Sunday, October 20, 2013

Amy Dombroski Stickers

 What a strong looking machine.  

There's a pile of stickers on my table that I can't even bear to look at.  I keep covering them up. I don't even want to be near them.  I don't want to be reminded of what happened two weeks ago.  There are some moments that I can face reality.  It's only in these moments that I can slightly comprehend what has happened.  I literally hurt as if someone has ripped something out from inside of me and left a gaping hole.  The rest of the time I'm functioning in denial's sweet bliss, slightly perplexed that the name of my good friend, Amy, is on a sticker.  Why does this sticker say, Amy, we will always love and remember you?  This doesn't make any sense when she's supposed to send me a hilarious text any moment now.  It doesn't make any sense why she wasn't in the World Cup cyclocross results today when I looked for her name.  It feels like she could come riding around the bend in the road, with a huge smile beaming on her face, dragging me out for a cold, rainy ride.  None of this makes any sense.

I was in Malaysia racing the Langkawi International Mountain Bike Stage Race when I got the news.  The four days of racing before were fantastic.  I had returned to Langkawi as the defending champion, and I knew I had a big challenge ahead of me to defend the title.  Maja Wloszczowska, 2010 World Champion, Eva Lecher, the current ranked number one rider in the world, and a handful of other world cup top tenners were present to make it an exciting race.  On the first long stage, I felt awesome and escaped the group with Maja.  We worked together to gain a seven minute advantage on the other ladies.  Then, two kilometers from the finish, we missed a turn and ended up doing an extra hour of sight seeing.  The race official and other competitors decided to give us the same time as the winners.  The next day, I attacked very early in this long and grueling stage and went solo.  I spent the entire day off the front, thought I had the stage, and then five kilometers from the finish, Maja caught me.  I couldn't believe it.  We rode together to the finish line, and I sprinted for the win.  I wore the pink leaders jersey into the next stage by a mere five seconds.  This was the last long stage so it was the decisive one.  It was two laps of a long hike a bike climb, a steep, slick decent, and then rolling to the finish.  On the first lap, Maja, Eva, and I were together on the hiking section.  Then, both of those girls dropped me on the decent and disappeared.  I kept fighting, but I thought I blew it.  Then, I caught them halfway through the lap, and we approached the hiking climb together.  I knew I would have to get some space between us so they wouldn't drop me again on the decent so I attacked.  I attacked and ended up winning the stage by running with my bike uphill.  I won a bike race by running.  It's hilarious.  My teammate, Kohei Yamamoto, also won the stage and rode into the leader's jersey.  It all happened on the nine month anniversary in which our Specialized teammate, the late Burry Stander, was taken from us in a bike/car accident.  To have us both win and wear the leader's jersey on this particular day was something very special, especially since Burry's parents were present.  I was riding high.  It felt like the best present we could give him.  He was smiling down on us.

Then, from one high to one very low, I awoke the following morning to the news that Amy had been killed while motor pacing in Belgium, where she resided for the winter chasing her european cyclocross dreams. I started shaking uncontrollably.  My first thought was, I don't want to do this anymore.  Burry's accident hit home, but this accident hit my core.  I grew up with Amy in Vermont.  I dated her brother Dan in high school, and he got me hooked on mountain biking.  My sister and I grew up ski racing with Amy at Smuggler's Notch Ski Club.  She ran with Sabe on the high school cross country team.  Then, Dan got her started riding, actually on the same bike that I started on.  This article tells that story and also does a great job of capturing Amy.  Once she started bike racing, we were on the same trajectory and grew even closer.
Amy and I give her dad a high five after a Vermont cross race.  

We hung out in different parts of the world, our paths intersecting in this traveling bike racing circus.  Two years ago, I was at the first world cup of the season and my first race with team Specialized in England.  I arrived on my birthday, jetlagged and very alone.  Amy was the only one who set out on a mission to find me in this foreign country (easier said than done) on my birthday and take me out for indian food.  I rode with her in Colorado, California, Germany, England, and, most importantly, Vermont.  I'm sure I'm missing about thirty more locations where we met.  Amy would return to her dad's house every fall for a short stint in the New England cross scene before jet setting off to Belgium to plug away at her goals.  I always loved this time.  It would be filled with breakfast over at her dad's house or bbqs at my parents house.  Even though I would be in the middle of my off season, she would drag me out in awful weather for three hour rides.  I would always wonder why I was riding in this voluntarily when a training schedule didn't even order me to.  It was to spend time with Amy.  She had a wit so dry it would actually negate those soggy days.  I was always bugging her to come back home to Vermont so we could train together.  So we could really give it a go on the mountain bike.  I always thought it would be so much fun to have her around permanently.

Amy enjoying the fruits of her cross victory with a belgium beer that's the same size she is

We shared music.  I made her go to college to try it, but that only lasted a year.  I encouraged her to get a coach, and she did.  She improved.  Recently, she was trying to make inroads at Specialized to be my teammate.  I was preparing to lay on the full court press to get her in there.  It would have been amazing to have her as a teammate.  She's still making me laugh when I read through our text banter.

Recently when she was talking to my girlfriend, Jojo, about her upcoming cyclocross race at Gloucester:
jojo: Are you going to Gloucester to race?
AD: No, I'm going to sell maple syrup at the finish line.

She was hilarious.  She had a rare wit that always left me laughing.  It wasn't just a light chuckle, but a belly laugh.  It was real.  It was genuine, just like Amy.  A million words won't even begin to do her justice, to peel back her many layers.  She was truly happy and that is really saying something because she wasn't dealt the best hand.  Her mother died suddenly when Amy was a teenager and then she had a good ski racing friend pass away when she was at Burke Mountain Academy.  Amy was amazingly resilient in these trying times.  She would take her time to brood and mourn and then throw her energy into something else.  She would create some amazing poetry or train hard.  She was the only one to keep it together to read a poem she composed at her mom's funeral.  She had grown into a beaming, smiling, amazing human being.  She had really settled into herself and figured things out.

The only thing I can do is what Amy would do.  Face tragedy, hang tough, pour myself into something, and create something amazing.  And, one thing is for certain, I'm going to train hard, exactly like she always did, and win.  That's what she would want.

But, I still can't bring myself to face those stickers yet.  I'm not even close to putting them on my bike.  I don't want to ride with an Amy sticker on my bike.  I just want to ride with Amy.