Lake eighth-grader Marcus Christopher recently turned pro as a BMX freestyle rider, moving up from the amateur ranks when he was invited to compete in a professional event in Las Vegas. The Las Vegas Throwdown BMX Big Air Spectacle was a chance to battle against the best in the country, with 15 other pros in the field.
LAKE TWP. Most middle school students enjoy after-school activities like basketball, swimming, video games or keeping up with friends on social media.
Lake eighth-grader Marcus Christopher is busy with something a bit different when he’s not in the classroom. Christopher, 13, recently turned pro as a BMX freestyle rider, moving up from the amateur ranks when he was invited to compete in a professional event in Las Vegas. The Las Vegas Throwdown BMX Big Air Spectacle was a chance to battle against the best in the country, with 15 other pros in the field.
“Basically where BMX is at right now in the freestyle world, a lot of events are pro invite-only contests, so there are only professional riders,” Marcus’ father, Matt Christopher, said. “For the Vegas dirt competition he did a few weeks ago, it was pro only and once you get a pro invitation, there’s no turning back because if you ride in an amateur event, you’re kind of looked at as a ringer.”
Marcus started riding BMX when he was four and raced for six years before switching over to freestyle, a type of competition that can see him fly as high as 25 feet in the air. If he lands safely, it’s still a high-impact return to earth, but so far, he’s avoided a lot of injuries. A broken hand from a hard landing a few months ago is the most serious hit Marcus has taken and, ironically, it came on what he and his father described as a simple trick.
Still, the scariest part of the process in turning pro hasn’t been potential injuries, but rather the rise in competition and pressure.
“It was a little scary because I’ve been watching a lot of those guys on TV for a long time,” Marcus said.
Riding in pro events can bring in winnings ranging from $4,000 to $10,000, but according to Matt Christopher, the prize money isn’t the primary source of income for pro riders. That comes from sponsors, who pay big money to have riders wear their gear and serve as high-flying billboards for their products.
Marcus has sponsors for everything from his bike to his protective gear to his gloves and shoes and maintaining a good relationship with each sponsor is vital for a rider.
Having a sponsor put a rider on their pro team is the goal for competitors such as Marcus, whether they’re 13 or 23. Marcus may be younger than most of his fellow riders, but that doesn’t mean he is any less dedicated to his craft. He still has to keep up with his school work, where his favorite subject is science, but when he’s not in class, he’s often on a bike somewhere in Northeast Ohio.
“In the summer, usually ride between four and six days a week. In the winter, it’s usually one or two,” Marcus said.
In the summer, he can ride in his own back yard, but in the winter, he and his father have to drive up to the Cleveland area to ride at one of several indoor facilities there. Marcus often naps on the way to the facility, getting a little rest before he rides.
His riding career has taken him much further than Cuyahoga County, including a show in Austria last year when he rode at a three-day action sports event that drew crowds of as many as 16,000 people. He plans to return to the same event this March, so he’ll have to take his school work with him when he goes.
“When I miss school for events, I have to take a vacation day,” Marcus said, adding that taking time out of a trip to do homework “isn’t much fun.”
His mother, Lori, doesn’t travel to most events because Marcus’ younger brother, Charlie, is active playing football and basketball, so she stays home to make sure he gets to games and practices.
When it comes to competing, Marcus’ favorite part of the process is learning new tricks. His father, a former football player at Lake, noted that competing builds Marcus’ confidence. Matt credits his son’s calm, laid-back demeanor with helping him handle the pressure of competition, which can include all sorts of 360-degree variations, backflips, front flips and flairs.
When he’s at school, Marcus enjoys being a normal student and enjoys the same kinds of activities as his classmates. He may be earning more money than your average teenager once the final bell rings, but being a kid is still his primary job and one he’ll continue doing as he chases success soaring through the air.
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