The Rider Named Ryder
May 27, 2012 § 2 Comments
Vancouver Island cyclist Ryder Hesjedal has burned up the headlines across Canada this week, making us proud by becoming the first Canadian ever to win a Grand Tour cycling event when he captured the Giro d’Italia trophy this morning. And one of my favourite tweets about the win? A non-Canadian who had been watching the Giro daily, live from Italy, commented regarding the athlete whom no one had pegged as the possible winner:
“I just realized that rider Hesjedal is Ryder Hesjedal. #duh”
He and nearly everybody else, within Canada included (cycling’s popularity is growing here, and Hesjedal could be the new star to elevate it!) Before he won the second most prestigious cycling race in the world, Hesjedal’s best finish was 6th overall at the 2010 Tour de France, and he won the 12th stage of the 2009 Vuelta a Espana.
Hesjedal’s parents, the children and grandchildren of Norwegian immigrant farmers (they initially settled in Saskatchewan via Minnesota), had their son Eric Ryder in 1980, though from the time he began competing in professional mountain biking as a teen (and perhaps long before that) he was known by his all-too-perfect middle name. As the story goes, the man who could go down in history as Canada’s greatest ever pro cyclist entered his first mountain bike race as a teen in the mid-90s. He arrived late so started two minutes behind the rest of the competition and raced in just jeans and a t-shirt. He finished second, and got his first coach.
Ryder/Rider is an Old English name, derived from the term used to describe knights and other mounted warriors. But in the modern world, where a knighthood is generally given to the likes of Mick Jagger or Judi Dench for contributions to British interests, ‘riders’ have become almost completely synonymous with motor and bicyclists, or those who ride horseback as a hobby. But these latest affiliations to the name certainly give it a sporty feel with a noble history.
I’ve always liked Ryder, which is a decidedly modern selection as a first name. Maybe it gained the first bit of steam it needed after a film like Easy Rider – the epitome of cool, the ’69 Dennis Hopper classic holds major cultural significance to the ‘Boomer generation that really started using Ryder as a given name, though in the late-19th and early-20th Century British novelist H.(enry) Rider Haggard made a name for himself with colonial adventure bestsellers like King Solomon’s Mines and She.
As a name, Ryder is certainly becoming incredibly popular of late – it entered the US Top 1000 in the mid-90s, perhaps due in part to the popularity of American actor Rider Strong on the hit TV show Boy Meets World, though the y spelling has always been exponentially more in use. After Kate Hudson named her first son Ryder Russell in 2004, the name shot like a rocket to it’s current position just outside the US Top 100. Outside North America, Australians are also on board, with Ryder a name inside the Top 100, but in Britain, Ryder ranks much lower and is decidedly uncommon, at just 878.
But back to the whole “you are what you’re named” thing. There may be a few who groan at the fact that the newly-minted Face of Canadian Cycling has such an occupationally accurate first name. Thing is, outside of royalty, it’s almost impossible to know what a person will grow up to become on the day that they’re born and given a name, so either a person goes out of their way to live up to their name, or it happens organically. But in most cases – Hunter S. Thompson and Taylor Hanson, for example, the first name says nothing about a person’s occupational destiny.
But once you’re famous, once you’ve achieved something great, being a professional cyclist named Ryder could go down in history almost as much as your accomplishments.