“Lieuwe Westra [...] passed away on Saturday afternoon. The former cyclist fought with himself in recent years and lost. Rest in peace, Beast.” This was the post on Twitter that broke the news to the world that former professional cyclist Lieuwe Westra had died at the age of 40.
The author of the post, Thomas Sijtsma, also wrote Westra’s biography, published in Dutch in 2018 and named after the nickname given to Westra by cycling fans: “the Beast.”
In the book, Westra openly discussed his lifelong battle with depression and his use of banned substances during his racing career. Some who knew Westra went so far as to imply that the biography may have been a factor that exacerbated Westra’s distress since its publication.
Former pro cyclist Johnny Hoogerland, who rode with Westra on Team Vacansoliel, told the Dutch media, “That book in 2018, that was terrible. I said to Thomas Sijtsma, so the author, watch out with Lieuwe. Now try to protect him. (…) Lieuwe did not want that book at all.”
Perhaps it was the wording of Sijtsma’s tweet, or perhaps it was because Westra had revealed that he suffered from an illness that affects millions, or perhaps it is the stigma, ignorance and inaccurate information that still very much exists around depression. Whatever the reason, when the news broke many observers saw the words “depression” and “died” in a headline and jumped to the judgmental, harmful and reductive conclusion that Westra had ended his life by suicide.
The fact is the cause of death remains unknown. What is known is that Westra was found unresponsive on his property, CPR was performed when emergency medical personnel got to the scene, and resuscitation was unsuccessful.
Sijtsma later walked back his original statements, stressing that at this stage of the investigation “there is no suggestion of suicide.”
Tributes and words of consolation for the family of Liewen Westra have been shared widely, with one fan tweeting, “RIP Lieuwe Westra. What a tragedy. He was a 90kg techno raver and road painter in his early twenties till he started riding again and entered the WorldTour at the age of 26, and beat the best at Paris-Nice. He showed that nothing is impossible.”
If you or a loved one is suffering from suicidal thoughts, support is available by calling the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline; dial 988 to speak with someone immediately. Y
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