Lees-McRae College is mourning the loss of senior cyclist Carla Swart who died in an accident during a time-trial training session Wednesday in her native South Africa.
According to reports, Swart, 23, was hit by a truck while riding in the Free State Province and died on the way to the hospital.
The most decorated collegiate cyclist in history, Swart won 19 individual and team national championships for Lees-McRae College, and in 2008, Swart became the first collegiate cyclist ever to win a national championship in all four cycling disciplines in the same year.
“We are devastated by the tragic death of Carla. It has only been a month or so ago that Carla and I met to talk about the future of Lees-McRae Cycling. She was so hopeful about her professional aspirations and the exciting international life that was before her. Carla was a very modest person and she appreciated her friends and the college,” said President Barry Buxton. “For those of us who are cyclists, we recognize that there is an element of danger in the sport of cycling that will always be with us. Carla understood the risk but she believed the joy of cycling outweighed the inherent dangers. Carla Swart will always be in our hearts, and we will honor her countless accomplishments with the Carla Swart Memorial Scholarship at Lees-McRae College.”
Swart moved with her family to the United States from South Africa as a teenager and earned both cycling and running scholarships to Lees-McRae College.
“Carla represented everything you want in a student-athlete; she was caring, compassionate and competitive. Her impact on so many will last a long time,” said Athletic Director Craig McPhail. “While recruiting her six and a half years ago, I could tell she was truly special, and I am very proud to have had her represent the green and gold of Lees-McRae College.”
As a cross country runner at Lees-McRae, Swart led her team to two NCAA championship appearances and was three-time NCAA All-Academic, three-time All NCAA Division II Southeast Region and two-time All Conference Carolinas.
Last year Swart won the “Best Young Rider” award at the Tour de L’Aude stage race in France. She was to continue her career in the professional ranks in 2011, having just signed with HTC-Highroad. She represented South Africa at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi where she finished as the highest-placed South African rider in eighth position in the women’s road race. Swart also finished 10th in the women’s race at the World Road Championship in Australia.
HTC-Highroad posted the following message on their team site: “Carla, in such a short time you became part of our family and touched us all with your vibrant personality and your constant smile. You infected us with your zest for life and we will forever have you in our hearts.”
“We were terribly sorry to learn today of Carla Swart’s tragic passing and we extend our most sincere condolences to Carla’s family, friends and teammates,” said Steve Johnson, USA Cycling CEO. “Words fail me at times like this, but I do know the world has lost a wonderful spirit and that she will be sorely missed. It is tragic and extremely sad when anyone’s life is cut short but particularly so when it is someone we know and with whom we shared her and her teammates’ success and joy at Collegiate Nationals.”
“At a time like this, words about what happened, why, and how are usually asked and bring little comfort. However, when I think of the impact that Carla Swart had on this earth, I know that we will all remember her for the life that she lived. In the time I have been at Lees-McRae College, I witnessed Carla do things that seemed impossible,” said Luke Winger, Lees-McRae cycling head coach. “Her accomplishments are what most people see. She was certainly the most decorated rider in the history of collegiate cycling and I had the privilege to see her win on multiple occasions. The thing though that stood out to me more than anything else was that this young woman, who was arguably one of the most intense competitors on the planet, managed to achieve outstanding grades in college and create strong friendships with her team and classmates.”
The Carla Swart Memorial Scholarship will be awarded annually to a female cyclist who demonstrates a love for the sport and exhibits great promise as a cyclist. Checks should be made out to Lees-McRae College (note Carla Swart Scholarship in the memo line) and mailed to the Office of Advancement, P.O. Box 128, Banner Elk, NC 28604. With questions about the scholarship, please contact Caroline Hart, vice president for advancement, at (828) 898-8777.