The Girl With The Cowbell Tattoo

The Girl With The Cowbell Tattoo, created by Tim Shay.

by Molly Hurford

Before everything, I’d been listing the million things I wanted to write about in this column: the triathlon I did right before racing ’cross at Nittany, the whirlwind that was Interbike and Cross Vegas, the amazing trip to China for their first UCI cyclocross race, and how Holy Week of ’cross in New England simply blows everything out of the water, how it’s like coming home every year.

And then, within seconds, everything changed. Heart pounding, blood rushing, frantically clicking at the keyboard, hitting translate over and over again hoping so, so hard that the translation was off, because for something so terrible to happen, it just couldn’t be true. But it was, and so I sat in a coffeeshop with my head in my hands and sobbed.

It’s taken me a week and a half to come up with something to say, and normally, I’m much more of a writer than a talker. But in this case, it was actually too much to find the words to write about it. I didn’t know what to say, didn’t have anything to say.

It’s a story that physically hurts to write. It’s a blow to the cycling community at large, and a reminder that, no matter how careful we are, horrible accidents and tragedies like this can and do happen. To have such a thing happen to one of the most vibrant, well-loved talents in the pro cyclocross scene, well, it hurts and shocks an entire community. Even now, I know that I need to write something, because that’s how I deal with shock and sadness, but it’s hard to even find words that come close to expressing how it feels right now.

The week before last, a steady stream coming from Twitter first confirmed that Amy Dombroski, only 26 years old, a former U23 National Champion, a racer for the Telenet-Fidea team, had been killed in a collision with a truck while training in Holland. And then, the stunned and devastated reactions of racers, industry members, and virtually anyone who had ever had the privilege of interacting with Amy, or simply watching her race. The stream continued for hours, as everyone recounted the many ways that Amy touched our lives. To some, she was an inspiration, to others, a friend, to other, family.

To say that the news hit the cycling scene squarely in the heart is an accurate statement. It is a testament to Amy’s sparkling personality the number of tears shed across the world when people heard the news. There were so many conversations that I had yesterday that didn’t have words, so many unbroken silences on the phone as we struggled to process and to know what to say, how to describe what we were feeling.

Amy was one of the most joyful people that I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. When she raced, her intensity was something to be reckoned with, but when she finished, it didn’t matter how the race went or what she was talking about, she was all smiles. Her emails were punctuated similarly, with lines like “You’re the bestest!” between purely professional shop talk. She was vivacious, vibrant, and never let being one of the top pro racers in women’s cyclocross change her fun-loving personality.

My interactions with her were brief: post-race interviews, casual conversations here and there, high fives and hugs pre- or post-race. But among them, there are moments that stuck out even before this happened: Amy shouting and helping lift me up into the crowd at the Worlds after-party after giving me an enormous hug, Amy’s dad proudly telling me what a great girl she was and how nice it was to have her home for the week prior to the Mont St. Anne MTB World Cup, and Amy herself standing beside him, enjoying being home.

Of all the cyclists that I’ve had the privilege to meet and get to know, Amy was one of the ones who became a friend, not just an interviewee.

What can you say about such an unfair thing? Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how masterfully we want to write something, there simply aren’t any words that can express the depth of the sadness that we all feel. The day it happened, I heard from so many people, calling and texting me, hoping that I could tell them that it wasn’t true, that somehow this was all a horrible misunderstanding. For the first time since I became a journalist, I found myself praying that I was wrong, and that Amy would be calling me, ranting about me writing such an untrue, unfounded story. But the stories we desperately wish weren’t true all too often are, as in this case.

The one solace in all of this was seeing everyone at Providence last weekend, the racers who battle it out every weekend, hugging each other, crying together, sharing stories, laughing about the good times, and doing what we all knew Amy would have wanted: racing our hearts out, for her. Stickers with her name were on virtually every bike in the Elite races. Thanks to Matt and Mo Bruno Roy, all of the women started the race with temporary tattoos similar to the real one that Amy sported. A Lap of Silence on Saturday saw hundreds circle the course with tears streaming down their faces, and everyone who raced in a cycling cap flipped the brim up in tribute to Amy’s signature style. Seeing the community, the family, come together like that reminded me how lucky we all are to be part of such an amazing thing, how lucky we are that —scary or not—we are doing what we love to do. It’s a feeling that never ceases to amaze me, and I think all of us came away from the week feeling extremely grateful that this is home for us.

Our hearts go out to Amy’s family and friends, and to all of you, please be safe out there.