I never thought the next time I would write about Nevada cyclist Erica Greif would be because her life came to an end.
On April 8, the 23-year-old died in a head-on car accident a little past midnight on Highway 395 and Searles Road en route to the Redlands Bicycle Classic. Two of the four female passengers in the car that landed upside down also died at the scene, 18-year-old Myranda Danea Kiaha and 19-year-old Taylor-Kay Marie Warren. The two who were sitting in the back of that car, which included a 22-year-old and 14-year-old, suffered major injuries with one being taken by ambulance and the other airlifted to the hospital.
It has been two years since I wrote a profile on Greif. It was April 13, 2013, that we sat in her car to do the interview. It was too difficult for my recorder to pick up her voice with how strong the winds were outside at the collegiate race on Nevada’s campus.
“I feel like I have gotten into this pretty quickly, and I’ve kind of been like, all right let’s go. What else can I do?” Greif said of her time cycling. “I want to do as much as I can, and push it as far as I can within collegiate and my own cycling career as well.”
I sat right next to her in the car that she would eventually crash to her death just two years later.
However, I am appreciative of the little time I did spend with Greif. I’m thankful to my friend on the team who encouraged me to write about her. I had heard her name several times, and I knew she was a strong female athlete. Furthermore, she was one of the team’s best cyclists regardless of gender. She often came in the top spots in competitions and went on to contend in nationals.
“She was a beautiful, bright soul, always ready to push those around her,” said close friend and teammate Sam Bolster.
It actually wasn’t unusual to hear the name Erica Greif before meeting her. Patrick Smith, friend and teammate of Greif’s, referred to her as a legend before meeting face to face. One of the reasons for this title was her performance in what’s called ScalleyCat.
Greif asked her fellow cyclist friend and teammate Chris Dugan to be her ScalleyCat partner during their sophomore year at Nevada. Unsure of what that was, Dugan looked it up online.
“And my understanding of it was, ‘OK it’s a party where you drink beer and ride bikes. I’m in,’” Dugan said. A more formal definition of it is a 24-hour bike race that is a scavenger hunt. However, Greif didn’t just want to party, she wanted to win ScalleyCat, which means riding 150 miles in 24 hours. Dugan said it snowed, rained, and he felt the gnarliest head winds during that ride. He specifically remembered when they went to Bowers Mansion around 1 a.m., which is where the new freeway was being built.
“Let’s ride the freeway, that’ll take off a couple hours out there,” Greif said.
However, it wasn’t finished, so the two were faced with obstacles of four-foot drops in the concrete and rebars poking up from everywhere. It took them about two hours to go 10 miles. They then sprinted back to Reno at 50 mph with a tailwind. They hit a couple of other places they had to go, but the snow got so bad that you could no longer see your hand in front of your face. But that didn’t stop Greif.
After a break at her mom’s house for tea she went back into the snow and winds to head back to Verdi to buy a lottery ticket – an item needed for the scavenger hunt – while Dugan slept at her mom’s house.
“We got second, won $600, mainly because she kept going…”
“And carried your ass through it…” said Tyler Toulouse, another cycling teammate.
“Yeah, and carried my ass through it,” Dugan said as he laughed. “And didn’t quit in the blizzard. That was kind of typical of her.”
Leaving Reno after a school day that consisted of an exam and presentation to drive through the night for a race at 8:45 a.m. on April 8, wasn’t out of the norm for Greif. It was just another example of her determination to do what she loves no matter what. Her teammates said this energy of hers would make them want to race. She had worked her way up to elite racing for the ZOCA-Halo Sports team and the Bootleg Courier Co., which is a bicycle messenger service in Reno.
“She was that chick that was proof that you could do whatever you wanted and have fun at it as long as you set your mind to it,” Smith said.
Greif was well known and loved throughout the Reno community. A candlelight ride was held in her honor at Bibo on April 9, which was where she formerly worked. Photo albums, candles, flowers and a book to sign were displayed in front of the coffee shop.
“She just had a lust for life,” said Paul Martin, her former boss as well as friend at Bibo. “She had an infectious smile. She was just brilliant at everything she did, whether it was bike riding or art.”
Cooking was another talent of the nutrition and dietetics major who was set to graduate this spring. She was also engaged, and had a marriage to pro cyclist Nick Schaffner to look forward to.
“Erica was a one-of-a-kind girl, not one in a million, not one in a billion, one of a kind,” Schaffner said. “She was it, and I knew it with all my heart…We were hooked and inseparable.”
The two planned a future where they would live in the woods, make art, ride bikes, grow their own food, raise animals, love and never waste anything.
“If you can take any of those values away today into your own life, especially the last one – never waste anything – it would make Erica proud,” Schaffner said at her memorial Sunday at The Grove.
Greif’s absence is felt whether you knew her or not. She was taken too soon, but she will not be forgotten.
Alexa Ard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SagebushSports.