When my family discovered BMX, we were initially confused by the structure of the sport. We were used to the mandatory list of practice schedules and race dates that were handed to us as our older children tried out for soccer, gymnastics, swimming and whatever was the “in vogue” sport of the day.
My first marriage ended after 5 tumultuous years and I found myself sharing custody of my then 4 year old son and 2 year old daughter with a less than cooperative ex-spouse. He fought against being involved in any organized sport’s demands that infringed upon the weekend hours they spent at his home. I understood that and tried to respect that their time with him was under his control but it made it near impossible for Captain Oblivious (my now 22 year old son) and the Editor (my now 20 year old daughter) to join any sports teams who practiced on weekdays and often had games on Saturdays.
I remember many unsuccessful pleas with coaches in which I asked for leniency in their “miss 2 games and you’re off the team” rules. Considering the divorce rate in our country, I was surprised that there were so many rigid rules that didn’t accommodate anyone other than the “ideal” family. Frustrated with the antiquated rules of the school and community sports teams, I sought activities and extracurricular lessons for them that I could pay for; that gave me more control as a consumer.
My son took drum lessons and my daughter took horseback riding lessons; they tried karate, art, cooking and more. I usually entered into these arrangements reminding the new instructor that I will pay for a lesson, even if my kid misses it because of a trip to their dad’s or for our own family vacations. I got assurance up front that my children would not be “kicked off” just because they were the product of two parents who were not meant to be together.
The Beast first “tried” BMX (not “tried out for”) on a Sunday morning at the old Mullica Hill, NJ track while her older brother and sister spent the weekend at their dad’s home. I remember asking for the practice schedule and Josie DeMola said they practiced Wednesday evenings and raced on Sundays. I asked “what if we miss a practice?” and she said, “Yeah?” I asked how many practices or races the Beast could miss before she wasn’t allowed to race. She looked puzzled. She said, “I don’t care if she comes to practice or the race. That’s up to you and her.”
I didn’t get it. So, I asked her again, phrasing the question differently at least 3 more times. She looked confused, as I explained that we run our own event business and sometimes my husband and I have to cover an event at the last minute and we’re not sure we can make every scheduled practice night. She said, “OK. Well, you can practice any time you want at the Egg Harbor, NJ track. That track is in a public park and open to the public 7 days a week.” Eventually, I gave up the conversation with her, figuring she just didn’t get what I was asking.
Little did I know, I was the one who “just didn’t get it.” In fact, it was a good month before I finally got it. BMX is a sport where you and/or your child chooses how much they want to participate and you have virtually total control over your child’s sports career. In fact, if you don’t particularly like the atmosphere at a track, drive a bit in either direction and you can likely find another track where you feel more comfortable. Can’t afford to travel to distant races and/or compete at the National level? No problem, there are plenty of race opportunities at your local tracks and there are trophies and awards for racing and reaching milestones at your local track. Prefer to race in another state because you live closer to the track across the border? No problem, you can join any state’s championship series regardless of what state you call home. Love the sport and want to race and practice as much as you possibly can? No problem, there are races year round throughout the country. Like being on a team? Hate being on a team? No problem: join a team or do it on your own. You keep control and you have choices like no other sport.
I had never experienced such a flexible and accommodating sport or organization in my entire life! I could not wait to introduce my two older children, now 12 and 14, to a sport that didn’t exclude them just because their parents were divorced. The Beast had her own plan, too, and beat me to the draw. She demanded that her big brother and big sister come ride their bikes with her over the big hills and curves of the BMX track. Even then, she was tenacious and very persuasive.
Within weeks, we had upgraded to a bike rack that could carry all three kids’ bikes PLUS Frankenbutt’s. I was the only one who didn’t sign on, declaring I’d spent all our money on their bikes and there was no money left to buy me one. I know it’s a lame excuse but it worked … well, kinda. After buying a raffle ticket at the track to support a local bike team’s fund raising, I found myself the winner of a cruiser.
Without an excuse, I also tried the sport, a bit scared and reluctant. After my first few laps, Josie DeMola, the track director’s wife, reminded me that this was a family sport and cursing was not allowed on the track. I must admit that the starting hill and a few other features of the track intimidated me but also gave me respect for what my kids were doing. My track career was short lived as was my son’s. Although we both found the sport exciting to watch, it wasn’t for us. My husband and 2 daughters all raced while I happily scored at the finish line. My son occasionally joined us at the track but as he grew older, he had other interests. We respected him enough to understand that he was growing up and shaping his own life to his likes.
As the Editor grew older, she wanted to join us on the weekend RV trips we took to regional and national races. She, too, is quite persuasive and used her command of words to convince her dad to let her take some weekends off her visitation schedule in order to join us on BMX road trips. She was not one of the highest ranked racers in her class but she enjoyed the off the track socializing and often came with us just for that. It was nice to have her with us and we often missed Captain Oblivious on those trips.
I truly believe that there are families in our communities with similar lifestyles who would find a home in our sport. I don’t know how everyone else found out about BMX but I know we didn’t find out about it through our school system, as we did with so many other organized sports and activities.
I often feel like we are in an exclusive under advertised sport that flies under the radar of local and national news reporting. Sometimes, it feels like someone whispered in our ear about this little known opportunity and we quickly found ourselves in the “vortex” of BMX. It’s a sport that can be all encompassing or something you toy with for years; something you leave and return to and it always feels like resuming a conversation with a really, good old friend. With all the rules and regulations that work places, houses of worship, home owner associations, etc. put on us, isn’t it nice to have choices and control within our sport choice?