Since its birth in Southern California more than 40 years ago, bicycle motocross (BMX) has attracted millions of riders and fans the world over.
From the makeshift dirt-lot tracks of the late 1960s and early â€™70s to the professional circuits and Olympic competition of today, the sport took a relatively brisk route to legitimacy and ubiquity.
The appeal is plain to see. After exploding from a gate on an elevated ramp, up to eight riders barrel through a series of hills, jumps, banked turns and bumps on an enclosed dirt track, all the while pumping for more speed and angling for the best line. A typical race lasts 30 to 40 seconds and is, at an elite level, a breathless display of courage and athleticism.
Doss High Talent
In Louisville, the nationally regarded track at E.P. â€œTomâ€ Sawyer State Park serves as a locus for the areaâ€™s BMX scene and itâ€™s there â€“ for three hours a day nearly every day of the week â€“ that you will find 16-year-old Spencer Renck.
The junior-to-be at Doss High School has emerged this season as one of the areaâ€™s top talents after a long-term hiatus from regular competition. Now Renck is aiming for his first expert-level win.
â€œHe is one of the strongest riders in the metro Louisville area (and)â€¦probably the fastest 16-expert in Kentucky,â€ said Weston Pope, a local pro who has trained Renck at weekly clinics this summer.
Started at two!
Renckâ€™s start in the sport came early when, at age two, he jettisoned his training wheels and began navigating the â€œrhythm sectionâ€ of small bumps on the backstretch at Tom Sawyer. A year later he entered his first race.
Steve Butler, co-manager of the Addison Bikes team that sponsors Renck, remembered an impressive youngster.
â€œWhen he was at eight, nine and 10 he was at the top of his game,â€ said Butler, who is also a board member for Derby City BMX, a local body that organizes clinics and races. â€œI think he kind of got burnt out or drifted away.â€
Renck did drift away. For reasons he canâ€™t recall, he dropped the sport altogether and focused instead on baseball, basketball, football and soccer.
The itch to race returned a couple of years later, though, and in his first event back, he finished sixth at Grand Nationals in 2007. Encouraged by the strong showing, he planned to re-commit to the sport, but just a few months later his father, Craig Renck, was diagnosed with brain cancer.
A standout rider himself, the elder Renck had introduced Spencer to the sport and was a close friend, coach and role model. After an 18-month fight, Craig passed away at 47.
Spencer was devastated and BMX took a backseat as he and his mother, Kathie, tried to move forward.
Now three years later, Renck is back on the bike and said it has brought him closer to his late father.
â€œIâ€™ll be riding by myself andâ€¦Iâ€™ll kind of see my dadâ€™s face. You get this feeling that heâ€™s there with me, and I believe he is,â€ Renck said.
What a rally!
In his first race back, Renck was placed among novice riders at a regional event in Dayton, Ohio. After advancing to the main event, he lost his balance and fell before the starting gate dropped.
For most riders a botched start puts them immediately out of contention, but Renckâ€™s substantial natural ability came to the fore as he gathered himself and darted from the back of the pack to the front, to win by a bike-length.
Only five months into his return, the upbeat kid with permanently scabbed elbows and knees has already risen from novice to expert, a progression in proficiency that typically takes years.
â€œThis time next year youâ€™ll see him on the podium. He has that drive,â€ said Butler.
Renckâ€™s daily training regimen emphasizes snapping out of the gate, passing skills and jump work, as well as uphill sprinting and occasional mountain biking to increase endurance.
Although he admittedly has a long way to go, Renck is committed to one day turning pro.
Contact columnist Chris Cahill at firstname.lastname@example.org.