Cyclist in targeted hit and run mourned as dedicated wrestler with bright future

As police continue to search for two suspects in the death of a 19-year-old cyclist over the weekend, those who knew Aaron Rankine-Wright say he was a dedicated athlete with a soft heart and tough exterior, with a bright future ahead.

Aaron Rankine-Wright 'was the nicest kid coming of the circumstances he came out of,' coach recalls

A makeshift memorial sits across the street from the home of Aaron Rankine-Wright, a 19-year-old remembered as 'uniquely talented, respectful and hardworking.' (Mark Bochsler/CBC)

As police continue to search for two suspects in the death of a 19-year-old cyclist over the weekend, those who knew Aaron Rankine-Wright say he was a dedicated athlete with a soft heart and tough exterior, with a bright future ahead.

It was an otherwise bright Saturday in Little Portugal when police were called to a laneway near Dundas and Dufferin streets for reports that a cyclist had been struck.

Rankine-Wright was on his way to work when he was hit by a black Toyota RAV4. But it soon became clear that this was no accident.

Investigators say the teen was deliberately struck, with three males jumping out of the SUV moments after he was hit and stabbing him repeatedly. A post-mortem examination revealed he died of a stab wound to the chest.

Wrestling 'the most consistent thing' in his life

Now, with a 17-year-old charged with first-degree murder in Rankine-Wright's death, his friends and family are struggling to make sense of the loss, and mourning a young man with so much potential.

It wasn't supposed to be this way, says one of Rankine-Wright's wrestling coaches.
Aaron Rankine-Wright, 19, was killed in a deliberate hit and run in Little Portugal late Saturday afternoon, Toronto police say. (Facebook)

"He was a model wrestler; anything you wanted him to do, anything you asked," Ewers recalled. "His obstacles were getting to practice, sometimes bus fare would have been a problem, sometimes the distance … but when he was in practice, you tell him, 'Jump,' he'd say, 'How high?'"

Wrestling was perhaps "the most consistent thing" in Rankine-Wright's life, Ewers remembers the teen's mother telling him once.

Academic pursuits weren't exactly his cup of tea. Instead, says Ewers, the teen was hungry to work and start fending for himself. 

Ewers was eager to get Rankine-Wright thinking about a future that included university or college. Perhaps he'd have a future wrestling as part of post-secondary team.

'A lot of us are really torn up'

Polite as ever, Rankine-Wright would reply "Yeah, coach," remembers Ewers. "He really didn't want to disappoint you, but at the same time, he knew what he wanted to do."

On Saturday, his coaches got the phone call telling them Rankine-Wright had been struck. At first they didn't know what to make of the news, but soon details began pouring in.
Wrestling was perhaps 'the most consistent thing' in Rankine-Wright's life, his coach Neal Ewers remembers the teen's mother telling him once. (Adrian Cheung/CBC)

It was the night before competition in Albany, N.Y. The coaches decided to keep the news to themselves until the next day.

"A lot of us are really torn up," said Ewers, who added Rankine-Wright wasn't the first young man he'd mentored whose life has been cut short.

But for anyone who might believe the teen was out looking for trouble, his coach says, "It's not in his character. If anyone is assuming that, that's not this kid. This kid is the nicest kid coming out of the circumstances that he came out of."

Jay Jordon, a coach with the Central Toronto Wrestling Club, agrees.

Speaking to CBC Toronto at a makeshift memorial across the street from where Rankine-Wright lived, Jordon remembered the 19-year-old as "uniquely talented, respectful and hardworking.

"He's not the sort of guy who sought out trouble, that's for sure," he said.

'The toughest thing'

So kindhearted was the teen, Jordon says, that he recently introduced another young man from his neighbourhood to the club.
Rankine-Wright's coaches say the growing memorial across from his home is a testament to just how many people loved him. (Mark Bochler/CBC)

It was only last summer that Jordon saw Rankine-Wright bursting with enthusiasm when the Cuban national team was in Toronto training with his group. The plan this summer was to for him to travel to Cuba himself.

"It's a tragic loss … Words just don't really say it," Jordon said.

For now, Ewers says he's left wondering with a feeling of "helplessness."

"What can you do really to help someone see what they don't already see? To give them some peripheral vision… make them think about the future before it happens and try to influence them to think about where they could be versus where they are," he said.

"That's the toughest thing."

With files from Adrian Cheung