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“Brian is a private, deep-thinking person,” she writes. “One who cares about those he loves but who does not easily express his emotions.”
The Wagners—Brian has an older and a younger sister—spent much of their youth scooting around South Africa and neighboring Eswatini, then more commonly known as Swaziland. Sometimes this meant living in semi-urban areas; other times they made their home off the dirt roads of the African countryside.
Sue says her son did not always exhibit a natural ability when it came to sports, but he worked hard. “I remember him spending hours riding his mountain bike, trying new things, trying to perfect various skills like how slowly could he ride, how high could he bunny hop, how fast could he complete a certain route,” she says. Brian’s obsessive practicing jibed well with her parenting philosophy. If the sun was shining, Sue told her three children they’d best be playing outside. Together with his sisters, Brian built obstacle courses over 44-gallon drums, devised treasure hunts, concocted makeshift waterslides from tarpaulins and dish soap. He preoccupied himself with ping-pong, often practicing with the opposite side of the table heaved upright as a backboard, and by high school he was competing regularly in track, cross-country, and mountain biking. Academics fell off the radar in the latter half of his teenage years—a pity, Sue concedes, considering the “good brain” her boy’s got—and after graduation Brian left South Africa for Australia in 2002. The plan was to stay for a gap year before the drudgery of university took over. But then a chance meeting with a bike messenger got in the way.
“I was in an elevator in Sydney and this guy got in,” Brian says, recounting an interaction he had after weeks sleeping in hostels and living like a hermit, a shy country kid whose accent and tendency to murmur made him hard to understand. “He was wearing a helmet and a backpack. I don’t normally speak to strangers, but I just started chatting to him. He told me he was a bike messenger. That was the first time I’d ever heard of it.” Here Brian looks away from the camera, sheepish and red faced, and allows the rare smile to creep crookedly across his face. “I was like, ‘You just ride around delivering stuff?’ Then I asked him, ‘How do you get that job?’”
Two weeks later, his mother had shipped him his old mountain bike and he had a new occupation. Sue was concerned, of course. She thought of the injuries and the financial hurdles her son would surely face. But she’d also taught her kids that passion was important in life