Chris Vaquez 1970-2016
Your world and mine both lost someone pretty damn unique and special last night. Chris ‘Monkdawg’ Vasquez turned 46 last month and in the 20 years I have known him, and the many years I worked alongside him, I was never bored, and I was never ungrateful.
In this relatively small world of mountain bike racing, anyone who had been on the race circuit between 1995 and 2014 knew the man we all called Monk. He was celebrity in the purest sense, nothing fabricated, just a true original, a personality we all celebrated. His view on the world while sometimes politically incorrect was candid, fresh and pretty damn funny most times. He would have his teammates in stitches at the dinner table and have this curious look on his face not understanding why he’d just cracked everybody up. He was just speaking Monk Truth.
I first saw Monk when he was working as a mechanic with Yeti back in their glorious 90’s, and even then he was drawing attention with his look and work ethic. His riders are the reason he got out of bed every day, they were his mission statement; they were the only thing that mattered. Whether it was Kirt Voreis, Missy Giove, Brian Lopes, or later Aaron Gwin and Brook MacDonald, their bike, their ride, their race run, that’s what he lived for.
He first worked for me in 2001, joining our very first race program, Global Racing. When Missy Giove signed onto the team one of her conditions was that Monk came with her from the Foes program she’d been on. Straight away as a novice team owner I saw the bond that existed between Missy and Monk, rider and mechanic. We all know the Missile, and she isn’t shy when it comes to expressing her opinion, so at times Monk would cop some pretty heavy verbal abuse about tires, or bike set up, or handlebar adjustments, all in the name of finding a way out of whatever she was dealing with on track….and Monk simply nodded, went back to his workstation and aimed to make it right. Missile loved Monk, and was always the first to acknowledge him as she climbed off the podium; and that there is what he lived for. Sharing in the success of those he cared for, playing his part in supporting them achieve their dreams.
Monk was an addict unfortunately. Sugar, salt, fat….the evil trifecta so prevalent in the western world, and especially in his. He managed it pretty well for most of his life, but as a fellow dog lover, I know the premature death of his beloved bulldog Moto was a deeply troubling time for him. He could never own a dog again because as he told me once, ‘my heart can’t take another loss like that’. In 2012 I realized that in all the years we’d worked together, I never saw him drink water. His poison, literally, was Mountain Dew. Any green food like salad or vegetables, he called that ‘rabbit food’, and while a lot people thought that was ‘typical Monk’ and laugh it off, he was dealing with demons.
Away from bikes and motorbikes, Monk had another passion. He loved wildlife shows on National Geographic, especially about Africa. He hated celebrating birthdays, but his 40th was different. He saw it as a milestone, so I saw that as my chance to finally get him a birthday gift. I gave him a real African safari in South Africa, where he got 10 days to see the wildlife he so loved. He came back with hundreds of stories and of course the safari operator wrote to me to say he was the life of the party, talking his Monk Truth around the campfire to the other guests, and having them all in stitches, like we were after he got back. Not all of Monk’s stories kept to the facts, they were sometimes embellished for effect, but we all knew that, and it was harmless and entertaining. He was never more at home than behind his workstation at a major race, and spinning tales about everything from Mexican drug lords to a cousin he had that ate nails once.
During his last full year on the road with us, Trek World Racing 2013, we encouraged him to get a Twitter account because the world need to hear the pearls of high desert wisdom that came from Monk on nearly a nightly basis. He said he didn’t understand all that stuff and Facebook was all he could manage. We said that if we could open an account for him and simply write whatever he said at the dinner table, would that be OK, and he agreed. They’re all still there if you want to read them @MonkDawg1. They’ll bring a smile to your face and hopefully give you an insight into why he brought so many smiles to so many people.
I’m upset and frustrated that he wouldn’t take the many offers of help over the years. As his employer in 2013 I tried everything I could from offers of salary advances, to getting health care professionals to look into his case, to providing incentives. Recognizing that he was having trouble doing his job due to his health, and that this was having an impact on the safety of the riders he worked for, I gave him an ultimatum. He was barred from coming to Europe for one World Cup race and unless he showed some efforts in dietary changes and weight loss by Mont-Sainte-Anne, we would have to review his role in the team.
We missed having him around in Andorra that year but hoped the tough love approach might get through to him. We were all pleasantly surprised to see a big difference in him at Mont-Sainte-Anne. He had that twinkle back in his eyes, a spring in his step, and we thought we’d got through to him. Sadly though by the end of the year the boxes of Oreos had appeared and he was binge eating junk food again. During 2014 it was clear he couldn’t continue, wasn’t able to set up the team area, or even stay awake during the day. He even confided that he’d rather die than give up the food that comforted him.
The MTB family have rallied around him, Brian and Paula Lopes have done all they could to assist, but in Monk there was a level of machismo stubbornness that didn’t allow him to admit defeat, or weakness nor ask for and receive help. It’s a very sad end to such a big hearted well-loved man that influenced so many, and played a role in so many titles and championships.
He put the spotlight, unwittingly, on the role that mechanics play in our sport and how much they do behind the scenes to make teams and athletes successful. They start work earliest, they pack up last, and they are on their game all day. I learned a lot from Chris, and we shared a lot over the years, and I will never stop quoting his view on life or remembering what the MTB world was like during his time in it. This was a unique and special man, so keep him in your thoughts.