In Memory of Karl Dittebrandt
Last month, New York City lost one of the greatest in cycling. No, it wasn’t anyone you’ve seen crushing the P1/2 field or speeding by on 9W. It was Karl Dittebrandt, a cyclist, cycling official, and motor referee.
Most people today know Karl from officiating at the track, Rainey Park, or officiating or pacing Central or Prospect Park races. But Karl was also a cyclist in his own right. He mentored cyclists as a ride leader in the New York Cycle Club. He traveled throughout the US with friends to ride in brevets. He regularly visited Europe where he took part in randonées, completing Paris-Brest-Paris in 1991 and 1995. And he raced bikes, taking a particular interest in track and cyclocross events.
At a gathering at Karl’s girlfriend’s house following his passing, I also learned that Karl was an artist. He liked to make musical instruments and sometimes made bowls out of dryer lint. Karl liked to forage for mushrooms. Karl had worked as an electrician. Karl was into acting and even appeared as an extra in a Batman movie (?!). Karl was also a Navy veteran.
Karl was many things to many people. To me, Karl was a friend, an advisor, and a steady source of comfort and reassurance. When I worked as the New York State Bicycle Racing Association’s officials coordinator for New York State, Karl was someone whom I could rely on to help me fill out a crew when I was in a bind - he was one of the hardest working officials in the entire state.
Karl also always told me the truth about how I was doing in my job and offered advice about how to best deal with challenging people and difficult situations. Having noticed that not many women worked as chief referees, Karl encouraged me to recruit more women to work as officials and not just to slot them all in as judges but to encourage them to be referees as well. When my brother passed away suddenly last year, Karl listened when I needed to cry and helped me in a time of enormous grief. I felt like he understood my deep sadness in a way that no one else did.
There are some things I’ll never forget about Karl. I’ll never forget his red face during a frigid day at Grant’s Tomb, casually remarking that it was a "little" cold out. The way he spoke truthfully about the...more “difficult” members of our community. The way he once stood at the starting line of a Central Park race while working as a chief referee and announced to the field: “Be careful. There’s a lot of shit going on out there.” The way he connected with anyone and everyone. The way he encouraged and supported cyclists. The way he would strut around Kissena Velodrome in his cowboy hat. The hilarious and reminiscent-of-a-millennial-lifestyle posts he made on Instagram. The way he wrote emails, littered with random
CAPITAL LETTERS. The way he made jokes, and always had a way of making people laugh, feel good about themselves, and feel like they were a welcome part of the cycling community.
Karl wasn’t just a good person, he was The Best Person.
Rest in Peace, Karl. You are missed.
Special thanks to Mike Yesko for contributing to this post.