Flames triathlete Fowler remembered for his selfless work ethic, dependability
Teammates and coaches of Josiah Fowler, a sophomore on Liberty University’s triathlon team who died early Friday morning after a cycling accident, remember him for his perseverance and passion for the sport.
“It was a true honor to coach Josiah,” said Head Coach Heather Gollnick, who was asked by Fowler’s family to speak at his celebration of life service this Saturday at noon at First Baptist Church in Atlanta, near his hometown of McDonough, Ga. “He was without question one of the hardest workers on the team. In all my years of coaching, I honestly haven’t experienced an athlete who was more focused, diligent, and determined to learn what was for him a new sport, triathlon.”
Fowler, 20, was hit by a car on Thursday afternoon while cycling solo on English Tavern Road in nearby Campbell County. He was transported to Roanoke Memorial Hospital where he succumbed to his injuries the next morning.
Liberty Interim President Jerry Prevo issued a statement on behalf of the Liberty family: “We are deeply saddened by the loss of this exceptional young man, a brother in Christ, and we will be praying for his family during this very difficult time. We know as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ that Josiah is in the arms of the Savior and that one day, we will all be united with each other again.”
To learn of his death on the first day of Liberty University’s Commencement was heartbreaking. At the Main Commencement Ceremony in Williams Stadium on Friday night, Prevo asked Dr. David Jeremiah, who delivered the benediction, to remember Fowler’s family in his prayer.
Recent graduate and fellow team member JJ Bagans met Fowler two years ago, when Fowler first tried out for the team.
“He loved the sport, but he didn’t have any prior experience at all,” Bagans said. “He tried out three times before he made the team, which speaks to his determination and hard work. He really put his mind toward improving in it, and his strong character traits overcame his lack of experience in those areas.”
Bagans earned his B.S. in Exercise Science: Therapeutic Science, the same degree track that Fowler was pursuing.
“We were very close,” he said. “We’d meet each other outside of class and talk a lot outside of the team, and I mentored him in the program. I had a chance to speak to the faculty and they all agreed he was super nice and sweet, and was starting to hit his stride in his major and all of his classes, applying himself and exceling.”
Many saw him also develop in his sport and in his Christian walk.
“You could see the steady and significant improvement he was making each race, hitting his stride,” Bagans said. “He and another one of our team members, (sophomore) Connor (Readman), were inseparable, and they both had made massive gains after training for hours and hours. They were growing as men, too, and you could see that in Josiah. He was instrumental in leading Bible studies and was blossoming as a leader. Coach (Gollnick) was looking at him as a (team captain) for next season.”
Teammates of Fowler met with grief counselors at local churches over the weekend, and Liberty made several of its LU Shepherds staff available.
“It’s just a shock,” Bagans said. “A bunch of us were with him early that (Thursday) morning at another one of our friends’ graduation ceremonies. He brought us all graduation cards with a smile on his face. He was one of the purest souls that I’ve ever met, selfless and giving. He didn’t run this race on earth for himself; he ran it for God and for others, as was evident by what he was doing on his last day, celebrating someone else. He wanted to watch us all graduate before he went home.”
“They would trust him,” he said. “If they needed something or got a flat tire, Josiah would be that guy that people would call, because he was reliable, dependable. Anything that he could do, he would, above and beyond what was required.”
Gollnick, who also serves as a Club Sports spiritual development coordinator, said Jesus, his family, triathlon, and teammates are what Fowler loved most.
“Josi, as he was affectionately called, was simply an exceptional young man, friend, and leader,” she said. “His selfless attitude and zeal for life were just a few of the myriad positive traits that he possessed.”
“He was one of the most compassionate people on the team who everyone just loved,” Gollnick added. “He loved the Lord with all his heart and soul. As we mourn his loss, we have peace knowing that Josiah is rejoicing at the feet of his Heavenly Father.”
“That’s definitely what’s pulling us through,” Bagans added. “Everyone on the team has taken that (assurance of salvation) to heart because they think about losing him and how great of a man he was. Knowing without a doubt he is with the Lord and happy is fundamental to our grieving process.”
Gollnick expects nearly all of this year’s triathlon team members to attend Saturday’s service, along with her husband, Assistant Coach Todd Gollnick. Many will travel by bus from Lynchburg on Friday to arrive in time for a reception for family and close friends at his church.
Readman, who will read a tribute to Fowler at the memorial service, set up a GoFundMe account for his family that as of Thursday morning had raised more than $8,800 toward a $10,000 goal to help pay for his funeral. The Fowler family has requested that rather than flowers, people donate in Josiah’s memory towards Liberty’s triathlon program.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer