Organizers of the 2016 UCI BMX Supercross World Cup at the Sarasota BMX Track were worried about the competitors' safety.
Who was worried about my safety?
Someone thought it was a good idea to let me on the track to take photos, but they obviously didn't know me.
I’m a gigantic klutz with a propensity for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s a miracle that both I and the riders escaped unscathed. But these guys are used to going up, over and around obstacles a lot more formidable than me.
The event itself, at the Youth Athletic Complex, was a spectacle. There’s something inherently exhilarating about watching riders on bikes launch themselves down a three-and-a-half story ramp at close to 50 mph. I was in awe.
By the end of the weekend, I had seen more aerial maneuvers and hard digs than I thought possible. I had a fantastic time.
The event would have been possible without the hard work of so many people who got the track ready for a major event. The track itself is old, 42 years, in fact. Renovations had to be accomplished to get it World Championship worthy.
Nicole Rissler, the current deputy director of operations with Sarasota County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources, was in the thick of it all. Rissler was previously the Director of Sports for the Sarasota County Sports Commission and she knows all about the county’s desire to make an impact through sports tourism.
Collectively, she said, the county wants to be a major player at the table in the sports tourism world. It’s not naive.
While events such as softball tournaments are tough sells due to the competition, BMX racing is more of a niche. Put together a first-class facility and you very well could grab an event.
Rissler said the county hired EliteTrax Inc, which works closely with the international cycling union (UCI), to make sure tracks are compliant with Olympic standards. Sarasota BMX was, literally and figuratively, up to speed.
It appears, too, the investments have paid off. Both out-of-town and regular riders seem to love the track. USA BMXers' Brooke Crain and Corben Sharrah both compared the track favorably to the one they rode in Rio de Janeiro at the Olympic Games. The turns are deeper here, and it rides a bit faster, which in turn makes for a better quality race.
Rissler also emphasized that the decision to invest in the track was not made simply with the 2016 Wold Championships in mind. It’s a major investment in local kids. She hopes area riders take advantage of the track’s location and use it to become the elite extreme sport athletes of tomorrow.
If they do, they had better be ready to take some lumps. The entire time I was watching the event, I could not stop thinking about crashes.
That’s apparently not the case for Crain and Sharrah. Both denied ever worrying about crashes while on the starting ramp, though both also shared their extensive injury history with me.
Crain has suffered multiple concussions, broken wrists and broken legs during her career. She also crashed during this weekend’s championships, but was fine and recovered to take second place in the women’s division.
Sharrah snapped his femur in a 2011 race in Copenhagen, collecting other minor bumps and bruises along the way. He won the Sarasota race and the overall season championship.
I found my best seat, just watching Sharrah challenge the course. Despite my self-proclaimed clumsiness, I’ve never broken a bone in my life.
“You’ve got to have a screw loose to do some of this stuff,” Crain said.