The slopes on a BMX track don’t look too steep until you stand on top of one. Maybe that’s why most riders are in their teens and early twenties – no fear. Pic credit: Stephen Kane
Thirteen year old Katie O’Neill certainly doesn’t show any fear tearing round the track in Rathoath, Co Meath. Well-padded in her red and black suit, long hair tucked away inside her helmet, all she cares about is getting up some speed.
‘It’s a good sport, gets you out on the bike. It gets your blood running and your heart racing,’ she told me when I called out to see what they do.
Standing around with her mates, she doesn’t seem tough enough to be out there. But the give-away is that she’s even here.
We’re in a field out in the countryside, no glam changing rooms here just a few shipping containers.
A man walks past us spraying weeds to keep the track clear.
Former racer Eamonn Wyer walks me around the track, stops to point her out.
‘The woman who’s leading their National Series Alison Murphy is 40, been racing for years. Katie’s in second place behind her’, he says.
O’ Neill grins when I ask her about this, shrugs her shoulders as if to say it’s-no-big-deal. Her only comment is: ” It’s good, yeah, it’s good”.
So this is how it works – you get suited-up, put on the helmet and then line-up on top of a steep slope on your bike, all in a line. Wyer says the good riders hit 50km/hr before they get to the end of the slope, he’s not kidding.
‘The girls don’t have a full gate yet,’ O Neill explains, leaning on her bike. “There is usually five or six of at the gate, there is a lot of elbows. The first time I came was in November, now I race all the time.”
She admits to a few injuries but says her colourful outfit usually takes the brunt. Spilling over the handlebars sounds painful all the same, and she says she took home a sore head and grazed shoulders from one track-meet.
I was out there around Olympics time, so all the talk was of Shanaze Reade, the UK rider with her Irish background.
“I like her. In the last Olympics she crashed but she kept at it. She didn’t give up. I’ve met her, she’s really friendly,’ says O’Neill.
And that apparently is all it takes. That, and maybe a touch of madness.
More info on BMX here: Ratoath BMX
pic credit; Stephen Kane