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Montgomery High School track coach Bryan Bradley dies suddenly at 43

How to help

Melody Karpinski, Bryan Bradley’s co-coach, has created a GoFundMe page to help out Bradley’s family. To donate, go to www.gofundme.com.

Santa Rosa High’s track coach Carrie Joseph has also created a GoFundMe page for Bradley’s family. To donate, go to www.gofundme.com.

He was a quiet motivator, a roller coaster junkie and a fixer of all things.

He was a video gamer who streamed on YouTube under the moniker “Flyinnn Hawaiiannn.”

He was a proud father, brother and son. An endearing mentor to many.

And for the past 15 years, Bryan Bradley coached cross-country and track and field at Montgomery High School. And it was in that role, running a workout with his team Tuesday afternoon in Trione-Annadel State Park, that Bradley was stricken and died.

He was just 43.

“He was very quiet, even with the kids, very much a man of few words. But when he was talking, it was something important to say,” said Melody Karpinski, Bradley’s co-coach in both sports. “Kids would figure out early on how much he was invested in them and would respond to that.”

Bradley collapsed while running a workout near the convergence of Spring Creek and Canyon trails, a much-used section of the park.

A Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office helicopter landed at the state park and a paramedic on board took over for somebody who was giving Bradley CPR. He was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

The cause of his death is unknown, said Dean Haskins, the school’s longtime athletic director.

Grief counselors were on campus all day Wednesday to provide comfort and support to students. Eric Lofchie, the district’s mental health clinical supervisor, was on hand during an optional cross-country practice Wednesday afternoon.

About 10 runners on the team chose to work out, while more Vikings gathered at the track to talk.

Some grieving students stayed home.

“He was the type of coach where no one was left out,” senior Jason Yepez said. “He didn’t just focus on the higher-level kids...I think that was something that was great about him.”

On Wednesday, Yepez remember Bradley’s laugh. When asked what made his coach chuckle, he said. “The team,” with a smile. “When he would laugh, it was so genuine.”

A 1996 Montgomery graduate and multisport standout, Bradley was devoted to the Viking community.

Bradley spent countless hours encouraging kids to stay fit between seasons, opening the weight room and offering voluntary workouts even through the dark winter months between seasons.

“He was the glue between the two programs, he really was,” Haskins said.

“He talked to them a lot, but not just about cross country and track and field, but personal stuff and the mental side. He has been a fixture here for so many years and has been that stability factor for those two programs.”

And it wasn’t just the two programs he directly coached that benefited from Bradley’s work ethic and talents, Haskins said. The guy could fix anything.

He recalled new benches being delivered for the soccer teams and there being some struggle to assemble them.

“Bryan rolled up, grabbed a few tools out of his truck and the next thing you know, the things were put together,” he said.

He was generous as a peer, said longtime Santa Rosa High cross-country and track coach Carrie Joseph. Bradley was just recently texting her about a Santa Rosa student he thought would be a good addition to her team. He wanted to connect her to the student.

“He was very helpful, not territorial, totally, ‘Let’s share the wealth,’” she said. “He was someone who loved the sport and wanted to expose it to as many people as possible. He was really authentic. There was no facade about him.

“He was a good one.”

His daughter, Julie Bradley, 21 of San Diego, said she remembers her amusement park-crazed dad taking her to Six Flags Magic Mountain when she was just four, all so he could share his love of roller coasters with her.

Fearing she was too small to ride the good ones, he asked her to wear special shoes, she said with a laugh Tuesday.

“He made me wear these big chunk shoes all day just so I could go on all the rides,” she said.

Both were infatuated with the starry skies and anything to do with astronomy. Julie said she and her dad drove to Missouri in 2017 for a better view of the total eclipse.

“It ended up being like 4,300 miles,” she said.

She and her dad, neither morning people, laughed at the fact that they were willing to rise at 4:30 a.m. to see the eclipse.

“I was just talking to him last week about how there’s one in 2024 and how we need to start planning our next road trip,” she said. “He said he was ready.”

“He was the greatest man I know,” Julie said. “He was my absolute best friend in the whole world.”

Current athletes described Bradley as a keen observer. So, too, did Stephanie Fernandez, a standout hurdler who graduated from Montgomery in 2015.

After a phenomenal sophomore season, Fernandez slumped as a junior. At the last meet of the season, she was leaving the track nearly in tears when Bradley stopped her.

“Coach Bryan was there. He was always watching,” she said. “I told him, ‘Maybe this isn’t for me; maybe sophomore year was a fluke.’

“He said, ‘Let’s get you where you want to be.’”

Bradley videoed not only Fernandez’s races, but also her workouts. They worked on form and nutrition and fitness. Fernandez went on to run for Santa Rosa Junior College and at a small school in Ohio, Tiffin University.

“If it wasn’t for him, I don’t think I would have ever gone back to the track,” she said.

They remain close. When Fernandez, who is now living in Hayward studying to become a chiropractor, was at Spring Lake last June, she saw a sea of Montgomery runners in red T-shirts.

“I knew Coach Bryan was going to be around there somewhere,” she said.

Sure enough, she found him.

“He was like a father figure to me, 100 percent,” Fernandez said. “It just breaks my heart for the kids who are getting into the season and they won’t get to experience Coach Bryan.”

For a man many described as quiet, Bradley knew how to celebrate.

When a Montgomery High hurdler was racing for a spot in the CIF State Track and Field Championships in 2017, Bradley was on hand to film it, as usual.

But as Karpinski, his co-coach, recalled, the final video wasn’t much to look at. As senior Thomas Thomsen crosses the line, securing a trip to state, the camera clatters to the ground, dropped by an overjoyed coach — the only sound, Bradley’s whoops of excitement.

That was Bradley, friends and family said Tuesday.

A kind and quiet man who was equal parts genuine and generous. He didn’t talk to hear his own voice. When he spoke, he had something to say.

And when he cheered, his kids felt it to their core.

Staff writer Matt Pera contributed to this story. You can reach Staff Columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @benefield.

How to help

Melody Karpinski, Bryan Bradley’s co-coach, has created a GoFundMe page to help out Bradley’s family. To donate, go to www.gofundme.com.

Santa Rosa High’s track coach Carrie Joseph has also created a GoFundMe page for Bradley’s family. To donate, go to www.gofundme.com.

Kerry Benefield

Columnist, The Press Democrat

Have a story that is wild, wacky, bizarre or beautiful? Tell me about it. Have a question that starts with, “What’s the deal with…?” Let’s figure it out together. This column is about the story behind the story, a place to shine a light on who we are, what makes us a community and all of the things that make us special. With your help, I'll be tackling the questions that vex us: (the funny, the mundane, and the irritating.)

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