Riding the wave

Grand Valley BMX riders enjoy free day, hope their sport one day becomes mainstream

Nine-year-old Morgan “Monkey the Mainmaker” Zimmerman, left, eyes the competition as she holds onto her lead ahead of Skyler “Drama Mama” Shave, 11, in the girls 11-12 cruisers qualifying race at Grand Valley BMX’s Olympic Day races Saturday.

The kids who indulged in grinding BMX bikes on flaxen-colored dirt and tracking over hills at Grand Valley BMX on Saturday afternoon under stinging rays of 100 degrees of heat, hardly noticed it was “Olympic Day.”

It was fun. It was free. And in a sport that has not yet caught the tide of mainstream, even after becoming an Olympic sport in 2008, promotions still are needed.

Which is why Monkey the Mainmaker, a 9-year-old, orange-blonde-haired Grand Junction girl, something of a spinoff of the Flying Tomato Shaun White, was on hand. Dressed in sponsored racing gear with orange fire and “Factory Extreme Team” emblazoned across her chest, “Monkey,” as she has been called since she was nearly an infant, was racing in the 9-year-old division.

She wears a helmet with a hot-pink spike splaying out the top.

Like skateboarders and snowboarders and other extreme sports enthusiasts, BMX riders seem to attract the rebels, the Han Solo-types who would rather not be cuffed by team competition.

Monkey, whose legal name is Morgan Zimmerman, is ranked No. 2 and No. 3 in the Central Redline region for her age division in the 24- and 20-inch-wheel divisions.

She is called Mainmaker because she hasn’t missed making it past preliminaries and into the main event in 2011 and so far this year, said her mother, Paula Zimmerman.

“I like the sport,” Monkey said, “because it keeps me busy.”

Her wavy, chin-length hair that cuddles her cheeks betrays the competitive focus in her eyes. Like some of the riders, she does not get star-struck. Nor does she lose her temper in defeat.

That also was something taught to 7-year-old rider Reece Skinner of Grand Junction.

“I don’t like to win,” he said, “well, I do, but it’s just not all about winning. If you don’t win, you don’t get mad. You go on with your day.”

Sometimes, the children teach the adults. Or perhaps remind them the value of a free day of riding.

On the other end of the spectrum that day was Jason Carnes, a 40-year-old Austin, Texas resident who wheeled his Redline team van into Grand Junction as one of the stops to promote the sport and his team. He helped coordinate the event.

From 2002 to 2007, Carnes won the BMX Vet Pro national title given to overall point leaders.

And that was about where it ended.

“In 2008 I crushed my kidney,” he said, “and I came back, but as soon as I was back from that, I wrecked again and destroyed my left wrist and right shoulder.”

He was never the same.

Looking at the roughly 30 young competitors at Grand Valley BMX, which about three weeks ago was rebuilt, Carnes remembered his first race.

He was 14 years old and at Casino Beach just outside of Fort Worth, Texas.

He was in second place when the camel back — a series of two jumps, spread far enough apart to challenge the thought of clearing the ditch — approached.

“The guy in front hit the brake because he couldn’t jump them,” Carnes said. “And I remember jumping them and I thought all the sponsors in the stands would be looking at me and want me on the team. Of course, I’m a 14 beginner — no one’s looking at me.”

Then he let out a rumbling laugh, a confident discharge from a man who would briefly grace the top of the BMX racing world.

“I won that first race,” he said, “and then I was hooked. That was it.”

Carnes hopes such promotional events help make the sport mainstream.

But that may not happen, given the stereotypes slapped onto riders.

“When I was growing up, and the guys kind of bucked the trends, we definitely weren’t in the popular group,” he said. “We hope to get higher recognition with the Olympics.”

On June 16 in Chula Vista, Calif., Connor Fields won the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials for BMX to earn the second automatic nomination to the U.S. men’s BMX team that will compete later this summer in the London Games.

Stardom and Olympic glory, of course, was far from Monkey’s mind on Saturday.

Her media interview was short.

Because she wasn’t on wheels.


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