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Cyclist killed by car along Hwy. 227 was world champion triathlete

Bridget Dawson during one of her races.
Bridget Dawson during one of her races.

The first time Scott Dawson encountered his future wife, Bridget, while in graduate school in Tuscon, Arizona, she was running down the road — fast.

Dawson said he stopped his bike to tell her she “looked great,” realizing that was a “weird” first impression to give her.

They met again through a mutual friend a year later, which led to dating, marriage and two children, and moves to Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Portland, Oregon, and then San Luis Obispo.

On July 14, Scott Dawson, the dean of Cal Poly’s Orfalea College of Business, lost his wife when a car struck her as she rode her bicycle along Highway 227 south of Biddle Ranch Road, causing fatal injuries.

Bridget, 58, was a champion triathlete who bested her age group in the World Championships in Auckland, New Zealand, in 2012. She also won in the U.S. Duathlon Championships (a running and cycling event) from 2013 to 2016.

“We shared a love for running, and our first marathon finish times were within a minute of each other,” Scott Dawson wrote in a memory of his wife on the website www.bridgetinspires.org.

The CHP’s investigation is ongoing, said CHP Officer J.W. Townsen.

In a phone interview, Scott Dawson said he was told by authorities that the driver, 53-year-old Lisa Smith of Oceano, had been “praying” when her Chrysler drifted onto the right shoulder of the road and hit his wife from behind.

“Three witnesses said there was no explanation for why she drifted,” Dawson said. “I was told she wasn’t texting or on her phone, but clearly there was something going on. She’ll have to live with this for the rest of her life. And I lost my wife.”

Townsen confirmed that CHP officials were aware that praying may have played a role in the crash, saying he didn’t know if Smith’s eyes were closed or not.

Dawson said every day since the tragedy has been difficult for him and his two children, Whitney, 26, and Conor, 23. But he said an outpouring of warmth and support has helped.

Teammates who competed on Bridget Dawson’s national champion Iowa State cross-country team remarked on Bridget’s quiet impact, humility, energy and patience.

“Bridget had a great love for life,” wrote former teammate Dianne Vetter on the website. “She enjoyed the physicalness of training and competition and valued the simple things life had to offer.”

Scott Dawson said that his wife worked 60-hour weeks while they lived in Portland after establishing a kids’ gym for gymnastics that doubled as a preschool. She also worked as a nanny after the couple moved to the San Luis Obispo area two years ago.

Bridget Dawson’s friend, Karen Aydelott, a fellow triathlete, called Bridget a “really gracious person and really open, but private at the same time.”

Aydelott, once an elite triathlete herself, had part of her leg amputated after a car crashed into her bike while she was training in Pasadena years ago.

Bike SLO County issued a statement after Dawson’s death, offering “our deepest sympathy.”

“Our sadness is profound because Bike SLO County stands for safety through education of both bicyclists and motorists and by supporting more and safer roadways for all,” the group wrote.

Lea Brooks, a Bike SLO County advocate, seeks more rumble strips (including on Highway 227), penalties for texting and driving akin to driving under the influence, increased awareness of distracted driving, and more bike routes and lanes, among other inititiaves.

“The irony is that Bridget was killed on a road that we consider safe,” Brooks said. “It’s flat and the visibility is high. It has a big, wide shoulder. Caltrans repaved the shoulder. We consider that a safe place to be.”

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