January 06, 2017 – A emotional memorial was held for Ellen Watters at The Cyclery in Ottawa on Jan. 2 as a large crowd of family, friends and supporters paid tribute to the rising Canadian star who passed away in a tragic car accident during a training ride on Dec. 23 near her home in Sussex, New Brunswick. Watters, 28, had just finished her best season ever with The Cyclery-Opus team and signed her first pro contract with Colavita-Bianchi. The future looked bright for Watters who’s unique style, engaging smile and amazing persona touched so many. Her tragic loss has sparked a cry across the country for #Ellenslaw, a 1-metre minimum passing distance between motorists and cyclists in New Brunswick and other provinces. Chris Reid, The Cyclery Racing’s Director Sportif, pays tribute to Watters who gave so much to the world around her and will be sorely missed.
Memorial for Ellen Watters at The Cyclery © The Cyclery Racing
Ellen entered my life three years ago when we asked her to join The Cyclery Racing program. We’d been following her first two years in the sport and seen how fast she seemed to be rising… we felt she had a great and unique style along with some talent.
I was soon to learn I’d underestimated both Ellen’s talent and her immense personality. Ellen had a huge presence, she was rarely not the loudest person in the room but she was also an intensely kind-hearted person who looked out for her friends. Over the next three years she came to be a part of both our bike family and my personal family. Ellen spent countless hours looking after and playing with my son Camden.
Winning team before Battenkill. Camden Reid is on Ellen's bars © The Cyclery Racing
She was completely indefatigable with kids, and there was never not a new game to be played or song to be sung. She was also had a quirky side and was willing to engage in conversations with just about anyone – be they other racers, people in a café, or even border crossing guards (which for the record could be nerve wracking).
Ellen Watters wins Battenkill ©
Her warm and loving persona was a contradiction to the warrior she was in races. I struggle to think of any Canadian rider I’ve watched – male or female – who was as consistently aggressive in a bike race as Ellen was. She was relentless, and for a long time it probably cost her results. At both the Tour of the Battenkill and Tour of Somerville this year we the spent days leading into the events convincing her to be patient. And when she was patient (by Ellen standards at least) she was rewarded with two fabulous solo victories.
Watters on the podium at Sommerville ©
Ellen fought her way onto a professional team over three seasons in which she won no less than 24 races as well as wearing the Most Aggressive Rider jersey at the North Star Grand Prix. She would have thrived with her new team, riding with her aggressive style to support Colavita’s fast Australian sprinters. Because there is no doubt she would have been able to handle the demands of racing professional – she was already doing it with only a fraction of the support.
Watters © The Cyclery Racing
Last year, through a mixture of our blue collar bike program and an opportunity to race in Europe with the national team, Ellen raced 53 days – a truly massive schedule. And she seemed virtually indestructible, I only saw her sick once in three years. She rebounded from crashes that left a wake of bicycle destruction behind her (the woman broke a lot of bikes and bike parts). When she was sidelined in Europe this summer with a minor concussion she returned to racing ten days later and rebounded to win the final Belgian race of the project.
© The Cyclery Racing
During her time in the sport she had evolved into the consummate team player, as well as a leader for our team both on and off the bike. Nowhere was this clearer last year than at the road national championships. Ellen arrived as a rider on form, hot off success at the North Star Grand Prix. In the days leading up to the women’s road race I told my wife Jen that I thought Ellen was our ace in the hole – I honestly believed she could pull off the upset and take home the jersey.
Ellen Watters © Pasquale Stalteri
Things played out a little differently and Annie Foreman-Mackey, who we’d tasked with hunting moves in the middle of the race, went out and rode a race for the ages to take home the title. But behind her Ellen was riding selflessly to protect Annie’s lead and then organized the leadout for the U23 riders on our team. Two days later she again rode for the team to support Justine Clift’s silver medal performance in the Criterium – Ellen took home a bronze for her efforts that day. There’s no doubt in my mind that one day Ellen would have secured her own jersey.
Elite/U23 Women's Crit podium celebrates (l-r) Clift 2nd, Gibson 1st, Watters 3rd © Ivan Rupes
I’m thankful that I had a chance to be a part of Ellen’s rise through the sport because it was truly inspiring. Ellen decided that she wanted to be a pro cyclist, and with little more than the support of her mother, with whom she was incredibly close, she got in her car and set out to do so. She criss-crossed the continent racing from Arkansas to California, to BC, Quebec and Oregon. And she made friends and had adventures all along the way.
Givin 'er... © The Cyclery Racing
These are the fond memories that I will take forward along with her spirit of adventure and compassion that I hope to instill in my own children (it pains me that my infant daughter has been robbed of such a fantastic role model), to embrace life, and to consciously choose to be positive and optimistic and treat strangers like friends. Like all of us Ellen had fears and anxieties, but I believe that she consciously chose to be fearless, and to share her immense energy with the world.
© The Cyclery Racing
That energy was extinguished when she was run down from behind on a rural road. It is inconceivably cruel that it would happen to a life with such promise on the cusp of a huge adventure. A professional contract and international travel, a spot on the National NextGen Track Team and a blossoming new relationship were all ahead of her.
Ellen Watters two thumbs up © The Cyclery Racing
I would dearly have loved to see what she would have accomplished in coming seasons, but I know that in one way it would not have mattered because she would have stayed Ellen, a loving, quirky adventurer with the heart of a lion.
I’ll miss you my friend, but I’ll take you with me always.
Ride for Ellen Watters on Jan. 8 click here.
Cyclery Racing Girls, NextGen rider Megan Grant and team mom and super soigneur Marie Helene (team rider Amelie Bruneau's mom) © The Cyclery Racing