Professional cyclist Lucas Euser will be honored this week by the United States Olympic Committee for actions that have nothing to do with his racing skills -- and he's fine with that.
Euser, who rides for UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling, was following BMC pro rider Taylor Phinney down Lookout Mountain during the 2014 USA Cycling Professional Road Championships last Memorial Day in Chattanooga when both he and Phinney were involved in an accident on Scenic Highway that left Phinney seriously injured with a major break to his left leg.
Rather than grab a new bike and continue with his race, Euser chose to abandon the race and stay with Phinney to keep him calm until help arrived. The USOC will honor Euser's selfless act by awarding him the Jack Kelly Fair Play Award on Friday night at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Assembly in Chicago.
Euser has had his share of injuries in his cycling career, including being sidelined for almost a year after being hit by a car during a training ride in Spain in 2009, so he knew how much trouble Phinney was in when he slid into the guardrail on Lookout Mountain.
"It was probably one of the scariest accidents I've been in in my life, but it wasn't my first," Euser told the Times Free Press by phone this week from his home in Colorado. "I've been on the ground a lot, and everything led to that day. I've struggled a lot to find a purpose in this sport, and all of a sudden on that day it brought purpose to me being there with where I've been in my career.
"If my career ended tomorrow and this is the only thing that I'm known for, then I'll consider it a job well done."
The Jack Kelly Fair Play Award by BP recognizes an athlete, coach or official for an outstanding act of fair play and sportsmanship, according to a release by USA Cycling.
Euser and Phinney both live and train in Boulder, Colo., and are part of a group of pro riders from that city who call themselves the "Wolfpack," so Phinney said that he wasn't surprised how his friend reacted in his time of need.
"Lucas is definitely a sensitive guy, and he's someone who's very caring and he's had a traumatic injury to his knee before," Phinney said in an audio interview earlier this month. "So I think he realized the gravity of the situation and that we were close friends, and he wanted to be there for me.
"We've been close friends for a while, but this definitely goes above and beyond friendship and takes it to a whole other level."
Euser said that his actions show the spirit of a new generation of American pro cyclists, committed as much to fair play and camaraderie as they are to winning races.
"There's a handful of us that are destined to look out for each other whether we're on the same team or not," he said. "I think that's new for this sport. We're best friends off the bike and fierce competitors on them, but we recognize that as much as it gets compared to war this is just a sport."
In addition to Euser's award, three-time Olympian and former triple-jump world record holder Willie Banks will get the Olympic Torch Award, while gold medal-winning figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi and the University of Central Oklahoma's Endeavor Games will be Rings of Gold award recipients.
Euser said that he's humbled to be recognized for the sacrifice he made on the side of Lookout Mountain and that he is looking forward to accepting the award.
"It's probably the biggest achievement and recognition I've gotten in this sport," he said. "and I'm OK with that not being from my athletic endeavors and from showing fair play and sportsmanship.
"It means the world to me because it's recognizing me for who I've always been in my life as a human being -- not as an athlete. To have the U.S. Olympic Committee recognize that shows they're paying attention and they recognize our efforts as athletes not just from a sporting perspective, but from a life perspective."
Contact Jim Tanner at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6478. Follow him at twitter.com/JFTanner.