Monday, June 28, 2010

BMX: It's a Family Affair

We've just returned home from our annual beach week, which seemed most special this year. Knowing this would certainly be our last trip before the oil ruins it for us all, we treasured the squeak of the white sand, and ignored the accumulation of green seaweed in our bathing suits. We swam with turtles, dolphins and rays, and shouted in vain, "go east!" I've been moving in the Gulf waters with these creatures since I was a small child, and their fate has me somewhat consumed and emotional. Sharing this week with my family reminded me of how lucky I am to have people in my life who love my boys so much that they will follow us to the ends of the earth to enjoy a little piece of BMX action. I hope the boys grow to appreciate it too.

From the earliest races, BMX has been a family affair. My dad (pictured with William and Wyatt at the 2007 Easter Classic) has been a staple from the beginning, never wanting to miss an opportunity to brag on his grandsons. He's a huge help too: collecting trophies, swapping out a 20 for a cruiser in staging when motos run tight, and often occupying Wyatt who tends to get restless off the track.

The boys' Aunt Ryland and Uncle Greg also have a high attendance record. (Pictured: Wyatt with his Uncle Greg in St. Pete.) Over the years, they've followed us all over the state of Florida for weekends of fun in the dust and port-o-potty experiences. Ever since the birth of their precious twin girls last September, spontaneous outings have been a little more challenging. However, they still managed to bring my adorable nieces to watch their big cousins race in the Easter Classic in Okeeheelee this past April. Now that's devotion! We've got two Redline minis set aside for the girls, and can hardly wait for them to get on a track. Although, we'll be equally stoked to see them in leotards at dance recitals and gymnastics meets.

The endurance award has to go to my Uncle Lynn and Aunt Kathy who spent a fun-filled stress-filled week with us in Louisville, KY for the 2009 Grand Nationals. Oh my dad tagged along too, and kept us all on time for the 5pm manager's reception at the Embassy Suites. Never mind that he was staying at the distant Red Carpet Inn. On our day-off from the track, we explored Louisville, visiting the bat factory, and walking along the river. Within our group of world travelers, no one had ever been to Louisville, and we stood looking across the Ohio River and discussed (argued) about which state is on the opposite bank. We had to ask a police officer, who kindly informed us we were all wrong. You know, I still can't remember what state it is. (Picture: Duhhh, what's that state?)

The most family we ever had at one race was in Morristown, TN at the 2009 Thanksgiving Nationals. We had my lovely sister Wendy (check out her blog), her husband George, my dad, Uncle Jack, who is never seen without a cowboy hat, and his daughter Elizabeth, who is ever-stylish and oh so frightened of public restrooms. My cousin Judy and her husband Shane also made an appearance. This was an unusual group in many ways, and I'd have to start a new blog to write about them. It was an impressive fan club, and they all saw Wyatt bring in his first win that weekend at the US Open (pictured). The beauty of this is that all these people trekked across country because we decided to race Thanksgiving weekend, and they wanted to be with us. That's something special! It was a memorable family weekend complete with a crazy mountain cabin and a trip to Dollywood. I truly wish I had a photo of all of us at the race, but alas the opportunity has passed me by.

Now that we are spoiled from all of this attention, we're hoping for a big family turn out at this September's Grand Nationals in Louisville. The drinks are on me--- Meet me at the Embassy Suites at 5.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Jinx of Oak Mountain Lives On: A brief weekend wrap-up

I happened to check the weather for Pelham, Alabama yesterday hoping for the best for our friends racing at Oak Mountain. I stayed updated through some spicy text messages sent from my friend Mandi Green, an Oak Mountain local. Heavy rain began mid-way through the mains, stalling the race until late last night. Mandi could not deny the jinx of Oak Mountain. In her text she states, "...It's been a long's never gonna end." I texted her back some quick advice on how to handle these long nights, and she assured me she already had it under control.

So how did we fare staying home? Did we stay free and clear of the jinx? Well, in a word, no. Zoey, our adorable 7-month-old lab pup decided to make a meal of toxic berries in our yard. The money we saved trying to avoid the jinx went straight into the hands of the emergency pet hospital where Zoey spent the weekend having her system flushed. If we had gone to Oak Mountain, Zoey would have been frolicking through the mud instead of eating rotten berries.

Better luck next year!


Friday, June 18, 2010

The Jinx of Oak Mountain

This weekend we are supposed to be headed to Pelham, Alabama to race regionals at Oak Mountain BMX. It's what we've done, or attempted to do, on this same weekend for the past four years.

June of 2006 was our first visit to Oak Mountain. This was going to be William's first out of town race, and he was very excited. It was sunny and extremely hot when we arrived for Friday afternoon practice. William took two laps and returned to us complaining of a headache. I gave him some gatorade and told him to get back out there and practice. He returned once more saying he couldn't ride because of his head. It was so darn hot out there that I had no clue he was roasting with fever. We decided to load up and drive down to Montgomery so William could rest at his grandparents. When Vann went to start the truck, the battery was dead. Cell phone service is next to nil in the park, but we managed to get a garbled call out to my dad who came to our rescue.

By the time we made it down to Montgomery, I knew something was bad wrong with William. I took him to the nearest emergency walk-in clinic, where he was diagnosed with mycoplasma, a form of pneumonia that kept him sick for two weeks. On a side note, while checking out at the clinic, William, delirious with fever and pointing at the receptionist, asks loudly, "Mommy, why does that lady have gold teeth?" I met the receptionist's eye, and sure enough she had enough gold teeth to retire on. If I saw her today, I would hand her a pair of pliers and advise her to head to the nearest cash for gold establishment.

Our brief visit to Oak Mountain did allow me to see what a beautiful area it is. In early 2007, knowing we would be going to the Oak Mountain regional once more, I secured a cabin on the lake in the state park so that we could not only race, but fish, swim and grill too. It wasn't long after that William had his accident, and I gave our highly prized cabin reservation to friends.

In 2008, we actually raced! The crew at Oak Mountain BMX had their hands full though, keeping the track rideable in very wet conditions. Mud was everywhere, as illustrated by our young friend Brady Green. (Photo credit: Stuart Harrison)
We didn't think track conditions could get much worse, until we arrived at Oak Mountain in June of 2009 in a torrential downpour. All of the faithful, determined to race, waited for the sun to dry off the track. Meanwhile, restless kids (mine especially) ran through the muddy woods wearing their only team jerseys. Wyatt has a way of getting extra dirty, and when Saturday's race was postponed until Sunday, I was forced to wash his racing clothes in the hotel bathtub.

Racing finally began Sunday morning on a muddy track. Everyone at Oak Mountain BMX deserves to be commended for actually pulling off the race. It was obvious that more rain was on the way, so the race was run as quickly as possible. William raced cruiser that day, and was bumped up to the 9-10 class because of the lack of 8 and under riders. He was up against some fast kids, and was coming in a close third in every moto. Before he went up for the main, he told us he felt he could take second, and was going to go for it. Well go for it he did, and he folded up like a two dollar suitcase shooting out of the first turn, crashing hard in front of my 80-year-old aunt who had braved the foul weather to watch him race. It was no doubt a nasty spill, and the paramedics rushed out to have a look at him. Thankfully, he was able get on his bike and ride out. My aunt, bless her heart, fretted over William, who, although bleeding through his jersey, continued to insist he was fine. I think she was shocked that I actually let my kids participate in such a sport. Once Wyatt's main was complete, we were in a rush to pack up and go. Rain was clearly coming. The downpour began once more as I gathered trophies and tried to avoid slipping on mud.

On the way home we made a unanimous decision, Oak Mountain is jinxed for us and we're not going back. This has absolutely no reflection on the wonderful people there. It's truly a fantastic facility, and I hope the jinx has ended. In our absence, I have no doubt that the weather will be perfect and the race will run without a hitch.

To all of our friends racing in Oak Mountain this weekend, stay dry!

Happy Racing!


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sometimes They Fall: A Story of Courage (Part II)

I must begin by giving credit to some special people who helped us through this crazy time. I am personally grateful for the gorgeous ladies of book club for their weeks of meals they so graciously delivered to my family. Many thanks to Vann's coworkers at Pella for all of their gifts and cards that made William smile. I know William is most grateful for the time he got to spend with Ricky Carmichael. He'll always be the G.O.A.T. to us. We would also like to thank Dr. Mark Fahey at Tallahassee Orthopedic Clinic. And last, a special thanks to my Grandma Helen who shouted words of wisdom from the great beyond.

If you have not had the opportunity to read Part I of this story, do so now.

After, well, the worst night of our lives, William finally slept. Visitors and nurses came and went. Vann arrived after taking Wyatt to preschool, and we were informed that William would be discharged that afternoon. We were scared, but relieved that he would be home with us. Vann sent me home at last to shower and try to gather myself before collecting Wyatt. My friend Dede had parked my car in the emergency lot the night before, which costs a measly dollar to exit. This is a real problem if you don't have a measly dollar on your person. Oh, I could've scrounged change, but this machine required a measly crisp dollar. Great. I had bigger things on my mind, so I cleverly positioned myself to steal out of there on the bumper of the next car that exited. My plan worked, so remember that the next time you're trapped in an emergency room parking lot.

My phone was ringing when I arrived home, and it was Kim from my book club. "What happened? How's William?" I'm sure she wasn't expecting the earful that she got.  Then she asked,  "how are YOU?" I looked down at myself, in the same clothes from yesterday, now dirty and smelly from the bmx track and the long night in the hospital, and all I could do was blink away tears. "Oh, I'm fine." Right. I'm really glad she didn't fall for that one, because she immediately gathered the troops and lined up our dinners for the following three weeks. If you don't go to church, I highly recommend joining a book club.

Vann arrived home with William a few hours later. We were given no instructions on how to care for him. We had no clue how to carry him, put him in the car, or wash his hair. Leaving the hospital, Vann was given no assistance putting him in the truck, while poor William was crying in pain. The nurses in the hospital looked at William as if he were an alien, and it had taken three of them to figure out the best way for him to go to the bathroom. How were we supposed to do all this at home?

The first week was terribly difficult, as William was still in a tremendous amount of pain. Vann and I took turns sleeping in Wyatt's bed to be near William, and Wyatt would bunk up with one of us. William had always slept on his belly, but now had to sleep propped up on pillows, with more pillows positioned under his knees. Full of pain and frustration, he didn't sleep much.

William spent his days in a chair in our living room where he was most comfortable. He would doze off while reading BMX Today or BMXer, dreaming of getting back on his bike. It didn't take long for overwhelming boredom to set in. The following Tuesday, William announced that he wanted to watch bmx practice. On that first night back at the track, I think everyone wondered if he would in fact return to the bike. Our big burly track director, David Shields, held back tears, and had to turn away so William wouldn't see. What no one seemed to realize was that the thought of not returning to bmx never entered William's mind.

Three days after the accident, William's kindergarten teacher, Ms. Kenton, came to visit. William still had one month of school, and we weren't about to let this hold him back. She convinced William of how much the class missed him, and that he should come back when he felt up to it. We still needed to solve the issue of William's drafty aft, when Vann's ingenuity came into play. My clever husband bought William oversized shorts, removed the seams, and attached snaps so that poor William could cover himself. And so, we made arrangements for Wyatt to go to preschool five days a week, and I accompanied William to kindergarten for the remaining month of school. I'll admit, sitting in the cafeteria day after day with a bunch of kindergartners who couldn't open their milk cartons was a little trying, but I was so happy that William could still participate. His classmates were wonderful, and would take turns throwing the ball with him at recess.

Still, William suffered continuously from the frustration of being immobile. His dad, brother and I were constant cheerleaders trying to lift his spirits. After a couple of weeks, I was beginning to feel quite sorry for myself. Having William in that body cast was like having a 60 Ib baby that could bark out orders. My back ached from lifting him and his equally heavy wheel chair. My mind was numb from attending kindergarten. I was pathetic.

One particularly rough day, I dropped into bed exhausted, questioning again how we were going to get through this. Now, you may or may not believe me, but my dead grandma has a weird way of popping up when I least expect it. That night, her voice loud and clear in my head said these words:

You can not change what has happened.
You can decide whether to be weak or strong, or negative or positive.

I sat straight up in bed and wanted to slap myself for being so ridiculous. I vowed right then to end the pity party.

On Mother's Day, William received the best surprise. We were invited to watch Ricky Carmichael practice on his local track. Ricky and his buddy Ben Townley jumped high and did tail whips, and generally did a marvelous job of showing off. William loved it. Best of all, Ricky was the first to sign William's cast. We still have it, and it looks like a strange, headless body.

William's 6th birthday rolled around, and he chose to celebrate at the track. Originally, we had made plans to surprise William with a trip to Disney World. Just so you know, even if your child has a major accident and is in a body cast, that stupid mouse will not refund your deposit. We made the most of it just the same, and had a good night at the track. The boys pushed William around, and threw the football with him. (Pictured: William with his friend Keagan.)
Time dragged on, and after seven weeks the big day for cast removal finally arrived. William couldn't wait to ride a bike, and I couldn't wait for him to take a bath. We quickly learned that things don't always go as planned. William's leg was healing at an angle, and we held our breaths as Dr. Fahey debated surgery once again.  Because William was growing so fast, he gambled, betting that William's growth would ultimately correct the problem. The decision was made to remove the spica and put William in a long leg cast.
William was glad to have one leg free, and quickly became somewhat mobile again with the help of a walker. He would practice in the yard where it was safe for him to fall over. I taught him the classic phrase, "I've fallen and I can't get up!" Being able to move around a bit helped ease the disappointment of still being in a cast. 
Three weeks later, we had better luck. The bone, although crooked, had fused well, and William was free at last. It would still be several weeks before William was allowed on a bike, but the day the cast came off, I let him ride his brother's big wheel. I had to carry him on and off of it because he still couldn't walk, but he could ride that big wheel like a champ. It wasn't long before he could begin using his trainer. This helped to strengthen his legs before he actually started riding. 

When the day came for him to return to the track, everyone paused and watched as William, limping severely, but fearless, walked up the starting hill, 

and rode again.


Monday, June 7, 2010

Sometimes They Fall: A Story of Courage (Part I)

April 24, 2007 was the last Tuesday in April. I know this because my book club meets the last Tuesday of every month. It was going to be a big night at the track. The weather was beautiful and the track was pristine. The BMX dads had a fish fry planned. I opted out, choosing instead to discuss Out of the Flames with my book club ladies. Not that I had much to say about the Restoration and Holy Trinity. And so, Vann (BMX dad) took the boys to practice.

My phone started ringing during our heated discussion of Michael Servetus, and his gory demise at the stake. I'm never interrupted at book club. I answered. The voice on the line was forcibly calm, hiding panic. "William is hurt. I need you to come to the track now."  I began spewing questions, but the only response was, "Get here NOW."

I left abruptly, trying to control my speed, all the while wondering why on earth I wasn't meeting them at the emergency room that I was driving past. The drive seemed too long. I hurried. The phone rang. Hurry. Hurry.

I saw the ambulance first.

After a full night of practice, followed by a race, the kids ate dinner and continued to ride. It was almost time to leave when William was hit. The other rider didn't see him. I was told that William cried out and went silent. When they tried to lift him, his left femur folded, and the ambulance was called.

William was sprawled on the track, the color gone from his face. He wasn't crying. He was loaded into the ambulance with me beside him. He was immediately stuck with an IV and given the maximum dose of morphine a 55 Ib body can take. The pulse in his left foot was checked repeatedly for signs of a severed femoral artery. We looked like a parade arriving at the hospital, with everyone from the track following behind the ambulance.

"Only three visitors allowed", we were told, as all but Vann, Wyatt and I dispersed. William's pants had to be removed for the x-ray. When the technician began cutting his pants, William began to cry. "I know it hurts baby", I soothed. "My new pants!" He sobbed. They were brand new red Fox racing pants. Then he turned to me quietly and asked, "Mommy, will you please get me some boxers in case this ever happens again?" Apparently he picked the wrong night to wear his Darth Vader drawers.

Watching William's face during his x-ray was torture, and I wanted to borrow his morphine drip just to get through it. The technician summoned us to the screen. It didn't require a phd to see that William's left femur, the largest bone in his little body, had snapped like a twig. In my nauseated stupor, I asked, "Is it broken?" (The image shown is a week after the accident. It's probably a good thing that I couldn't locate the emergency room x-rays.)

We were informed that the pediatric orthopedic surgeon had been called, and was on the way. When he arrived, he quickly explained that William would be prepped for surgery, and surgery would be performed immediately if the bone could not be set externally.  It was past 11:00, and Wyatt was asleep in a chair. Vann needed to get him home, and was forced to leave with all the uncertainty looming. Soon after, I was introduced to the team of surgeons, orthopedists, nurses and anesthesiologists who had been assembled to put our son back together. When it was time, I kissed William, and held his hand for as long as they would let me, as they wheeled the gurney to the O. R.

William has been the cause of the longest hours of my life: first, his laborious natural birth, then, this. Time stood still as I fidgeted restlessly and made necessary phone calls.

After three hours, William's chief orthopedist, Dr. Fahey, materialized in the waiting room. The cast application had been successful, and the bone had been set externally. William had been placed in a spica, which you really have to see to believe. I was led to recovery, where William was just waking up. He looked down. "Oh God", he muttered softly. I held his hand again as we were checked into our room. Drowsy from morphine and anesthesia, I thought William would sleep. Instead, he cried softly the rest of the night. I cried too, because I didn't know how to help my son.

To be continued...



Friday, June 4, 2010

The Rookie: A prelude to what comes next

"Somewhere, a child surprises himself with his endurance, his quick mind, his dexterous hands. Somewhere a child accomplishes with ease that which usually takes great effort. And this child, who has been blind to his past but whose heart still beats for the thrill of the race, this child's soul awakens."*

This post is simply to provide my loyal readers (Hello? Anyone?) a little history before I launch into my next rambling--- which is a doozy.

The Winter of 2007 brought amazing things for William. After his wins at the 2006 Fall Classic and regional championship, we knew without a doubt that he would pursue racing with all of his 5-year-old gusto. We were advised by friends to hold him back and let him have a shot at the 6 rookie title (see sandbagging), but that wasn't going to happen. William wanted to race, and he wanted to WIN.

Our next event weekend was the 2007 state qualifier and SE regional at the Emerald Coast Dirt & Vert in Fort Walton Beach, FL. William perfected both days, and inched even closer to the novice class. (Pictured: William racing his buddy Grant. They now race each other in the 9 expert class. Photo credit: Devon Ravine.)

William's final race as a rookie was a few weeks later at regionals in Dothan, AL. Once again, he perfected the weekend, giving him the  move-up points he needed to enter the novice class.

After the Gator Nationals in Sarasota, and the Easter Classic in Orlando, William was poised to vie for the 6 novice national title.

From his 5-year-old vantage point, in the Spring of 2007, he was sitting on top of the world.

*From The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein.