I met Jess Cerra in 2012 on a BWR training ride of some kind in North County San Diego. She was crazy good, and as near as I could tell, had only recently begun road cycling as her main sport.
How good was she? In a matter of months she was riding professionally, jolting her way to the very top in an area brimming with top-level talent. I never spoke with her about it, but from the way she rode, Jess didn’t seem to consider herself a woman athlete.
She considered herself an athlete.
It didn’t matter who she was riding with, she tried to beat them, and usually, she did. Although she got into the pro cycling game late, she earned some impressive wins, not least of which Redlands, a race that is probably the most competitive race on the calendar. It was clear that she was headed for a career on the women’s world tour in Europe. That’s how good she was.
Until, as they say, life got in the way. Jess was hit with serious medical issues that required major surgery; she had to have her femoral artery re-routed, and then found herself battling with a host of auto-immune issues. World domination, in her words, never quite happened.
What did happen, though, was a different kind of domination, the domination that is the toughest kind of all–overcoming, persevering, pushing on not because there’s an Olympic medal waiting at the end but because the fire inside won’t let you stop. Jess fought through obstacle after obstacle, never giving up on her goal of racing at the very highest levels, even if ultimately it meant she’d never win “the big one,” whatever the big one is.
Jess retired from pro road racing this week, and left the profession with amazing grace and kindness; trademarks she was known for showing even when she rode you off her wheel. She thanked the people who had helped her, and was effusive in her praise for those who believed, encouraged, supported, understood. It wasn’t a retirement, as she said, but an “evolvement.”
In showing us how to fight the hard fights, how to share the success, how to not give up when the easiest word to spell and say is “quit,” Jess really did win the big one. The big one being, of course, life.
Hell of a ride, Jess. Hats off.
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