Rock Hill is expected to host about 3,500 BMX bikers this month in the UCI BMX World Championships. Some city leaders say this could be the largest international sporting event ever hosted in South Carolina.
On Tuesday, Rock Hill hosted a slightly smaller competition -- the BMX Media Showdown. The event featured 11 reporters and editors from various media.
Now, riding a bike is supposed to be impossible to forget. But BMX is not, to borrow an old phrase, “just like riding a bike.”
The track’s amateur starting hill is just over 16 feet tall -- roughly the height of a two-story house. The track itself is about 1,200 feet long and filled with hills and sharp turns.
I stood on a small hill -- roughly 6 or 7 feet high -- with three girls as my coaches. They told me all I had to do was “pump” through the course. Pumping means to use the momentum of the hills instead of pedaling. I’m a 22-year-old woman who hasn’t ridden a bike in five years, with three coaches half my height and in their teens. I was starting to feel nervous.
After my first try, they told me: “Good, but try to pump more, and also loosen up. You look a bit stiff.”
Easier said than done.
I’ve always considered myself to be athletic but my coaches showed me up. I was panting after the first few trips over the course. They were right behind me the whole time and barely breathing hard, or breaking a sweat. I tried to save face; I told them I was ready for the big hill.
Racing down the 16-foot hill, I felt confident -- so confident, I forgot to use my brakes.
I realized my mistake at the bottom of the hill. But I had only a moment to reflect before I shot up into the air over the next hill, struggling to get my feet back on the pedals.
In the book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” Douglas Adams says there’s a knack to flying.
“The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss ... Clearly, it is this second part, the missing, that presents the difficulties.”
For a second, speeding down that hill with no brakes, it felt like flying.
It was the missing the ground part I forgot.
I veered off course as I came crashing down, feet spread on either side of the bike. The bike wobbled. It didn’t stop even as my feet hit the ground. It plowed right over my ankle, and I kept falling, ricocheting from foot to foot on the bike. I scraped the ground a few more times before somehow landing upright.
My coaches sped up to me, amid the gasps from the sideline.
“That was pretty impressive,” one coach said.
They said they’d never seen a fall and recovery quite like that.
With five minutes of practice left, I sat on the track and stretched my ankle. I wasn’t sure I could face that hill again.
My ankle started to swell as I tested the bike. I was in the first round of races.
“How many of you feel comfortable starting from the top of the hill?” a worker at the track asked.
As every other journalist raised their hands, I stretched my ankle and slowly raised mine.
I stared back down the two-story hill, clenching my teeth and the brakes.
My competitive nature got the best of me as the starting bell rang and the gate holding us back dropped. I was ready to race. But this time, I kept a cautious finger on the brakes.
I faced the hill two more times, claiming fifth place for The Herald.
When the championships come later this month, I will absolutely be back at the track. This time on the sidelines, watching the more practiced bikers truly fly.
Hannah Smoot will be the lead reporter covering the upcoming UCI BMX World Championships. If you are competing, or have story ideas, contact Hannah at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to know more?
Rock Hill will host the 2017 UCI BMX World Championships July 25-29. Go to rockhillSCbmx.com for more information on how to watch or volunteer.