Note: As we approach a weekend that really defines Ellen’s success last year (her epic win at the Tour of Somerville), there is a lot of reflecting for each of our riders – this is Justine’s story.
The cycling world was stunned by the death of Chad Young in a crash at the Tour of the Gila. Among those struggling to make sense of this tragedy, I am shaken by his death because the narrative feels too familiar. I’ve become no stranger to the dangers of the sport, which I’ve felt keenly over the past year. There have been race crashes, car crashes, airlifts, comas, traumatic brain injuries, and sad, unfortunate, at times avoidable, deaths and accidents.
I’m struggling to process these losses — at once personal and yet removed. I didn’t know Chad, nor did I personally know some of the others who have lost their lives or abilities through the sport recently. But I did know Ellen Watters.
Our friendship was not a long one, but enabled by a lifestyle that saw us share road trips, host houses, and bedrooms as teammates, we grew close fast. Travelling, training and racing together, we saw each other in our best moments, we shared in the disappointments, and bonded over everything in between.
I’m still grieving my friend, finding ways to remember her, and to say goodbye. While I miss Ellen terribly, that grief is evolving from its sharp early pangs, to the dull ache of memory.
But there’s another part of Ellen’s death, of all these losses, that I have not been able to come to terms with. A deep sense of personal loss, that feels like every illusion of safety, of control, that I’ve clung to has disintegrated. It’s hard to see the raft of recent tragedies in my world as random when cycling ties them all together. I don’t think of this sport as extreme, yet I struggle to name something that feels more dangerous to me right now…Maybe base jumping, maybe mountaineering?
I don’t want to die. I want to pursue every success I can in cycling, but I have other ambitions, dreams and aspirations. I don’t want to brace myself every time a car approaches from behind, waiting to be hit. I don’t want to be afraid to push the edge, to find a few more seconds on a descent, or around a corner. But I am afraid.
I haven’t raced in almost a year, and as I get close to jumping back in, I’m full of apprehension. Cycling brings so much joy, so much beauty to my life. It’s made me stronger and more resilient. It ties me to a sisterhood of teammates who hold me up when I can’t manage these risks. Despite the support I have — all the insightful, sensitive people in my corner — the challenges of riding and racing are slowly wearing me down.
While I remember Chad, Ellen, Brad, Tom and others, I’m also becoming numb to the pain of their losses. It’s too much to handle, too often. So, I forge ahead: training, and soon racing. I acknowledge the uncertainty, but am unable to reconcile it. I stay in the moment, and I control what I can. I hold my teammates and my family close. I allow myself the time and space to process, to feel, to work through fear. I seek out and affirm the joys of this sport and the community that hold us together. But I don’t know how many more I can grieve.