Rather than watching airplanes, birds or Superman fly through the air Thursday morning, students of Hillsboro Elementary and Marlinton Middle School watched the men of Freestyle Connection BMX Street Team.
The event, Freestyle Connection, organized by Pocahontas County’s Prevention Coalition Coordinator Cheryl Jonese brought Rob Christianson, Jon Dowker and Kyle Kelsey all the way from Athens, Georgia, to speak to the students about the importance of bicycle safety, making good decisions and living a drug-and tobacco-free lifestyle.
Kelsey modeled the team’s safety gear–which included shin pads, knee pads and gloves–while Dowker explained the importance of each piece. The most important piece of safety, the helmet–or “brain bucket” as the team calls it–was saved for last.
“It doesn’t really matter what you call this contraption,” Dowker said, “just remember to put it on your head. It will save your life, [and] it’s just the smart thing to do.”
Dowker also spoke about making good decisions.
“We’re not here today to show off – doing tricks and having a good time,” said Dowker. “The reason we’re here today doing something we love to do is because we made three very important decisions when we were younger – the same age as a lot of you guys in our audience.”
Those three decisions involved discovering passions, staying focused on goals and avoiding negative influences in life.
“Find those things you love to do – those things you’re passionate about,” Dowker said. “For us, it’s BMX bike riding, but for you guys, it could be anything at all. Find those things you love to do.”
Dowker also urged the students to remain focused on their goals.
“Anything worth achieving in life is going to require some hard work,” he continued, “and I want you to know that we didn’t learn to ride bikes over night. [It took] a lot of time [and] a lot of practice, and that goes for anything – even something simple like a math test, for instance. If you want to do well on a math test, you have to go home and –”
“Study!” shouted the audience.
“You [also] want to avoid negative things,” added Dowker. “We learned most of this stuff way back in kindergarten – even our teachers did. We all learned you don’t want to lie, you don’t want to cheat, you don’t want to steal and you don’t want to pick on people. Nobody likes a bully.”
Freestyle Connection also spoke about living a drug-and tobacco-free lifestyle.
“Kyle, Rob and myself are here representing a drug-and tobacco-free lifestyle,” Dowker said, “and we do believe that drugs are the first thing that will cause people to lose sight and focus of those things that are important to them.”
Dowker ended with the hope that those in attendance would live long, healthy lives, enjoy their summer, and join Freestyle Connection in living a life free of negative influences.
Christianson and Kelsey then wowed the crowd with a variety of air tricks–such as the Bunny Hop, a Barspin and a Cancan Toejam–while Dowker, who had sprained his ankle earlier in the week, demonstrated a number of ground, or flatland, tricks.
Using only the front and rear brakes, his body weight, and four pegs–steel pegs attached to the bike’s axles–Dowker showed his audience a couple of classics, such as the Wheelie and the Tail Whip.
Yet for all the daring seen in Freestyle Connection’s stunts, they were not the only ones who put on a brave face. Several teachers volunteered–and were volunteered–to be the team’s latest “victims.”
In a stunt that required the help of four teachers, Maria Hall of Hillsboro Elementary School, Gina Hardesty of HES, Laura Pritt of HES and Denise Sharp of Marlinton Middle School laid side-by-side on the ground. Christianson and Dowker joined them. It was then, in a series of both humorous and serious leaps and bounds, that Kelsey cleared all six volunteers on his bike.
He did so without the help of a ramp.
HES Principal Joseph Arbogast and MMS Principal Joe Riley, despite their protests, were also volunteered to participate.
For Riley, his stunt involved a lawn chair. Seated atop the team’s five-foot ramp, the audience watched as Kelsey barreled up the ramp and over Riley’s head in a daring jump.
Volunteered by Hall and a rousing chorus of students, Arbogast participated in the same stunt as Riley. But rather than sitting in a lawn chair, however, Arbogast stood as Kelsey soared up and over his head.
Following the volunteer-filled stunts, Christianson, Dowker and Kelsey wowed the audience with more flatland and ramp tricks.
Originating in southern California, BMX became popular during the 70s and 80s. Children, inspired by the motocross stars of the time, would race their bicycles on dirt tracks, and by the mid-1970s, BMX racing had become a phenomenon.
The type of BMX performed by Freestyle Connection, freestyle BMX, is a descendant of BMX racing. Freestyle BMX specializes in stunt riding and is considered an extreme sport consisting of five disciplines: street, park, vert, trails and flatland – two of which were seen in Thursday’s show.
For their big finale, much to the excitement of those watching, Dowker stood atop the ramp as Kelsey, on his bike, flipped backwards in midair over him.
A thrilling event for all ages, the lessons promoted by Freestyle Connection are meant to last a lifetime. See page 10 for more photos from the event.