The JMC Story
The short, but eventful, life of Jason McRoy ended tragically on August 24 1995, when his Harley Davison motorbike was in collision with a lorry at Woodhead Pass on the A628 in Derbyshire. Jason was more than a son to me, he was my best mate, he was my hero. When he died, a part of me died with him; but a part of Jason lives on in me, and is his inspirational life that has given me the strength to carry on.
This is Jason’s story.
On Friday November 26 1971 at 8.10 pm, Jason was born in the Luton and Dunstable Hospital in Bedfordshire. The fact that he was born at all is quite remarkable as the doctors attending his mum Rose had recommended terminating the pregnancy at an early stage as it presented a threat to the mother’s life. The pregnancy was a difficult and painful one and for the last eight months of the term, a nurse called twice a day to inject an iron and vitamin compound as Rose was unable to hold down any solid food. The pregnancy went the full nine months, but in the end a breach Caesarean section was carried out to deliver the baby.
Jason was a sickly child, prone to catching cold and it was during a routine visit to the doctors that the heart defect was discovered. A visit to Great Ormond Street Hospital confirmed the worst – Jason had a hole in his heart. At this tender age, nothing could be done. Time would determine whether an operation would be necessary. It was shortly after this that Jason developed pneumonia, the first of five bouts he would have in his childhood. In the meantime, I had successfully applied for immigration status in Canada, and at six months of age, Jason crossed the Atlantic for the first of what was to be many, many transatlantic journeys in his life. His childhood in Canada was idyllic, but peppered with bouts of ill health brought on by the severe climate, ranging from 90+ in the summer to -40 in the winter.
His resilience and toughness were brought home one day when he got out of his high chair the quick way and split his forehead open. The hospital was quite a drive away, so I telephoned the local doctor, who was English, and he suggested that we took Jase around to his home. We did, and there on Doctor brown’s kitchen table, five stitches were inserted into Jase’s head without anaesthetic, with me lying across him to hold him still.
After two years, the opportunity to work in California presented itself and so we were on the move again.
It was in California that Jason’s first attempts at downhill manifested themselves. We lived in a grand home in Huntington Beach, complete with a huge, sweeping staircase with a marble hallway at the bottom, leading to a pair of oak doors. Jason was three at the time, and he normally played upstairs in his room. This day he was really excited about something and shouted downstairs for us to come and see. As soon as we reached the bottom of the stairs, he launched himself from the top, seated inside a cardboard box. There was nothing we could do but watch as he skimmed down the stairs, shot across the marble hallway and whacked into the double oak doors. Six stitches that time. Shortly after this, major health problems with Rose forced our return to the UK, and Jason started his schooling.
His early school days were unremarkable, and he didn’t’ t’ show any propensity or enthusiasm for sports. His health checks revealed that the hole in heart was starting to close up and so we encouraged him to take up more physical activities. Things changed in the middle school, when he discovered the joys of cycling. He really took to riding bikes, although not competitively as he was spending a lot of time getting to know his newly-adopted brother, Justin.
One of the less joyous occasions was when the front wheel fell out of his new Raleigh Grifter while he was riding it. His face was a mess and we had to take him to hospital where he was stitched and two teeth removed without anaesthetic. One day we read about an indoor BMX race in the Crowtree centre at Sunderland. He had a sort of BMX at the time, the type that proper riders turned their noses up at and on this ‘honk’, as the other riders in his moto called it, he proceeded to thrash the pants off everyone in the race until the other lads wised up and took him out of the running for first spot with beautifully- executed ‘tactical’ riding.
He did get a third place overall though, and this was enough to light the blue touch paper. Jase became obsessed with training, riding, weight lifting and devouring every fact on BMX riders worldwide. He also developed the line ÒI need this for the next race.’ Jason never actually wanted any new parts or go-faster bit for his bike; he never wanted new Vans to ride in; he always NEEDED them.
He was 100% dedicated, though.
He would get me to drive behind him in the car while he tried to maintain his sprint for four hundred yards at a time. At the age of eleven, he was on the verge of joining the Mongoose Factory team and was in the running for the North East number one spot. His determination verged on the fanatical; at Leeds he was involved in a pre race smash that sliced the tip of his thumb off. We took him to the hospital where they stitched the loose skin back on, gave him his tetanus jab and were about to bandage the wound when he told them ÒLeave that off and put a sticking plaster on, I need to wear my gloves for the next race.
We rushed back to the track just in time for him to do his three races. He won every one. The race to decide the number one rider in the North East was to be the last race of the season at Chesterfield. Chesterfield was a wicked course, more downhill than BMX, with a huge set of jumps – a camelback – just yards before the finish. The ambulances were busy that day, but Jason was loving every minute. It was finals time and his nearest rival Stuart Anderson was in the lead. If Stuart won, he would be riding with the number 1 plate on for the following season.
Jason lived and breathed for that plate and he was determined to risk all to get it. Coming into the off-camber jump, Stuart was braking hard, preparing to speed jump the camelback before crossing the finish line. Just then Jason flew past, taking huge air, landing a good six feet in front of the leader, wobbled and skidded a bit, but finished in the vital first spot. In the National Finals a few weeks later, Stuart exacted his revenge, reversing the positions.
It was to be Jason’s last full BMX season.
Early the following year while practising before a race at Dunston, he crashed on the blind side of the doubles. While Jason was lying dazed, another rider jumped the doubles and landed his bike on Jason’s knee, tearing and twisting the underlying tissue. Jason was operated on immediately, but the prognostication was not good. The capsule of the knee and the excruciate ligament were so badly damaged that he was advised that his sporting days were over and he would be lucky if he would ever be able to walk properly. Jason’s lower leg could literally be moved at the joint from side to side. He was put on the National Health waiting list and we were told that it could be up to four years before specialist treatment could be sought. Jason was desolate. His BMX plans to compete at the World’s had been shattered, and perhaps worse than that, he was told it would be years before he could ride a bike again, if ever.
We decided to pay for private treatment .
We chose a pioneering leg specialist, Roger Checketts, who carried out an arthroscopy investigation of the damaged area. He suggested carbon fibre ligaments could be surgically inserted into the knee, but the drawback was that as Jason grew, the ligaments would have to be replaced as their length was constant. Another possible solution was to do high intensity workouts on the leg. This could theoretically develop the muscle in the leg to such an extent that the ‘slack’ in the ligament would be taken up by the larger muscle. The only drawback to this was the actual intensity required in the workouts; they were originally designed to help adult athletes with ligament problems, and it was unlikely that a child could maintain such a high pressure workout programme.
Jason did maintain the workouts and more, and slowly but surely the ligament was being shortened. Cycling was still off the program, so Jason decided to try his hand at running. In his first season in the sport, he was selected to run for his school in the county championships. He had several pairs of trainers, but no spikes. He actually needed spikes this time but forgot to ask us to get him some.
On the day of the race, he turned up for the County races, on a tartan track (a rough, grippy artificial surface) with no spikes and ran all of his races barefoot, coming third in the finals despite badly bleeding feet. He got his spikes the next day. His talent was such that he was taken under the wing of Jimmy Hedley, Steve Cram’s trainer at Jarrow and Hebburn Athletics club, often doing his long training runs alongside Cram. Jason started to put in the road miles and his performances grew in stature. There was a problem, though. He spent most of his time running in constant pain, because without the high intensity workouts, his ligament was once again working loose and his lower leg was flopping from side to side.
In addition Jason was now having problems with his little toes when he ran – they would curl under the adjoining toe, taking the pressure of the running action. After a ten mile run, he would take his shoes off and they would literally be full of blood with the little toes mashed into an unrecognisable pulp. He tried orthotic inserts in his trainers, but nothing seemed to work. Now 16, he had to give up yet another sport because of medical problems. He had tried football, but lacked the passion necessary to make anything of it.
At squash he was fearsomely aggressive, once giving his mum a black eye with his wild lashing around with the racket, so finding partners in a squash court became a bit of a problem. He went back to ferocious leg work-outs in the gym, and against doctor’s advice, bought a mountain bike, a Specialized Rockhopper. Reading in the local newspaper that there was to be a downhill and cross country event at Rothbury, Jason entered and had his first taste of mountain bike competition at 17.
In his first ever downhill race at Rothbury,riding a bog-standard bike from Halfords, Jason won the novice class, even though still officially a junior, and posted a time that placed him third overall, just behind Pro-Elite riders. He was hooked. He ‘upgraded’ his bike to a Halford’s Carrera and entered as many races as possible, turning in increasingly better performances, culminating in his win at the BOMB MC event – the unofficial british Championship at a course near Scarborough. His determination and manner off the bike won him many admirers, and with the help of brant Richards secured his first sponsorship deal with NTI.
The deal was for bike and bits only, but Jason’s skill , determination and results in 1991 led to him being selected for the british Downhill squad to compete in the World’s at Il Ciocco. In the final, Jason’s chain got jammed behind the chain wheel, causing him to look down to see what the problem was. He ran off the track into the trees, dislocating the kneecap on his weakened knee. Despite the pain, he got back on and finished. Jason always believed in finishing a race, no matter what.
1991 was also the year that he met Sophe, who was to remain his true love until he died. 1992 was the first year in a steep learning curve for the rider. Now a Team MBUK rider, Jason incurred the wrath and disapproval of many UK-based sponsors by defying tradition and travelling to Europe to compete in international events, instead of supporting such races as the Malverns.
It was also a year of disappointments. In a thrilling Grundig Supercup race at Lillehammer in Norway, he was within striking distance of his one-minute man, Phillipe Perakis,when his chain snapped, leaving him to coast the last mile home. In what should have been his first National jersey year (based on timings in the runs and pure form) Jase was thwarted by the weather. A torrential downpour only minutes before his run reduced the course to an unridable skid-pan and the title would have to wait for another year. In that year he competed in the pre-cursor to what is now the Grundig World Cup Downhill Series, coming tenth overall.
Once again selected for the GB team, this time in bromont, Canada, his seventh place in the seeding run was overlooked by the press, while his run in the final was again affected by mechanical problems, this time a flat front tyre. Rather than not finish, he ripped the tyre off and finished the race on the rim.
Despite his tenth-in-the-world ranking, Jase was unable to pick up a decent sponsorship deal for 93. This was because he had committed the cardinal sin of racing abroad, that plus the fact that he lived in the unfashionable North of England and was a downhiller of all things; after all, real mountain biking was cross country wasn’t it?
We both decided to go for it and quit our jobs at BT, pooling our resources in order to hit the newly-inaugurated Grundig World Cup Downhill in a big way. Securing a bike and bits deal from Hardisty Cycles, we hit the road, or rather the airways.
The first race of the season was the downhill at Cap d Ail, near Nice. The course was at its most fearsome with the last three hundred metres being the ‘boulder-field’ – a collection of huge rocks- which took out many top riders, including the then World Champ Dave Cullinan. A year later, the rocks were given a healthy covering of soil to lessen their severity.
Jason rode well enough to snatch seventh place. The season had started well. The big gamble was competing in the States. It was a three week tour in the US and we barely had funds to cover our expenses, so if we had to buy parts…….
First stop was Vail, site of the ’94 Worlds. He didn’t win, but was the fastest through the speed trap, earning him his precious Tag watch. I’m wearing it now.
A bit of telephonic persuasion by his mum had got him an entry for the Eliminator in California and that was our next stop. It was there that he earned his big break, riding down the infamous Kamikaze course in his skin suit against armoured riders. I should say riding out of his skin suit, because his performances – all ten of them – were World class. His mechanical back-up was one spare tyre carried by Rory Hitchens at the bottom and two spare inner tubes, compared with full mechanical, and even spare bike back up enjoyed by the other riders. The night before the Eliminator, I had to go begging to the GT truck for a rear triangle for the RTS, as the one on the bike had cracked under the strain of the season’s racing. They gave me one which had come off a team bike and had been replaced as part of their ongoing maintenance program.
We sat on the floor of the apartment that night with some tools borrowed from the guys downstairs rebuilding the bike for the next day’s race. His second place in the Eliminator did two things – it gave us enough money (second place money was $3,000) to go to the next round of the Grundigs in New York, and it was to be the deciding factor in his sponsorship deal in 94.
The GT finally gave up the ghost at Hunter Mountain in New York, when the top tube parted company from the rest of the bike. His ‘cautious’ run with the broken bike was enough to give him seventh spot. Returning tired but victorious to the UK, he wrapped up his season by grabbing his first national downhill title. The last Grundig was in Kaprun, where his ninth placing left him with an overall ranking of ten. The World’s in Metabief were a total disaster for him – he crashed, and was disqualified for leaving and entering the course at different places.
His first Pro year was with Specialized USA in ’94. It was an indifferent year fraught with mechanical problems of all kinds -cleats pulling out of shoes, shocks blowing, wheels failing, and its highlight was him retaining his National jersey. In his fourth year as britain’s downhill representative in the World’s at Vail, he once again crashed in the final. We began to think that there was some kind of jinx on Jason for the World’s.
1995 started disastrously. In an effort to support the sport in the UK, Jason agreed to ride some of the Karrimor series. On an abysmally wet Peckforton course, he slipped and dislocated his thumb. In the following race, the BMB, still suffering the effects of the dislocation, he crashed and broke his wrist, which effectively took him out of the first two Grundig Downhills. Ever the optimist, he realised that he could still ride his road bike without damaging his wrist and so took up track racing at the Manchester Velodrome to maintain his fitness. His results were astonishing, and the England coach Doug Daley began to take an interest.
The upshot of this was that Jason was short-listed as a possible Olympic track rider for Atlanta. All he really needed was his raw power and tactics refining and there was a good chance he would be riding for his country in a different discipline to mountain biking in ’96.
Once back on the downhill circuit, his results began to improve and he was really looking forward to Mammoth. I met him there and he told me how his power was really coming through and he was supremely confident. On the day it was mechanical problems again that stopped his progress.He cruised to seventh spot in the seeding run, but in the final he was pedalling so hard that his wheels started to flex, and the brakes popped under the rim, causing him to stop. He was furious. It was the first and only time I have ever seen him kick his bike. The R&D department desperately tried to cure the problem for the Eliminator the following day, but even after spoking the wheels cross-four and putting braces on the spokes, the problem still reccurred.
Returning home for the Nationals, Jason went to the course to prepare to defend his jersey. Two days before the race he called me at night. He was in hospital,in the X-ray department. He had crashed badly and had broken two ribs. I asked him to go home and I would see him there. He just laughed. ÒThey would say I’d lost my bottle.’ was his remark. He was second in the Nationals and although he was first to congratulate the winner Will Longden, he was very disappointed at not being able to keep his championship.
There was a short break before the next couple of races – the Grundig in Kaprun and the Europeans in Czech, so the McRoy family went en masse (Rose, Justin & Jim) for a brief visit to Jason and Sophie’s home in Cheshire. We didn’t talk bikes at all.It was a time-warp couple of days. We did crazy things, just like we used to. Jase, Just and me went down the park and played frisbee for hours until it broke. The whole McRoy clan (all four of us) watched Red Dwarf out-takes, went to the pub, where Jason had his usual Perrier, went out for a Mexican; the kind of luxury things time had never allowed us to do for years.
Life had changed radically since Jason started mountain biking.
Several new traditions were established, especially the celebration dinner. No matter where we were in the world, if it was either his or my birthday or he had something to celebrate, we would go to McDonalds for a brace of Big Macs apiece. For four years, I had spent my birthday with Jason on the circuit having Big Macs on August 16.
In 1995, work commitments at home forced me to miss my birthday treat – I had to stay home while Jason was competing abroad. He phoned me on the day sending me a ‘virtual Mac’ over the phone, and when he got back, we made arrangements for all of us to meet in the McDonalds closest to the hotel where we would be staying for the Bingley Karrimor that weekend. The phone call announcing his death came at 1.50 am on the day we were to meet.
Jason had always had this ‘feeling’ that he would die young. I saw an entry in his diary when he was 15 that said as much, but I put this down to the fact that every male member of my immediate family -great grandfather, grandfather, father and uncle – had died tragically at an early age. When I passed the magic age of thirty-two, the longest any McRoy had lived, I thought that I had broken the curse. Jason never mentioned his fears to either Rose or myself, but he did talk at length to several people about it, even going so far as letting his girlfriend Sophie know what music he would like at his funeral.
His chosen songs were Everybody Hurts by REM and Don’t Cry by Guns n’ Roses, to which we added Tears in Heaven by Eric Clapton and Love Is Around Us by Wet Wet Wet. On the Tuesday before he died, he phoned his mum and played her Stairway to Heaven over the phone to her on his new guitar, so that song was also played. The service was moving, a celebration of his life and achievements and the Washington village church was packed with more than 600 people from all over the world. The church was chosen because it was on a hill, so that he would get his final downhill coming from the service. Pete Tomkins with Jason’s brother Justin led the cortege on a Harley Fat Boy.
It was the best send off we could give him. It wasn’t all over though.
A month later, I smuggled two film canisters containing Jason’s ashes across the World’s in Germany, where he became the first and last rider to get two runs down the downhill in the World Championship final, the first on Rob Warner’s bike and the second on Steve Peat’s.
In 1996 Jason’s ashes went to the World’s in Cairns, Australia, some being scattered on the Great Barrier Reef, some in the rain forest, and more went down the downhill on board with some of the top riders in the World. The same happened in 1997 at the World’s in Chateau d’Oeux in Switzerland and will continue to happen for as long as I have connections in the sport.
Rose and I built a small memorial at the crash site at Woodhead Pass which we and scores of mountain bikers visit, often leaving small tributes tied to the fence: – necklaces, chain rings, mechs from bikes; it’s really touching to see them there.
There is no denying Jason’s courage and dedication, especially in the light of what he believed was going to happen to him, but what next? If this is all there is to life, then let me off now. I strongly believe that there is an afterlife, but it is the selection process which has always puzzled me. Why should the earth be populated with no-hopers and evil doers when people like Jase, who had so much to live for, so much more to give, should be taken so early?
We have sought answers to soothe our grief without much luck, but I formulated an analogy that I can partially come to terms with. In our early days on the circuit on the interminably boring Atlantic flights, we would while away the hours on linked Gameboys. Jason was competitive at everything.
Several of the games, especially adventure games had level progressions – you had to complete all the tasks on one level before you could progress, but occasionally, if you completed the tasks quickly or in a special manner, a secret doorway would open up transporting you to the next level. There are some who believe that life continues in levels – we are currently on level one by the way – and when you ‘die'(in level one terms) you move over to level two. My belief is that Jason had somehow completed all his allotted tasks on this plane and was moved on to level two for better things.
We miss him so much though.
Picture taken 23.08.03 Woodhead Pass, A628; site of Jason’s accident. This site has become a mecca for Mountain Bikers the world over.
Jason’s ‘Garden’ – the three trees at Sunderland Crem.