An American Champ Abroad: Living and Racing in Belgium with Jonathan Page
Things were a little crazy when I first got back. The family was very excited to see me, and of course, I was happy to see them, too. They’d dealt with a lot while I was gone, especially Cori. They had come to Belgium 15 days before me, because the kids couldn’t be any later for school with Emma in the 4th grade and Milo in the 1st. We’d had some renters over the summer that weren’t the best, and the construction projects (new floors and central heating) that should have been done 3 weeks prior to the family arrival, weren’t even started. So, if you can imagine, it was a pretty rough go for them at first, on top of the long flight, eight hours of jetlag, a brand new again environment, and the start of school 1.5 weeks late. Anyway, we all made it intact.
So, this year, I decided to choose just one of the major series over here to do in addition to the World Cup Series, but at the end, the BPost Series organizers talked me into doing the Soudal Series as well, leaving only the Superprestige out. I will only do about half of the Superprestige Series, giving me a chance to go to some other places (Switzerland three times, Germany for a weekend, and Great Britain for a weekend) that are very excited to have me. It also gives me a way to break things up a bit.
I did a non-series race the first Saturday I was here. I wasn’t expecting much, but I wasn’t too bad, actually, so I was pretty happy about that.
A week after I arrived, we headed to Switzerland to do a race in a place where Cori and I used to live. We spent a season in Steinmaur, just north of Zurich, and I absolutely love going back there, or anywhere in Switzerland for that matter, to race ‘cross. They’re always really happy to have me, so the whole experience is a great deal of fun. The godfather of our kids lives there, so we stayed with him, and he, Cori, and our kids joined the rest of his family to help set the course up on Friday and Saturday. I was pumped and had a solid shot at a good placing.
Backing up, though, on our way to Switzerland on Thursday, we got a phone call from a friend here in Belgium telling us the sad news of Amy Dombroski’s death. It hit us like a ton of bricks. It isn’t that we were best friends, but there is a certain respect I had for her, and she for me. I liked her a lot. We were both doing the same thing. We’d both picked up and left everything we knew to come over here and immerse ourselves to try to get to the top of the sport of ‘cross — the only ones doing it from America. And I enjoyed seeing her every weekend. Smiling. Happy. She was living her dream. Like I was mine. She reminded me to smile, even on the toughest days. And of course, there are very few of us Americans over here on the ‘cross circuit, and it just sucks that such a sweet person died so young. She didn’t get a chance to finish what she started. She never had the chance to get married. Didn’t get to have kids. The list goes on. So much sympathy for her family. So much empathy. Sad. Sad. Sad. Cori and I did a lot of talking in code in the car and then a lot of sitting in silence. We didn’t want to tell our kids about this, so we kept quiet during the day and talked at night. And we waited to hear what would happen in the way of memorials or ceremonies. We tried to come up with something to say or do that would help her family. It was a sad time. Very sad, and sobering, too. At the end of the day, there was nothing we could do. Nothing would bring her back, and if we were feeling this sad, we couldn’t imagine how bad they must be feeling.
Back to the race for now.
I was lined up in the second row (seventh call up), and I was just behind the Swiss champ when, literally, five seconds in, he wiped out. Yard-saled it, actually. There was absolutely nothing I, or anyone else, could do. He went one way, his bike the other and the mess spanned the narrow course. I landed right on top of him, and we both got up apologizing to each other and dusting each other off. Seriously. We got going, and ourselves and two others were dead last. I wasn’t giving up and fought all hour to get back up there. I was happy with my form, that’s for sure. I ended up only 10th, but I’d made up massive amounts of time. No one else that had crashed with us managed to crack the top 10, and at the next Swiss race, I’ll have a shot again. So, I just had to smile and thank the Swissys for having me.
We returned to Belgium and focused again on Amy. There’d be a memorial on Friday for her, 1h 45 from here. Cori and I dropped the kids at school and arranged for aftercare, and headed out to Heist op den Berg. Amy’s brother, sister-in-law, dad, and boyfriend were all there from the US. It was so hard to see them in so much pain. It was hard to see the pictures and to hear them speak, knowing that she was gone. I’m not sure how to describe it, but it was gut-wrenchingly sad. We drove home, and I pulled myself together for the weekend of racing ahead of me.