Goodbye Jessi Combs- Legend, Leader, Lady
Jessi Combs. Where to start? You were (past tense feels surreal and somehow wrong) a beautiful soul, a badass, and an incredible person. The impact you made with your work will live on. The passions you inflamed, the excitement you fueled, the smiles you created. They will echo in our hearts, memories, on art gallery walls, in pieces you created, on the grounds you raced.
You opened your shop to me when I needed a little love in life, reaching out your hand when most were closed fists. Sharing your most precious space and inviting me behind the curtain into a world most people never got to see. A woman of strength and compassion, tenacity, and faith. You were always honest even when it was difficult… a rare and important quality.
I met Jessi sometime mid 2015 at Born Free, when my friend Sofi Tsingos (GT-Moto) had flown in from Texas to work with her and Real Deal business partner Theresa Contreras. She was fluttering about talking to fans and friends, smiling, and doing her thing. A few months later we got together for a good old fashioned girls night, getting sushi, watching movies and going to the store at midnight to buy a full roasted chicken. We devoured it. The giggles were endless.
With so many similarities in our personalities and preferences, I always felt like we were kindred spirits. Sort of take-no-shit types with an expansive, soft heart. A friend for life. A partner in crime. One that was far busier and cooler than I would ever be, but that didn’t matter.
Jessi and Theresa invited me to be a part of the Real Deal demos at Chopperfest and Babes Ride Out, where they would offer short class-like intros into trades like welding, pinstriping, and in my case, leather craft. The amount of women in line for demos at the Real Deal booth during Babes Ride Out surpassed every other in the area by far. Women eagerly waited for their chance to get their hands dirty and try something new.
One of my all-time favorite memories is taking the long route with Jessi, Theresa, and Sofi back home from Babes Ride Out. Jessi on her Triumph, Theresa on her bobbed out Harley, Sofi on the KTM Duke 390 and myself on a little Yamaha SR400. We had a blast. All of us had similar “spirited” riding styles, so twisties were fun in a four-long formation of bad ass babes. We stopped in Big Bear and wandered through some shops, Jessi and I both ogled at fringed purses made out of foxes. When we descended the mountain, we saw one of the best sunsets of our entire lives. I will never forget that trip.
Later, when some things went sideways in my life, Jessi offered me work space in her beautiful Long Beach shop. With a larger dog, motorcycles, and tools, I was struggling to find a new place in SoCal where I could keep the pup and have a garage. Because of her generosity I ended up moving into one of the coolest places I’ve ever lived just fifteen minutes from the shop. Life was good.
At the time I didn’t fully realize the rarity of my situation– Jessi was not one to “let people in” nor share her carefully built and curated shop space she’d been building for a decade. For the next year we got to know each other like roommates would, swapping tales of triumph and tribulation, laughing and crying together. The more we got to know each other, the more similarities we found. The more I respected and loved her. All the nights staying up late chatting about what we want out of the future, where we hoped to be in twenty years. It makes me tear up just thinking about everything she will never get to do. But I take some solace in knowing she lived more than most people do in their entire lives.
My time at the shop ended abruptly when I decided to move out of SoCal, out of everywhere really, build out my truck and go on a long road trip. She was a huge influence in this massive life change of mine. Her fierce love for adventure and new experiences, her ability to push through fear and harness it for good… it lit that fire in me. It showed me the only thing standing in my way was me. Jessi didn’t let anyone stand in her way. Ever. And she’d push through with a contageous smile.
I for sure know the Women’s Motorcycle Show wouldn’t have been so successful without her involvement. From the very first WMS in 2016 when she brought her custom Triumph to showcase. Year two she brought her Harley named Lilly. And in 2018 / 2019 she and Theresa brought the whole Real Deal set up (as well as their bikes), offering welding and pinstriping classes during the event.
Im thankful that I saw her just earlier this month in her home state of South Dakota during the Sturgis Rally.
It was in the middle of the rally at Camp Zero, a rad little satellite Buffalo Chip camp spot with tepees, calvary tents, tent and RV spaces, and a bar in a barn. I was fueled with adrenaline, sticky and sweaty from the humidity and blaring sun, hauling respective ass around the little barrel racing track on a minibike. My first race ever. I won. I slayed. I was over the moon.
As I looked up into the crowd disheveled and elated, she appeared in all white like an angel. Clean, pristine, and classy in a sea of dirty biker and daisy duke types. I admitted I was really stoked she’d witnessed my first real race ever, lamenting about how it took me until I was into my thirties to finally get a taste of racing. I was hooked. “I was watching you, you were gettin’ it!” I did a little shimmy of excitement, so proud to have her approval. “This might be the first race of many, honestly. I think I’m addicted now.” “GOOD!” she exclaimed, “You should!” with her big shiny smile gleaming.
We spent the next couple minutes catching up about random life events like her recent move before work pulled us both in separate directions. I thought later how I didn’t even get to hug her goodbye, but that was a normal reality at events– random interruptions and distractions. I remember one time when she got recognized out at a bar, sitting facing the wall. That’s how memorable she was. A word comes to mind… magnetic.
Educator, welder and fabricator, land speed record holder, motorcycle builder, TV show host, off-road racer, Queen of the Hammers, beautiful, bad ass, intelligent woman.
Rest in Peace miss Jessi Combs. You changed my life. And I know I’m not the only one that can say that.
You will never be forgotten, beautiful human.
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