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ST. GEORGE — Braydon Nielsen was not a quitter.
In May, he attempted his first Ironman 70.3 triathlon but was stopped a few miles short of the finish because he failed to make the time cut.
“He was extremely heartbroken. But instead of letting it destroy him, he signed up for the Boise 70.3 four weeks later,” friend and fellow triathlete Lyle Anderson said.
Nielsen finished the triathlon within minutes of the cutoff time and set off to train for additional races, including the Ironman Oceanside 70.3 in March.
Nielsen, 36, of Washington, Washington County, was killed Tuesday while riding with his triathlon club in St. George.
He was with a group of cyclists near milepost 5 on state Route 7 (Southern Parkway) just before 8 p.m. when a minivan heading in the same direction hit him from behind, according to the Utah Department of Public Safety. The sun was setting at the time, making it difficult for those heading west to see.
Nielsen, who was wearing a helmet, was killed on impact, police said.
It inspired all of us not to complain. When we were miserable, when we struggle, there he was with a smile and a 'Booyah!'
–Lyle Anderson, fellow athlete
Police did not suspect driver Mark L. Mendenhall, 58, to have been impaired. Mendenhall is cooperating with investigators, police said.
Investigators are still determining whether Nielsen was in the traffic lane or if the minivan crossed over the white line.
Anderson was riding with Nielsen when he was killed Tuesday night. The two men were on a tempo training ride, which means every cyclist rode at his or her own pace, and Nielsen was at the back of the pack.
Anderson said Nielsen simply had to smile or yell his trademark “Booyah!” to inspire others.
“To us, it was more inspiring to see him come in last place and finish then it was to see the person who came in first place with a smoking fast time,” he said. “It inspired all of us not to complain. When we were miserable, when we struggle, there he was with a smile and a ‘Booyah!’”
Friend Ryan Duckworth said the group had finished its ride and realized Nielson had not yet come in. Duckworth, president of the Southern Utah Triathlon Club, and others rode back to find Nielsen and discovered that he had been hit.
"It's devastating," Duckworth said. "A very special and inspirational person is no longer with us."
Nielsen did not fit the typical physique of a triathlete, Duckworth said, but he was a hard worker who put a lot of work into his training.
"Braydon was the type of person … who would light up the room with his infectious love for life. He lived every day to the fullest," he said. "He was an individual who viewed life as a gift and acted that way and just took advantage of every moment when he was here."
Nielsen leaves behind a wife and four children.
"Braydon was a true winner. What I mean by that is he embodied the 'never quit, never give up' spirit. He valued friendships over personal records and medals," Duckworth said.
The triathlon club plans to make T-shirts to sell to runners participating in the upcoming St. George Marathon.
“We want to get as many people wearing something to support Braydon,” Anderson said.
The group has also set up a fund at Wells Fargo, “The Braydon Nielsen Booyah Memorial Fund,” to help his widow and four young children. Anderson said he thought donations could be made at any Wells Fargo branch by mentioning the name of the fund.
Contributing: Amy Donaldson and Haley Smith