwaukee, WI 53215

About Peter Gray

A committed bicycle commuter and recreational cyclist, Peter is a the chairman of the Board of Directors for the Bike Fed. He is also chair of Madison’s biggest annual one-day fundraising bike ride event, Bike For Boys & Girls Club. Peter works as Director of Executive Search (translation: he’s a recruiter) at The QTI Group. Clients have gotten used to seeing him arrive for meetings with windblown helmet-hair. On weekends, his wife and their 3 kids join him for adventures and errands by bike – sometimes joyfully, sometimes grudgingly. And of course, he has a bunch of bikes. Most are vintage rescues he lovingly restored. Don’t get him started!

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