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Prose and Kohn

Sarasota resident to be inducted into National BMX Hall of Fame

Alice Bixler dedicated 50 years of her life to the sport.

Alice Bixler will be inducted into the National BMX Hall of Fame on Oct. 7 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Alice Bixler will be inducted into the National BMX Hall of Fame on Oct. 7 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Courtesy image
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On Oct. 7, a legend of the Sarasota BMX scene will be immortalized. 

Alice Bixler, who has dedicated 50 years of her life to the sport of bicycle motocross, will be inducted into the National BMX Hall of Fame in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Bixler, 75, will also receive a lifetime achievement award from USA BMX, which oversees the hall. 

Bixler likes to say she was born on two wheels. 

Her father, Albert "Hap" Poneleit, opened Hap's Cycle Sales in 1948. When her mother, "Bunny" Harriet Katheryn Poneleit, was going into labor with Alice, Hap drove them to the hospital on a motorcycle, and drove them home the same way. 

Any chance of escaping that life vanished in an instant — not that Alice ever wanted to escape it. She loves anything that has two wheels and goes fast. Even now, she works at Hap's Cycle Sales four days a week as its office manager and an insurance agent. 

It was in 1974 that she added BMX bikes to her focus. That was the year Sarasota's BMX track opened. Some of the kids in her neighborhood, including her son, David Bixler, wanted to check it out, so she tagged along. Back then, Alice Bixler said, the track was as basic as could be. 

"It had a flat starting hill and flat turns and little jumps with a piece of wood underneath them," Bixler said. "There were water holes that the fire department came to fill up." 

The kids — and adults like Bixler, who was 25 at the time — loved it all the same. To make sure everyone could have a good experience, Bixler volunteered to help run the track's races, and she also helped create track rules. They were necessary. At the first race, the rides didn't wear helmets or long-sleeved clothing. That immediately changed, she said with a laugh. She convinced her motorcycle friends to help out and teach the parents of each kid how to ride. 

Alice Bixler (85) competes in a BMX race in the 1980s. Bixler will be inducted into the National BMX Hall of Fame on Oct. 7 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Courtesy image

In 1979, the track was sanctioned by the National Bicycle League, with Bixler helping to create the Florida chapter of the organization, which they called the Sunshine State BMX Association. 

She started as the secretary, she said, but quickly became the race commissioner and president when everyone else resigned. Bixler never dreamed of doing that; BMX was too important to the kids. Slowly, the SSA recovered, and eventually became well-established. 

Bixler joined the national NBL board in the late 1980s and stayed on through the 1990s, helping the board establish the President's Cup, an annual race held during Christmastime in Columbus, Ohio, where state teams would compete for supremacy. The race existed for 26 years, and Bixler's Florida teams — she served as their coach — won 23 times, according to the SSA. In 1995, Bixler was named the NBL's Volunteer of the Year. The track remained sanctioned by the organization until 2011, when it joined USA BMX. 

It was not just on-track success that Bixler wanted. It was giving kids opportunities. 

Bixler said she saw what sports like football and baseball were doing for kids in terms of scholarship money for college and wanted to replicate it, if on a smaller scale. In 2008, a year after stepping down from the top leadership positions of the SSA, her dream became a reality. 

The organization established the Alice Bixler Scholarship Program, which assists riders and their families in furthering their education. Since 2008, the program has awarded 152 scholarships totaling $152,750. 

Alice Bixler celebrates after her Florida team won the President's Cup.
Courtesy image

Her contributions to the sport make her induction into the National BMX Hall of Fame feel well-deserved. Yet Bixler said she was surprised when she received her induction call. There are so many people who are deserving of the honor, she said. To know that the BMX community believes she is one of them? It moved her. 

"I'm so honored," Bixler said as her voiced wobbled. "It makes me feel like my life has mattered. It makes me feel like my life, the things I did for BMX, made a difference."

The Sarasota BMX track looks different now than it did when it opened. In 2016, the track reopened after being given $2.5 million in renovations, including an 8-meter ramp and a dual-purpose amateur and supercross track, complete with big-time jumps. The track is primed for national events, and in January will do just that, playing host to the Sunshine State Nationals, an event that will serve as a World Championship qualifier. 

Alice Bixler will be inducted into the National BMX Hall of Fame on Oct. 7 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Courtesy image

Those renovations happened, in part, because a group of people convinced the Sarasota County Commission they should. In August 2013, over a year before the renovations were eventually approved, three people spoke to the commission about what at the time were simply proposed changes. Bixler was one of them. Another was Jeff Leto, then the vice president of Sarasota BMX. The third was Joey Leto, Jeff Leto's son, who was 12 year old. He told the commission that it was his dream to become an Olympic BMX athlete someday, and that the renovations would help him do that. 

He's on his way. In August, Leto represented Team USA in the BMX Men's Elite portion of the 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships. If Leto qualifies for the 2024 World Championships — perhaps with a strong showing at the January qualifier in Sarasota — he has a real shot at a spot in the 2024 Paris Olympics later in the summer. 

Does Leto get to this point if Bixler was not there in the 1970s to help the track and the Sarasota BMX community? He might not. And Leto is but one of many riders whose lives were changed because of Bixler and her efforts to support this sport. 

So let there be no more doubt: Alice Bixler's lifetime achievement award is more than deserved, it was overdue. 



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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