Who, What, Where, Now!
USA Cycling National Championships
Where Even the Kids Are Gnarly
For every Ride Sun Valley Bike Festival race, including USA Cycling’s National Championships, the Ketchum Fire Department (KDF) had two response teams: an ambulance crew on scene, set to transport, and a crew atop the course with a truck and a backcountry litter. As a new volunteer, I hadn’t predicted the extent of KFD’s race coverage and jumped at the chance to work the cross-country events on July 6th.
Having not been to an elite mountain bike race since the 2000 NORBA Championships in Deer Valley, I’d forgotten why field EMTs and paramedics are downright necessary. This year’s River Run course was steep and obstacle-ridden, with rock gardens and a colossal “fly-over” ramp near the base area. Dirt. Pavement. Rocks everywhere. From the course alone, the injury potential was enormous.
More importantly, though, was the quality of the field; these racers had come to Sun Valley for one reason only: they were faster than the competition. Mountain bikers are a breed of athletes that crash regularly and spectacularly---sliding out, flipping the bike, spanking boulders, bouncing off the trail, with little more than a helmet, maybe some gloves and a padded bum for protection. And at the championship level, when the stakes are highest and the racers fastest, carnage has to be expected and ambulances at the ready.
and the racers fastest, carnage has to be expected and ambulances at the ready."
What I haven’t mentioned is that there were no pro races that Friday, just the 11-18 year-old categories. “This should be easy,” I thought that morning. “They’re kids: middle and high-schoolers. How fast can they go?” I assumed that the real concerns were for the burly pros. Then the races started. Seeing 16-year old girls covered in dirt and scratches and boys half my size descending like maniacs, I knew we’d see action.
Fortunately, there was only one notable injury all week and none during my shift. I did have to work, however, fixing up two bloody high schoolers. One tore up his entire body, including his chest, after tumbling down the flyover. The other, in a frightening demonstration of resolve, crashed on the second of five laps and cranked through the pain to finish before heading our way with a shoulder injury that would’ve sidelined a normal human being.
“These kids are the future champions,” screamed the announcer before the 11-12 year old event. “The next Todd Wells and Georgia Gould! Let’s make some noise!” So to the raucous sounds of cowbells and applause, groms jumped off the line. While years away from being as fast as their idols, they still screamed past us. I held my radio and headed back to the ambulance, knowing that at a race of this caliber, even the kids are gnarly.
Photo Gallery courtesy of Nils Ribi.