2015, Douglas, Isle of Man
Agos Leap, the watching spot most TT fans dream of being able to view from and here I am.
First time on the island, first race I've ever seen and I am technically "Living the dream".
At this point though I still don't really like bikes. I am still just here to spend time with my brother and am a fan of William Dunlop after watching the film Road. I wasn't quite a fan of Michael at this point. William was the one I was drawn to initially.
We listen to the tannoy in the distance and the crackly radio.
A bike revs and then we hear "First bike away!".
"Ready Lauren?" my brother says and all of a sudden I become overwhelmed and the adrenaline rushes through me.
I burst into tears and start having a panic attack. Within seconds the first bike is shooting past. My body is so overcome with all of the emotions, the panic attack takes full force and this time I let it. Not worried at all.
I look at my brother. His smile as big as mine. We just look at each other in the eyes and he knows. He knows exactly how I am feeling, exactly what I am thinking.
I know that our bond, our almost 30 year old bond, just got even stronger.
I am reminded again, more than ever before, of how lucky I am to have this man in my life. And I will never ever forget and never stop being grateful to him for introducing me to this.
He tells me when William goes past, and even though it's a matter of intense seconds, the feeling of being so close to someone who was part of why I was there, not just stood at the paddock but on the machine he was so passionate about, and that made me admire him and his family, was incredible. So fast though that you can only just notice them, and they certainly don't see you.
But so close that it is enough to feel like a dream come true. To see someone racing, a hero of mine, was so much more satisfying than seeing them standing in a paddock.
Every lap my brother would point William out to me. I hadn't yet mastered the ability to read the bike numbers from a distance and at the speed they were going!
I then had 5ish hours of not knowing if he was ok. Realising how worried I was made me know, for sure, that this was my passion. That the Dunlops, first and foremost, were my passion.
Going home I realised what a different person I now was. And a couple of months later, speaking to William Dunlop on the phone was a moment I will never forget. I never thought I'd be the type of girl to be excited and made up over speaking to a bike racer.
Soon enough I had the Legs of Man tattooed on my thigh, along with 15 stars to symbolise 2015 as well as other things.
2016My TT break was booked and I had set myself the challenge of meeting William. I'd even tweeted to say he was the celebrity I would most like a selfie with. He liked that tweet.
That year not only did I get to watch them race but I got to meet them both...and had a D tattooed on my wrist for Dale and Dunlop.
3 months after the TT I was in Ireland with my brother. An Irish road trip for our birthday with the soul purpose of visiting Ballymoney, to go to Joeys Bar and the memorial garden for Joey and Robert.
2017TT 2017 came and for two weeks I was there to enjoy the sport. I hadn't set myself a challenge of meeting them again. Seeing them race was enough for me.
I remember, clearly, the senior race. The red flag and then immediately wondering if it was a Dunlop.
Had they already gone past?
How the hell would I react?
The news came through that it was Ian Hutchinson and although I was still sad and in shock there was a big feeling of relief that it wasn't a Dunlop.
I left the island with a number 3 tattoo on my middle finger in tribute to Joey and Michaels race numbers. And as it was my 3rd year on the island.
2018I was gutted, gutted doesn't feel like a strong enough emotion really, that I didn't go to the TT. It affected my mental health which sounds so dramatic but that's just how much the sport and the island mean to me.
Listening on the radio wasn't enough.
William left practice early so it almost felt like a relief that at least I wasn't missing watching him race. Selfish I know. Really selfish.
July 7th, 2018
He's gone. He'll never race again. I'll never see him race again.
I didn't realise the hurt I would feel or the shock I would feel at someone who I didn't even know dying.
I didn't realise I would cry for days. For weeks. That even almost 2 years on I still feel so heartbroken.
We're walking around the paddock and it feels different, to not be looking out for William as I had done before. To not be able to point him out to my boys. To have the memories of 2015, 2016 and 2017 flood back as if they were only yesterday.
To watch from Conker Trees, where the photo above was taken, knowing that I couldn't recreate that photo any more. That none of the bikes that were racing past were him. That I couldn't say to the boys "that was William".
And although there are other racers to support and follow, he was the first I was a fan of. He was the reason behind my passion.
And I hate that I will never see him race again.