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Moriah Wilson had shifted gears a number of times in her 25 years of life, but no matter her focus — collegiate ski racing, a career in logistics and, most recently, professional mountain bike and gravel racing — those who knew her described her as “exceptional in every way.”
The Vermont native's life and promising cycling career were cut short May 11 — just a week before her 26th birthday — when she was shot to death in Austin. She was in Texas ahead of the 150-mile (240-kilometer) Gravel Locos race, which she was reportedly favored to win. Her killing has shaken the cycling world and other spheres, with tributes pouring in as the suspected shooter remains at large.
“Broken heart and spirit for the loss of this beautiful, grounded young woman who was so full of light and energy," fellow cyclist and adventure athlete Rebecca Rusch said in a tweet. “She was exceptional in every way.”
Wilson had a busy racing schedule ahead of her. Her former employer Specialized said she had already won 10 events this year and her off-road racing career had just started to take off. Her last race, in San Diego, ended in a victory — with a 25-minute lead.
"Like many of you, we’re devastated by the tragic loss of a friend who exuded so much inspiration, determination, and joy,” Specialized, a bike and equipment company where Wilson had until recently worked in demand management, said in a post on Instagram.
Born Anna Moriah Wilson and widely known as "Mo," she grew up in rural northern Vermont and was a lifelong athlete, lettering in cycling, alpine skiing and soccer at Burke Mountain Academy, according to her Dartmouth College athletics biography. At Dartmouth, Wilson majored in engineering and was a member of the alpine ski racing team — “fulfilling a childhood dream,” her family said.
The Burke Mountain Academy community was devastated to hear of her death, said Head of School Willy Booker, who described Wilson as dedicated student, compassionate friend and courageous athlete.
“Moriah was an inspiration to our community, and her death at a moment when her athletic star seemed so assuredly ascendant only amplifies the deep sense of loss associated with a beautiful life that ended far too early,” the school said in a statement.
Athletics were inextricable from Wilson's life. She was born into an athletic family: Her parents, Eric and Karen Wilson, were on the U.S. ski team, according to Wilson's Dartmouth bio, and her father, younger brother and aunt also went to Burke Mountain Academy. Eric Wilson later coached at the small, close-knit ski school, according to the academy.
Dannica Ashnault became close with Moriah Wilson while they were both recovering from knee injuries in high school. After having knee surgery, Ashnault tore her hamstring in her other leg and was really upset. She said Wilson encouraged instead to focus on getting better and “put me in a positive mindset through it all.”
“She was very supportive of anyone, no matter if you were competing directly against her or not. I'm sure that's the way she was in biking as well,” Ashnault added.
Although she focused on skiing in college, her love of biking started early. She spent many hours on the Kingdom Trails in East Burke, Vermont, developing her skills, according to her obituary published in a local newspaper.
As a discipline, gravel racing is relatively new in popularity and hard to describe, according to the website bikeradar, which said the sport “sits somewhere between road, cyclocross and mountain bike racing, and tends to take place on open gravel roads, dirt double tracks and snaking singletrack, often with some stretches of paved road to link off-road segment.”
On Sunday, the Austin Cycling Community is holding a memorial and short ride to honor Wilson.
Her family said in a statement that while her tragic loss is unfathomable, they want everyone to join them “in celebrating her life, accomplishments, and love for others. Always pushing tirelessly to reach her goals, we knew she was pursuing that which she loved. We will miss her terribly and know that all mourn her with us.”
Her family has set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to fund “community organizations that help youth find self-confidence, strength, and joy through biking, skiing, and other activities that Moriah was passionate about.”
That's in line with what Rusch described, in an Instagram post, as a new mission for those who knew her: “Now, what we must do is take her light, absorb it into ourselves and shine it on others as brightly as she did.”
“There was a bubble of positivity and joy around her, and we all wanted to be in her bubble," Rusch added. "Mo was a former elite alpine ski racer turned endurance cyclist and was on a beautiful trajectory not just to win races but to win and open hearts.”