Bicyclist killed by motorist remembered for living life at full throttle

Harry Nickell was riding his bicycle Sunday morning on the shoulder of U.S. Highway 27 near the Lakeridge Winery when a car traveling in the same direction wandered off the road and slammed into him from behind.

In a blink, Lake County's unofficial ambassador for bicycling and triathlons was gone forever.

Nickell died at the age of 53, passionately pedaling his way to the "Horrible Hundred," a challenging bike ride that has drawn thousands of cyclists to hilly south Lake over the last 30 years.

In a way, Nickell was luckier than most. Would that we all could depart this life doing something that we care about so much.

"He lived for it, he loved it," said Diane Travis, his longtime fiancée and a fellow triathlete. "That's how we met. That's all we did — biking and running.

"We just did everything together."

That changed on Sunday.

Nickell, who lived with Travis in Blue Springs Reserve south of Howey-in-the-Hills, was killed when 84-year-old Jessie Leiser, driving a 2009 Toyota Camry, strayed onto the paved shoulder of the highway. Friends said they were told that the early-morning sun may have blinded the driver.

The accident occurred about a mile from a billboard warning motorists that the law requires them to give bicyclists at least 3 feet of clearance when overtaking them.

A relative at the home of Leiser and her husband, Charles, 85, said Sunday that the couple were too distraught to talk. They suffered minor injuries.

Nickell, a project manager for Ciraco Underground Inc., had spent his career supervising construction projects, often in The Villages retirement community. That paid the bills.

A 'unique person'

He spent nearly every free moment training for triathlons or competing in them.

"He was one of those guys I could never beat," said Ken LaRoe, who competed in Nickell's age class. "He was an aerobically-gifted athlete. This is absolutely sickening."

LaRoe is the person behind the billboard near the scene of the accident and similar ones across the county. He, too, rides hundreds of miles as he trains for competitions.

Leah Dearman said Nickell was an original part of a triathlon community that has been growing in Lake since the mid-1990s, and he was an enthusiastic promoter of biking and running, two of the three-part competition. (Swimming is the third.)

"He has a funny, happy, come-up-hug-on-everybody attitude. There's not anyone who doesn't know Harry. He has a big, warm smile," said Dearman, a triathlete and manager of rehabilitation services at the National Training Center in Clermont. "He doesn't know a stranger."

Indeed, Nickell's smile was mentioned by everyone who reminisced about him this week. It was his trademark, his beacon, his card of introduction.

"He always smiled, and he had happy, happy eyes," Travis said.

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