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In September of last year Chris Jongewaard was sentenced to nine months in jail over a hit-run accident which seriously injured his former training partner. For those of you who don’t know the background of Jongewaard’s controversial story you can start by reading a post I did here.
Chris served 7 months in jail and was released two months before his non-parole period was due to expire (for exemplary behavior). I caught up with Chris a couple days ago to talk about his time in jail, his racing, his new perspectives on life, and his future.
So you were released from jail on the 14th of April and you’ve been having some great results racing your bike ever since. Can you talk a bit about that?
Yeah, it’s been going pretty well. The motivation…I can’t even explain. It was pretty intense at the time and the motivation was exciting. I just wanted to spend so much time on my bike and I enjoy every moment of it. It’s like I’ve been given a second chance and I’m rolling with it. So far so good. The form is coming back rather quickly.
From what I understand you’ve been doing a bit of both types of racing – road and mountain bike.
Yeah, I’m basically entering every event I can get at the moment. Started out doing the local scene which was races like Mawsons Marathon Club Road champs and looking forward to the up coming racing in Geelong early next week. Then just follow on with as much of the OZ series MTB/Road as I can.
You just did a massive 365km mountain bike event that you won…
Yeah, I paired up with a good friend of mine Brett Anderson and we trained hard for it doing some long days on the road bike helped our preparation. It was such a great format to race with a partner and it was just a huge adventure basically. It was14hrs 9 mins I think it was. Just a lazy 14hrs…
How has the whole support been from within the cycling community, from your friends and family, and even strangers since you’ve been released from jail?
The first bunch ride I did would really sum up on how the vibe is out on the road in the cycling community. Everyone was really supportive and overall good to see me out on the bike “it’s great to see you back”. There were a lot of praises and it was pretty overwhelming actually.
For us sitting here in our comfy homes it doesn’t seem that long ago that you were sentenced and went to jail. What was it like for you?
Without going too far into it, it was a pretty emotional stage of my life. It was something that was out of my hands and I just had to roll with it. The first four months was quite tough to deal with but once you get little bits of your freedom back it becomes a little easier to deal with. It wasn’t an astronomical sentence but you gotta just try and deal with it and see the light at the end of the tunnel and focus on that instead of focusing on the negative parts of it. Having a huge support mechanism whilst inside really helped my Mother & Father my manager and my long time sponsors really help my days go by.
Looking back, did it seem like the longest 7 months of your life?
It did…it wasn’t fun.
I hear you had an exercise bike in there for you to use.
I did on and off. It was funny because sometimes the exercise bike broke. It was really inconsistent so I did a lot of running and a big block of gym. I just managed to stay busy with that as well as some other extra activities like reading and making use of some of the programs when available.
Were you allowed to exercise as much as you wanted or did they restrict it to certain hours?
We had certain things we had to abide by during the day like being called up and counted. I was at a low security prison so we had to be places at certain parts during the day and the rest of the day was fairly open. We had to work a little bit in the morning and a little bit at night. So there was a little bit of commitments there but other than that I had a lot of spare time on my hands.
Did you still shave your legs in prison?
No, I didn’t [laughs], it’s the first time in probably ten years that I had hair on my legs. It was quite strange. It’s a bit of a chore getting it off again.
I hear that you’re getting involved in working with children with regards to bicycle safety and motor vehicle safety.
It hasn’t come about as of the moment but it’s definitely something that’s going to happen. It’s only a week away. I’m going to work with some kids down at Bowden Brompton. It’s a school and one of the guys named Ben Bernard, he’s a big part of the program down there and I got in contact with him and he was quite happy for me to come out and do a bit of mountain biking with the kids. That was supposed to happen today but the weather turned ugly.
That’s a good thing for me and it’s something I’m interested in and helping out in those sorts of areas with kids who might chose the wrong direction instead of the right one. I just want to help out in any areas I can.
Down the track I’ll be working with the MAC, the Motor-vehicle Accident Commission, and getting involved. Share the Road is another big thing on my mind at the moment and being a part of it is something that fits in with my life.
Has this experience altered your point of view on professional athlete’s responsibilities as role models?
Definitely things have changed for the better and it’s made me who I am now. It has changed the way I think, the way I care about people and the way I operate now. I’m still me, but I’ve got different priorities and a different vision.
What are the positives that have come out of this experience?
I have a lot more appreciation for life in general and feel that I am happy with my direction in life.
What are your thoughts on the mountain bike funding cuts that have been implemented in the past year?
Obviously I haven’t been too involved with it but it’s definitely shown that it’s affected the Australian MTB team. The results have dropped dramatically from what I gather. A lot of that hard work that Neil Ross has put in has faded away which is not good to see. I think Neil was onto something there and it [the funding] shouldn’t have been cut half way through the past two years. There’s been a progression and he’s been working towards the London Olympics so it was a perfect opportunity to take it all the way through. It could have been a lot different if the funding was still there. We would have been a lot better off. I would like to believe that if I were still on the circuit this year and having another two years under my belt I could have been there [London 2012] as well. I don’t think that’s too far out of my goals.
How do you see your chances of going to London 2010?
I think it’s a possibility, yes. It’s a goal of mine to be there, have a crack, and finally put on the Olympic kit and be a part of it. The last two times I’ve been a part of it but haven’t been on the start line. I think with my form and my motivation it’s a possibility for sure.
Where do you see your cycling going in the next 2 years? [note: Chris’ parole will not allow him out of Australia for the next 12 months]
For the next 12 months it’ll be doing everything in Australia. Regaining the National Championships title [mountain bike] is the first one that comes to mind. I also have some goals to be successful at the Road National Championships – the time trial and road race. I’ve never really been good at the Road Nationals. It’s always been two weeks too early for me. You come back from overseas, have a rest, and by the time I come good it always seems to be two weeks after the Road Nationals. Maybe if I’m successful in the road I’ll get a start in the Tour Down Under. That’s a big goal of mine. I’ve got really good memories of the TdU so I want to be part of that again.
I’ll also be attending the National Series [road] and hopefully take the overall there. The timing with Tour of Gipsland didn’t work out with getting on a road team, but I’ll be at the Tour of Geelong, Tour of Murray, Tour of Tas, Grafton to Inverell – I finished second there twice, so I want to go and win that one. The Warny…
Thanks for your openness Chris. All the best in the future and I’ll see you at the Tour of Geelong. Go easy on me…
photo Mikkeli Godfree – Freewheel Magazine