It’s been four years since Jenn Hill, our Deputy Editor, died. Hannah reflects on the legacy she’ll never know she created.
I came to Singletrack just over four years ago. It was the silver lining (for me) to a sky of very black clouds. I came to do the boring bit of Jenn’s job – the organising, the shuffling of invoices, a touch of proof reading. As a project manager by training, it was my organisational skills that Singletrack needed – my love of bikes was just a bonus. I didn’t come to write, or have adventures, or do any of the wonderful things that I’ve been lucky enough to have come my way.
The job was not advertised, I just heard about it through word of mouth. The words being mouthed on my side were ‘my best friend has cancer and is going to die’. As I told this tale over tea and cake, it became apparent that my best friend, Paul, was not the only young person to have inexplicably found themselves the victim of an aggressive cancer that was going to kill them. Jenn, too, one of the fittest and healthiest people you could imagine meeting, was going to die.
At that point she was still having treatment. Working from home to avoid the germs on the train, having adventures as much as possible. As part of that, a plan to relieve her of the boring bits of her job – the bits that kept her out of the hills, tied to a computer – was formed. I became that plan.
By the time I was sitting at my new desk, my best friend was dead. Less than four months from diagnosis to death. Hollowed out, a piece of me missing, shell shocked by the brutality and suddenness of it, I entered this new world of the bike industry.
I’d barely started when it became apparent that Jenn’s treatment was no longer working. What was going to be a job share became a handover. I watched as my new colleagues went through the same terrible stages I had, of realising that one treatment wasn’t working, that there wasn’t another treatment, that she wasn’t coming back to work, that she was heading on her last adventures.
It was a very weird time. I barely met Jenn, yet I found myself surrounded by the intimate last greetings of friends who have lived, worked and ridden together for years. Having just been there, done that, knowing what was coming next, put me in the intense position of being an outsider on the inside. It was horribly sad, painfully raw, and yet incredibly uplifting.
Jenn’s approach to living infected everyone. When you’re faced with someone who is riding and smiling despite the pain, it’s hard to justify not going for your own ride because you’re feeling a bit tired, or the skies are a bit grey. I was surrounded by people who had realised – as I had – that there isn’t always a tomorrow, so you’d better make your todays as good as possible. When she died, it inspired a whole raft of ‘Jenn Rides’ – people riding in her memory, in her honour. I’m led to believe she’d probably have found all the attention a bit much, but how wonderful would it be to know that you’d had that effect on people.
It’s not just about bikes though. Paul’s death gave me a flying kick along a path I was already meandering along, and my life has changed in many ways – positive ways, I think – since he died. I’ve seized chances, not said maybe. There have been times when I could almost swear he’s whispered in my ear ‘don’t let that slip by’. I’ve seen those who knew Jenn take similar leaps of faith into uncharted waters – because if you don’t try, you won’t know. If you’re lucky enough to get the chance to grow old and look back, you don’t want to wonder ‘what if…’.
Jenn’s death is not mine to mark. I can’t claim to have known her, I barely met her. But the combined impact of her and Paul’s deaths on my own life have been profound and positive. I think I see that Jenn’s influence has led many others to better places – or further flung ones. Jenn – by all accounts an incredibly private person – was celebrated in all kinds of wonderful public ways after her death. That celebration seems to me to have led to a great many good things.
For me, four years have flown by. Along the way there have been more Jenns, more Pauls. More reminders that planning for tomorrow might make you miss today. Some of them are still living among us, some of them are gone. And maybe tomorrow we’ll be one of them – though few of us will surely be lucky enough to leave such an indelible mark as Jenn. We best get out there and make our mark now then, while we’re here.