The inquest into the death of ultra-endurance racer Mike Hall was held in Canberra last month. It flared emotions, difficult memories, and prompted concerned discussions about the police investigation and the perceived apportioning of blame.
However, blame was the last thing on the mind of the British rider’s mother. Pat Hall knew the path forward for her was not to be found in a file of evidence, or by sitting listening on the benches of the coroner’s court. It was to be found in an expression of a characteristic she’d been so proud of in her son: empathy.
Pat knew how hard it would be. A big lever arch file had arrived unexpectedly on her doorstep weeks ago; a file detailing exactly what would be heard at the inquest into her son’s death. As she flicked it open she was immediately confronted with photos no mother should have to see. Photos from the aftermath of that day 18 months earlier. The day when her son was hit by a car and killed while nearing the finish of the inaugural Indian Pacific Wheel Race.
Seeing those images of Mike’s twisted bike impaled on the front of the vehicle, Pat quickly decided she couldn’t put herself through sitting in court. She couldn’t relive that day step by painful step. Especially as there were two key truths that no folder of information or hearing would change — her boy was gone and nothing would bring him back.
But weeks later she was flying halfway round the world to Canberra to attend the inquest into his death. All her hesitation in attending had been overridden by one compelling reason — a reason, she was convinced, her son would have been proud of.
Pat Hall wanted to go to forgive.
“Whatever comes out, I know Mike — he was health and safety conscious, he would have been making sure he could be seen,” Pat told CyclingTips over the phone after returning to the UK. “He was doing what he should have been doing.
“But equally the driver said he didn’t see him. If he had have seen him he wouldn’t have hit him, so he can’t have seen him. That’s my logic and whatever happened that morning it was a terrible, terrible, tragic accident.
“I’ve been over and over in my head the what-ifs and why and things like that … but I can’t bring him back,” said Pat, slowly, haltingly, the sorrow clear in her voice.
What she could do though was carry on in a way that she felt represented what her son stood for. Pat boarded the long flight with the hope that she would get an opportunity to communicate with the driver. Then when she saw the driver in court, the fright at what was unfolding written all over his face, she resolved to ask a court official and the driver’s solicitor if they could meet in person.
“I don’t want him to be like that for the rest of his life and I know he will carry it for the rest of his life,” Pat said. “I needed to say something.” When they met at the end of the inquest, Hall embraced the driver in forgiveness.
“Mike is dead, nothing can bring him back. And I know 100% he [the driver] didn’t go out that morning with an intention to kill somebody,” Pat said. “And I know he will live with that guilt for the rest of his life. I know Mike wouldn’t want him to.
“That’s the kind of person he was. If the tables had been turned he would have done the same thing. I brought both my boys up to be steadfast and true and look at things with empathy.”
Far more than a competitor
Mike Hall was a powerful force in the tight-knit self-supported ultra-endurance cycling community. He had a habit of not just winning pretty much every race he entered, but also setting a new record in the process. After his unsupported round-the-world record in 2012, he went on to win the Tour Divide in 2014 and 2016 and the 7,000km Trans Am in 2015. But he was far more than a phenomenal competitor.
Mike was instrumental in broadening the appeal of self-supported ultra-endurance racing, with both his riding and his drive to provide others with the opportunity to have their own adventures.
In 2013 he instigated and organised what quickly became a landmark event on the ultra-endurance calendar, the Transcontinental Race across Europe. This helped spur the growth of a tight-knit community of racers and supporters — supporters commonly known as dot-watchers because the races are followed by watching riders’ GPS tracking dots move across an online map.
“One of the reasons why he set up the Transcontinental Race is that he wanted people to be able to have an adventure, an affordable adventure,” said Pat. “He was all about adventure, riding his bike, taking up challenges and enjoying life. Whether somebody rides in a race, or if somebody takes the family out for a nice spin on the road, for Mike it was what enjoyment you get out of the bike. It means different things to different people.”
It was that spirit that a community in mourning turned to.
After Mike’s death came a groundswell of activity in his memory, from memorial rides to the ever-present #bemoremike social media tag. A group, including those close to Hall, also rallied to keep the Transcontinental running.
There’s no doubt Hall quietly inspired many people with his actions, and when he was gone many felt the best way to honour him was to continue the momentum he’d built. The scale of the global response took his family by surprise.
“For me, Mike was my son,” said Pat. “For him to inspire so many people to do things, to get on the bike and have adventures that have never even met him, that’s quite difficult to understand.”
Pat describes her son as a quiet guy, a guy who didn’t do it for the accolades, but who got out there and enjoyed doing his own thing.
“I didn’t know that he was that — and I have to put this in inverted commas — ‘famous’ till he died. And Mike didn’t either,” said Pat. “He was just doing what he loved and the enthusiasm rubbed off on other people.”
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Today is a dark day. Mike Hall the worlds greatest has been killed in a collision with a car while racing in Australia. 31/3/2017 Mike Hall gave me everything I have, I live and breath ultra endurance racing, it is my life. His vision and passion enticed me into ultra endurance racing. Over the past three years I’ve grown into the man I am because of ultra racing. I owe a lot to Mike and the ultra cycling community. He enabled me to find myself. Mike’s death is tragic. It’s a nightmare I’ve had myself when out on the road, training and racing. Words cannot express my sorrow. I am heartbroken. My deepest sympathies to Mike’s family and the cycling community. Keep pedalling Mike. You’ll be riding with me forever.
A mother’s love
As she talks about Mike’s humble and empathetic nature, his passion and his enthusiasm, Pat’s voice lifts. I get the sense that, at the other end of the phone, a smile is creeping onto her face as she discusses what Mike had done, the boy she’d raised and the man he turned into. It was clearly the voice of a mother filled with pride, enjoying a moment spent revelling in wonderful memories.
I can’t help but relate to the familiarity of the tone. I often hear it in my own voice when talking about my son and daughter, unable to resist bubbling over with delight at the people they have become.
With that thought it is hard not to reflect on how I’d manage in Pat’s shoes. Could I do what she’d done if I had to open up a coroner’s file to a photo of my child’s twisted bike impaled on a vehicle. Could I even find a way to go on, let along bring myself to relive every detail of what happened when they were tragically taken from the world? Could I be so forgiving?
I didn’t have to answer those questions. Pat did it for me.
As hard as it was for her to sit in the coroner’s court and go back to that terrible day in March 2017, it highlighted to her that there is little a mother can’t find the strength to do when driven by love for their child.
“I can’t say its been easy but the one thing that has pulled me through is what I did out there,” said Pat. “I know I did it for Mike and I know he would have been proud of me.”
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