Remembering ’55’: A Tribute to Gary Verrill and the Extraordinary Journey of a True Racer

I Am Sorry For Your Loss

Tonight, I am thinking of my late friend, “55,” through pictures and “Gary-Queen.”

That orange van is where “The Ron and Don Radio Show” started. Ron and I were fortunate enough to crew for THE RAAM years ago. It’s called THE RACE ACROSS AMERICA. Today, many riders do it as a team, but back then, men like Gary Verrill, #55, did it solo. To keep the rider awake, Ron and I would chit-chat on the PA to prevent them from falling asleep. I don’t think our radio careers would have ever started without Gary inviting us on one of those races.

That was my first bike, which I didn’t own. I couldn’t afford one. Gary generously provided Ron and me with bikes to train on. One day, I would ride that Davidson bike and cross America. That’s Gary on the same bike, racing across America in one of his first races.

These are my crew members on my first ride across America. I’ve never been good enough to wear the ring of a RAAM racer. As you can see, I crossed America, but I went Border to Border. #55 went from the Pacific to the Atlantic. I rode; he RACED! He was a different breed.

This is a picture of my World Record. I’ve crossed America multiple times and actually hold two world records. When I found out my Mom had cancer, I wanted to do something to raise money. We rode Border to Border and did our radio show from the bike. The reason it’s a world record? Well, because no one else has ever attempted it. :). Gary taught me to pick a route no one would be foolish enough to try, and you’ll have a world record. I almost quit on that ride, but Gary showed up on a Montana road and told me to “HAMMER THRU TO THE FINISH.” He handed me some Gary-Queen (Dairy Queen), and we kept going.

This is a picture of me training with Gary, riding up Mt. Constitution in my 20s. When he knew he was dying of cancer, he called me to give me that picture and also gave me his last Davidson Bike. We called it “the Purple.” He had 19 at one point. That bike is going to The Major Taylor Project and Ed Ewing for a deserving young athlete in the coming weeks.

Gary is the best B-3 Organ Player in America. That’s him with my son. Gary would play music with anyone. My son is the musician he is today because of that night. He made my son feel like Louis Armstrong.

These are men I seriously love and admire. That was 55 four years ago. He never complained, even when he was in a lot of pain. He never drank a drop of liquor to numb it. He wanted to feel the pain and learn from it, he told me.

This shows Andy taking Gary to treatment. Andy has been on Gary’s crew for quite some time.

And one of the last pictures is from a few days ago when Gary whispered to his wonderful wife, Signe, that he was “just about to Atlantic City.” Atlantic City is the final stop on the Race Across America. Only real RAAM RACERS wear that ring. Only a few solo racers have ever crossed that finish line.

Whether he was sharing his gift of music, his gift of sport, or his gift of time, Gary Verrill, or “55” as I called him, always elevated those around him. He was one of the best storytellers, husbands, musicians, athletes, and dads I have ever known. I am so fortunate to have known him.

When you read this post, your reaction might be that you are sorry for my loss, or sorry for our loss, but don’t be. Gary knew he was dying for 9.5 years and saw it as a gift. The pain the RAAM doled out prepared him for his final race, he said. He called me dozens of nights over the years and left voicemails of wisdom about what he was learning from cancer. And I know he got to say everything he wanted to say to his friends, his family, his wife, and his children.

So I can’t think of the loss tonight because I am filled with so much gratitude for all that I have gained, that we have gained. I am not sure I would be a broadcaster today, I sure as hell would have never been brave enough to ride a bike across America, and my son and I would have never discovered the greatness of Dairy Queen (which we call Gary Queen) anytime we go on a road trip to this day.

Every day we wake up, we are all headed to Atlantic City. I hope you have as much fun as he did along the way. Hammer on thru to the finish, everyone. And I hope you’ll stop and grab yourself a “Gary-Queen” along your own route. Gary told me to tell you that.

I love you all. I will miss you, 55.


Signe Verrill #55 #Raam #Garyverrill #friendship

UPDATE FROM Gary Verrill’s Wife:

Finishing Well. 

Journal entry by Signe Verrill — Nov 11, 2023

On the Saturday morning before the Sunday (Nov 5) he passed away, Gary struggled to open his eyes.  His breathing was a bit irregular.  When I was able to rouse him, he blinked his eyes open and smiled.  I looked into those soft brown eyes which had sunken so far back in their sockets and could tell he wanted to say something to me. “Honey”, he said, “It’s over.  I’m done.” I managed to smile back and say, “Yes, for sure.  I understand and it’s OK.”  I went out to the kitchen to get his milk (which he looked so forward to) and his first round of meds for the day and when I came back to the room, he was much more alert and was eager for those first sips of milk, the only food he’d eaten since the middle of September.  After I gave him his meds and he swallowed the last of the milk, he took my hands in his and said, “We did it!  We made it to Atlantic City!”  I got so choked up and I think I made some ridiculous comment like “Yay Us.”  

For those of you who don’t know, Atlantic City was the finish line for the 1986 Race Across America (RAAM) the year he finished 5th place, in 10 days 9 hours, having started at the Santa Monica Pier in California.  A huge huge accomplishment. I’ve renamed RAAM “The Race that Taught Him Everything” because it gave him lessons in stamina, perseverance, and tenacity that helped him get through so many challenges in life but mostly helped him endure these last 6 months without utterly crushing his spirit.  It also taught him to know when the race was over.

Through the years many of us have been entertained by his amazing stories but to me, his stories about RAAM were among the very best.  Stories about how combines in the fields became dinosaurs in his delirious mind, and how being chased by a pack of wild dogs bent on destroying him only made him pedal faster, the icicles that formed on his nose and eyebrows as he descended the freezing Rockies at night, becoming clairvoyant in the Blue Ridge Mountains and so on.  One of the things he liked to point out was that at the beginning of the race there were about a hundred eager riders all with the perfect gear and their crews. Family and friends gathered to cheer them on.  The starting gun fired, and off they went.  By the eastern most border of California only about 40 cyclists remained and as the race wore on through Arizona, Nevada and so on, the numbers dwindled significantly .  Eventually there were only 7 official finalists that year.  “The race belongs to the finishers, not the starters” he would say.  

I’ve thought a lot about “finishing well” these days.  In life it seems we get so preoccupied with the start (making good impressions and all) and the middle where we become hypnotized into believing that the perfect job, the perfect body, the perfect house, car and social circle, are the most important things.  But really, isn’t it the last part of the race where we really need to dig in and “hammer on to the finish” as our friend Don O’Neill likes to say?  I’ll admit to not knowing how that looks in a broad general sense, but for me, for us, it meant that we treated each of Gary’s last days as an opportunity to show our love, laugh as much as we could,  not give in to the victim mentality or complain needlessly, but to carry on with as much honor and dignity as we could muster, because we had witnesses who were watching and just maybe we could be an encouragement to our kids and our friends that all is not lost when we face death.  It’s just the finish line.  And then we get the prize. 

I would like to thank you all for reading these journal entries and for all the loving comments and words of encouragement.  I also want to personally thank you for all the prayers and love being sent my way as I head out into a brand new role and the way of our kids living out their days without their dad.  We’re a little shaky to be sure.

When Don is not behind a microphone, you might find him helping clients shop for properties to buy, invest, or sell. As an active investor, Don seeks out properties for long term investments. Schedule Your Sit Don with Ron today!

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DISCLAIMER: Ron Upshaw, Managing Broker License #22027577 & Don O’Neill, Broker License #95294 are brokers with Kelly Right Real Estate

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