Tonya McEvoy (34) ‘You’ve got to get home. Tonya’s been in an ac­ci­dent’

Tonya McEvoy (34) from Rath­farn­ham in Dublin died on Fe­bru­ary 12th, 2017, fol­low­ing a col­li­sion with a ve­hi­cle in Rath­cof­fey, in Co Kil­dare, dur­ing a trip with a dozen other cy­clists.

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When Tonya McEvoy signed up to the bike- to- work scheme she knew very lit­tle about cy­cling. She had re­cently started a new job as a child­min­der and was fed up wait­ing for the bus and sit­ting in rush hour traf­fic. When a friend at a gym class sug­gested she join a cy­cle club called Or­well Wheel­ers, Tonya turned to her best friend Jen­nifer Mul­li­gan-Rab­bitt for ad­vice.

“She had been quite self-con­scious for a num­ber of years but then got re­ally into ex­er­cises and nutri­tion and her con­fi­dence started to grow,” says Jen­nifer, speak­ing on the phone from her apart­ment in Lon­don. “She also wanted to find Mr Right and we joked that there were lots of men in cy­cling clubs. But then she got re­ally pas­sion­ate about cy­cling. It gave her a new lease of life.”

Tonya’s younger brother Keith McEvoy also no­ticed a change in his sis­ter’s de­meanour af­ter she joined the club in 2016. “She in­vested so much time in it and did lots of classes on any­thing re­lated to cy­cling. She bought two bikes, one for work and the proper racer bike to do the spins with her cy­cling club.”

On Sun­day, Fe­bru­ary 12th, 2017, the 34- year- old set out on one of her usual Or­well Wheel­ers morn­ing cy­cles from Dun­drum. She and Jen­nifer had been tex­ting back and forth the night be­fore while Tonya spent the evening bak­ing with her mother. Tonya had lived with her par­ents since mov­ing home from Aus­tralia in 2008 but was sav­ing for a de­posit to buy a home.

“She was usu­ally re­ally so­cial but had a nice night in with her mum and they made buns,” says Jen­nifer. “She texted [ to say] she was go­ing on a cy­cle the next day. I wrote back the fol­low­ing morn­ing but it never de­liv­ered.”

Keith was in his ex- girl­friend’s apart­ment in Sandy­ford when the phone rang on Sun­day morn­ing. His five- year- old daugh­ter Han­nah was in his par­ents’ house and he was ex­pect­ing her to call. In­stead, he heard the pan­icked voice of his mother Pa­tri­cia. “She said ‘ you’ve got to get home, Tonya’s been in an ac­ci­dent’. My whole body froze but then I thought, she’s gonna be okay. Her friend had fallen off her bike a few weeks be­fore and hurt her knee, and Tonya waited with her for the am­bu­lance to ar­rive. I thought it was that sort of sce­nario.”

Keith’s split sec­ond of relief was quickly shat­tered. “Mam said ‘ we think she’s dead’. I was in a panic. I had to get home be­cause I knew it was just Han­nah and my mam there by them­selves.”

Shortly be­fore Keith spoke to his mother, two rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Or­well Wheel­ers had called to the fam­ily home in Rath­farn­ham. They ex­plained that Tonya had been in an ac­ci­dent and drove Tonya’s fa­ther Brian and sis­ter Ciara to the vil­lage of Rath­cof­fey in Co Kil­dare. They were met by gar­daí and were told to drive on to Naas hospi­tal where they dis­cov­ered Tonya had died.

In Lon­don, Jen­nifer had been wait­ing all morn­ing for Tonya to re­ply to her mes­sage. “Tonya was re­li­able as clock­work, she would al­ways write back. I checked my phone a cou­ple of times and said to my hus­band ‘that’s a bit weird’.

“By 4pm I knew there was some­thing wrong so I sent her a Face­book mes­sage but heard noth­ing back.”

When Jen­nifer saw a text ap­pear from Tonya’s sis­ter ask­ing that she call she felt sick to her stom­ach. “Poor Ciara had to break the news to me. I just kind of sat there for a long time. Then I just started book­ing flights.”

Jen­nifer and her now- hus­band Ciarán flew to Dublin the fol­low­ing day. “I re­mem­ber the air­port was hor­rific. Peo­ple were go­ing away on hol­i­days and here was I go­ing home to a fu­neral. It felt con­fus­ing and weird.”

That same morn­ing, Keith was tasked with the job of cov­er­ing his dad’s milk­man shift. “He’s self- em­ployed so he couldn’t call in sick and needed to de­liver to shops and restau­rants. I’ll never for­get it, ev­ery­one kept ask­ing ‘ where’s your dad?’ and I had to ex­plain to every cus­tomer what had hap­pened. It be­came harder and harder each time. I went into one shop and saw her photo on the front of the Her­ald. I started shak­ing and just turned away and walked back to the milk van. I wanted to burst out cry­ing but I thought it’s not my char­ac­ter, men are meant to be tough. So I just bot­tled it in.”

Keith was not able to hide th­ese emo­tions at Tonya’s fu­neral two days later. “My­self, my brother, my dad, my two un­cles and my sis­ter’s part­ner car­ried the cof­fin. It was a mas­sive turnout and the Or­well Wheel­ers did a guard of hon­our in their cy­cling jer­seys. I was asked to say a prayer but when I stood up I just broke.”

Less than four months later, Jen­nifer stood at the al­tar of a church in the west of Ire­land and said her mar­riage vows to her hus­band. “We kept the bri­dal party as it was, there was no re­place­ment brides­maid for Tonya. We had a can­dle lit for her all morn­ing but noth­ing can re­place some­one’s laugh or smile. All I could think about was she would love this and should be here with me.”

More than 14 months on from her death, Keith is find­ing his sis­ter’s ab­sence in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult. “I know peo­ple say it gets eas­ier as time goes on but to be hon­est it’s been the op­po­site for me. The longer it goes on the harder it gets. “Some­times I get an­gry, why would they take her away from me? It still doesn’t feel real.”

Jen­nifer also strug­gles to ac­cept that her best friend is no longer a phone call away. “There’s no real logic to it. She was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and in a split sec­ond, she was gone. She had all th­ese plans; she was go­ing to buy a house, she wanted to meet a man and travel again. We had so many good times ahead of us.”

“She was a les­son to ev­ery­body, she paved her own way and for me she was an in­spi­ra­tion. She did things in her own way and loved life.”

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