Former girlfriend of Yelverton cyclist Junior Heffernan tells of his humour, kindness and determination to be the best
THE former girlfriend of talented sportsman Junior Heffernan, who died during a road race, has spoken of his charisma, humour and determination to be the best.
Stephanie Evans, from Higher Compton, said she would never forget the 23-year-old, from Yelverton, who had died "doing what he loved".
As The Herald reported on Monday, the rising star of cycling died after a collision with a car. He was leading the field in a road race in Gloucestershire at the time.
Stephanie, 33, said the couple had met on a dating website three years ago.
"He'd just turned 21 when I met him," she said, paying heartfelt tribute to Junior.
"It was his sense of humour that struck me most of all.
"The first time I met him I thought, 'You're a bit younger than me', but he was very mature for his age and very charismatic.
"He had a wicked sense of humour and he would really make me laugh. We were the best of friends."
Stephanie said the couple would meet "nearly every day" while they were together.
Eventually, he signed up to the Primal Europe training team and she recalls him proudly wearing his black and white kit with the rest of his team outside the Royal Oak pub in Meavy.
"He was so chuffed," she said. "He wanted to be an elite cyclist – that was his whole aim. He had a lot of injuries, breaking his collar bone, bumps and scrapes.
"But he never let that get in his way. He would say, 'Yeah, it hurts, but it's all I want to do.'
"He gave it 100 percent – cycling was everything to him."
Stephanie said that the couple agreed to separate but remained close friends after he returned from altitude training in Calpe, in Spain.
She said: "His special skill was climbing so to get that kind of training he had to go abroad "We knew he would have to go abroad more and more.
"We parted so he could go to Spain, but even though he was so determined, so focused on his cycling, he still had time for people. He was kind and caring. He never became rude or forgetful of his friends.
"He really was a really nice person and always on the end of a phone for people. We stayed best of friends. I was waiting for his call on Sunday, wondering when he was going to call.
"When he didn't I thought 'Oh, he's busy', but later I heard the news. We were meant to meet the next day for coffee."
Stephanie said Junior's parents would be deeply affected by his sudden death.
"He was everything to his parents," she said. "They went to all his races, drove him to all of them, supported him throughout. He was their world."
She agreed with his friend and former training colleague, Steve Ferguson, who said earlier this week that Junior worked exceptionally hard to achieve his level of skill.
She said: "He met Jon Tiernan-Locke [Plymouth-based Tour of Britain winner] when he was training in France and they talked about racing.
"He was not a natural rider, like Jon. What Junior achieved, he achieved through sheer hard work and determination.
"Whatever happened, whatever was said to him, he always took a negative and turned it into a positive."
She said he must have been incredibly excited and proud of racing in the Severn Bridge Road Race as part of a professional team.
Stephanie added: "For him, knowing that he had made it, that would have really meant something to him, that he had achieved that level. That would have given him an overwhelming sense of pride."