Baseball - I sucked.
Karate - I was very good.
Both of these sports took up a large part of my childhood, from the ages of 5 to 13 - and it isn't by coincidence that I started riding freestyle BMX heavily at the end of my baseball-karate years.
Even though I hated baseball, my mom signed me up every season. Back then, I didn't believe I had a choice; I thought it was just part of the curriculum of growing up - like having to attend school. I was a bench warmer for most of that time. I played awful - but safe - positions, like left field; the coach put me in play, but felt confident I'd be nowhere near the ball at any time. I had no passion for it, and I recognized there was jock favoritism well before it became an issue for most in high school.
Being a bench warmer, though, had its benefits. Me and a kid named "Chris" got good at a few things: baseball card collecting, mashing and chewing as much Big League Chew we could handle, and juggling. I got pretty good at juggling: being able to "pop" the ball off my bicep and catching it with that same-side hand; we spent a lot of time bouncing the ball off the back stop and catching it with one hand - changing things up by throwing it behind our backs or between our legs. I socialized with the other bench warmers, cheered the kids who played well and offered moral support for the team. I got to give passing, limped-hand, waist-high "fives" to the opposite team as we walked single file towards each other after the game, saying to the other kids, "good game good game good game good game good game good game good game…"
My uniform was always clean.
Karate was a big deal in my life. I was very good at it - both fighting and forms (or "kata"). My mom bought me all the Karate magazines, I watched (with complete seriousness) any and all martial arts movies. I learned ninja hand signs and practiced them. I even dressed up like a ninja and rolled around in the back yard with my outfit on, climbing the fence and hiding behind bushes. I'd throw a ninja star at my fence and sometimes it would fly over for which I had to go next door to retrieve it, embarrassed. As I matured into my teen years, all that kid stuff was put aside and I started to take karate seriously through competition. I won many trophies, but my natural, personal disdain for competition started to set in and karate started to fall wayside to freestyle BMX.
On Oct. 17th, 1989, Santa Cruz, Ca. was hit with a devastating earthquake. Most people know of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and how it changed my town - and the lives of the residents - forever. My karate dojo, along with most of downtown Santa Cruz, was destroyed.
I was riding my BMX bike when the earthquake hit. I was up the street from my house when it began - I remember the telephone poles the most: how they swayed and flopped like gigantic pieces of licorice stuck in the white cement sidewalks. My neighbor's mom was yelling at us to get out of the street with fear of exposed power lines falling. I started dragging my Dyno Pro Compe Freestyle Bike out of the street towards her house...
…then it stopped.
I went home to check on my mom and little brother. My dad was at work. We decided to go riding.
Mom was upset when I rode off - venturing into the carnage of a natural disaster. But we, as young BMX'ers, had to see it. Alarms were going off; windows were shattered. Fire places were now piles of brick and dust. The ocean water was pushed so far out off the shore, fish, plants and other creatures were exposed. Fish were flopping around on wet rocks, gasping. People were walking around. Women were crying and fires were burning off in the distance.
I rode as far to my friend's house, which was about a mile away - although we did take the long way to get there. My desire for post-apocalyptic adventure subsided and my natural child-fear began to set in. I rode home by myself. Alarms were still going. The fish that were flopping on the exposed, wet rocks, stopped; dead. The people that were walking around were sitting with their heads down, whipping them up into alertness when the aftershocks hit. Some people were standing along the shore, staring out beyond the horizon of the ocean. The air became hazy from smoke.
From the rubble, a new city was built. The old musings of Santa Cruz were demolished - and not without tears. But tears are temporary.
My dojo was moved to a new location, and soon after that, it shut down completely which ended karate for me. My freestyle BMX riding progressed at a rapid rate after 1989. From the time of the Loma Prieta earthquake, I did not engage in any competitive sports - the "free" and "style" of BMX offered an outlet for rebellion, freedom from strict guidelines, and opened up a world of creativity - aspects that competitive sports couldn't provide. I had no coach or sensei to yell at me; BMX freestyle is the antithesis of that. I made friends with kids that were like me: reprobates, rebels and trick junkies who looked at ledges, empty parking lots and cement loading docks with creative ideas and eagerness.
I can't say that the earthquake is responsible for my complete devotion to freestyle BMX, but it was definitely a pivotal point in my growth.
A couple years ago, I left MTB and cyclocross racing with disdain, disappointment and boredom - very similar to the way I left baseball and karate. Coincidentally, 2012 was an incredibly tough year for me and my wife. It was also at the end of that year I picked up BMX riding again - not long after leaving racing.
2013, with freestyle BMX back in my life, was a much better year for us. We were forced to watch our past die. We started over. Today, my BMX riding progresses each session. I've made friends with men that are like me. We view ledges, empty parking lots and cement loading docks with creative ideas and eagerness. I don't have myself yelling at me.
From the rubble, a new life was built. The old musings of our lives were demolished - and not without tears.