This past weekend I was touched. I witnessed firsthand the emotions of the family of a BMX rider who passed away while serving our country in Iraq. And I witnessed the emotions of a small village community that has just been blessed with a place to ride every day. This is my story of the Nike 6.0 Banksgiving Jam in Newark Valley, New York.
How It Came To Be
Last year in 2008 Nike 6.0 held an online contest where, in 150 words or less, entrants had to explain why they thought they deserved a mini ramp in their backyard. The idea was to give a kid his personal dream setup, but that original intent changed after the people at Nike read Nick Marzolino’s essay. Nick didn’t want a mini ramp for himself. Instead he wrote about how his village of Newark Valley, with lass than one square mile of land mass and little more than 1,000 residents could use the ramp as a memorial to honor Nicholas Wilson, a BMX rider who grew up in the town and was killed while on duty serving in the war in Iraq. The people at Nike were so touched by the story they decided to give more than just a min ramp-they wanted to give an entire skatepark to the community and hold a Banksgiving Jam in the town. Well, a few years of setbacks went by and most people in Newark Valley had lost hope in the park getting built. But after a ton of hard work and dedication from lots of people, everything finally came together and plans for the park and for the Banksgiving Jam were set. So in the first week of October John Saxton got to work on the park, and on October 10, 2009 the ramps was officially opened as the Nicholas Wilson Memorial Bike and Skate Park.
The Day Of
Right after getting off my plane in Upstate, New York I started hearing stories of how ramp builder John Saxton was now a local hero, and how excited everyone in the town was to have the park finally become a reality. And when we pulled into Newark Valley on the morning of the jam, I got to see these stories with my own eyes. It was drizzling and very overcast, but there were still dozens of people gathered around. There were color guard men standing at attention, young kids in helmets and pads eagerly waiting to get on the ramps for the first time, and a line of people waiting to speak and cut the ceremonial ribbon.
The first one to speak was Nicholas Wilson’s brother, and from his first few sentences I was already starting to get choked up. He said as happy as he was to have the ramps in his town, and as many kids would get enjoyment out of them, he’d give the ramps right back just to spend an afternoon with his brother.
Hearing news of a war on television, or reading about it in various headlines keeps you extremely distant from emotions dealing with the circumstances. But seeing someone talk about a family member that was killed in the war, and seeing how much of an impact one death can have on a community starts to put things into perspective and really gives it a personal touch that is difficult to describe. After seeing Nicholas’ family speak to their village, I honestly felt like my cross-country trip would have been worth it even if that were the only thing I got to see. But it didn’t end there…
After the ribbon was cut, and the park was officially opened and riders from as far as four hours away flocked into the fenced off area to hang out, ride, get free stuff, and enjoy the day. The rain stopped, and at times the clouds parted so the sun could shine through and before the session got too heavy Nicholas Wilson’s father helpy dry all the ramps using a flame thrower-a true testament to how dedicated the family was to making the day a success.
Over the next few hours, people rode and some decent stuff went down. But even though this site is based heavily on great riding, this day was not about the tricks people were doing on the ramps, and I don’t feel the need to talk much about what went down.
What I’d really like to get across is how great BMX was on this day at uniting a community, bringing people together, and making a difference in people’s lives. The village of Newark Valley touched me this weekend, and I want to sincerely thank them for their hospitality and the experience they allowed me to have in their town.