U.S. Military Cycling team co-founder's death at 46 unexpected, unjust

Racer Sean Coleman co-founded U.S. Military Cycling. A heart attack at 46 fells a champion.
Published July 16 2013
Updated July 17 2013

Bike racers have a reputation for arrogance, and if any local rider could be excused for displaying attitude it was Sean Coleman, a reigning age-group state champ with several appearances at the World Military Cycling Championships to his credit.

And yet, when his "A" group whizzed past the "B" group on Sunday rides, Coleman was the least likely to bark at them to give way, the most likely to offer encouragement.

"He wasn't one of those snob riders, if you know what I mean," said Mike Long, a veteran cyclist from Spring Lake.

Some racers' lives are so consumed by their sport that they don't do much else.

Coleman, 46, of Land O'Lakes, who died of a heart attack on a training ride last Wednesday, was a Coast Guard senior chief petty officer stationed in Clearwater.

A 27-year veteran with a crucial job — supervising the mechanics who maintain the station's rescue helicopters — he took on a volunteer duty that was almost as demanding.

As a director and co-founder of the U.S. Military Cycling team, he courted sponsors, recruited riders, traveled to training camps and races, and spent long hours at home doing administrative grunt work, said his wife, Sharon, who helped with the team.

"You have no idea how much of this we did at our desk, at night and on weekends," she said.

Some top racers are mostly just concerned with other top racers.

But Coleman helped expand the team, which started with only a few elite riders, into a group of 120, including developing riders.

The plan, Coleman told me when the team came to Pasco County for a training camp last winter, was to expand it further to include riders interested in fitness and recreation.

"He had a passion not only for riding, but for coaching … for mentoring other riders," said another team director, retired Lt. Col. Bill Jacobus of Seattle.

Sometimes with riders, there's an us-versus-them mentality.

But Coleman said that one of his goals in bringing the training camp here was building the community — promoting the hilly region of eastern Pasco and Hernando counties as a winter cycling destination. And he said he hoped to do more of this after retiring from the military.

"I see this area as having tremendous potential for cycling tourism," he said.

Some racers reserve the right to climb off the bike and onto the couch; rest is as important as riding, they say.

But even though Coleman trained exceptionally hard — "full-throttle all the time," said Ellen Kast, co-owner of the Tampa-based wheel manufacturer, American Classic — his time off the bike was time for his wife and his son, Taylor, 15, who has cerebral palsy.

"He was full throttle with his family, too. They were No. 1 with him," Kast said.

He liked having dinner with other families in the neighborhood, Sharon said. He loved going to movies with Taylor, riding with him on a tandem and traveling with him to races.

They were also regular visitors to Action Wheelsport, a St. Petersburg bike shop, said co-owner Anne Lynch.

"He would bring his boy in here, and he was so loving and took such great care to include him in his world."

After Coleman collapsed during an evening group ride on the trail along the Suncoast Parkway, Facebook exploded with the news and tributes to his strength and generosity as a rider. Along with formal services on Monday, there was a memorial ride on Saturday morning that, despite the short notice, drew more than 300 cyclists. Sympathetic emails have been pouring in since his death, and a steady stream of visitors has dropped off food, said Sharon Coleman.

The depth of this shock is really no shock at all.

It's hard to imagine anyone less likely to fall from a heart attack than the super-fit Coleman, hard to imagine anyone who deserved it less.

"The injustice of him leaving so young is hard to take," Lynch said. "He was a gem of a human being."

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