When John Clark first began volunteering his time several years ago to help develop and build Lompoc’s River Bend Bike Park, he said he was motivated by the idea that local residents, particularly children, could use the park as a training ground to find success in a nontraditional sport.
“Not all kids are into team sports, so why not give them an outlet?” he said recently from the park, which opened in March 2015. “I was just trying to give back, honestly.”
In a twist that Clark said he didn’t see coming, his own two sons have become prime examples of that ideal.
Nine-year-old Tyler Clark and 7-year-old Jacob Clark are just a little more than a year into competitive BMX riding, but both boys recently qualified for this year’s Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) BMX World Championships, which will be held July 25 to 30 in Rock Hill, South Carolina. The boys, who are in third and first grade, respectively, at Los Berros Performing Arts Academy, had dabbled in the sport prior to the completion of the River Bend Bike Park, but it wasn’t until they began regularly practicing at the park that their skill progression really took off, their dad said.
“I think it’s a direct result of their success so quickly,” John Clark said of the Lompoc park, located adjacent to River Park off McLaughlin Road. “The kids they’re racing right now don’t go to school — they’re all home-schooled with personal trainers and teams. For (my sons) to qualify for worlds right now is kind of insane. Most people dream about that.
“For them both to actually do it was like, ‘What the heck?’ It’s gotta be the park; it’s gotta be the community.”
Both Tyler and Jacob saw quick rises in the BMX community.
John said that his two sons were dominant in the novice races early on, so they were encouraged by USA BMX officials to move up to intermediate races. They continued their success in that category and ended up expanding the scope of their racing world.
The Clark family, which also includes mom Tammy and daughter Jaydyn, has traveled to races all over California, as well as events in Arizona, Oregon and Texas.
The boys do some practice and conditioning work at their Vandenberg Village home, and they also train in Los Angeles and Santa Maria. John said the fledgling Lompoc track is definitely their home venue, however.
“Honestly, their progress is from here,” he said of the Lompoc park. “This is their training ground, for sure. They spend a lot of time here.”
Both boys said they love the thrill of racing and plan to continue it as long as they can.
Tyler, in particular, has a very specific goal of reaching the Olympics.
His plan for when he gets there: “I’m gonna try and take the golds,” he said.
In addition to the on-track benefits the boys have received, John said that racing has also proven healthy for the boys in other ways.
Tyler, he said, has ADHD and has struggled in the past with certain activities in school or sports. Ever since Tyler got into BMX, though, his dad said he’s seen a big change.
“They played baseball and soccer before,” John said of his sons. “It helped them a little bit in school, and they both were really good at it, but this has really helped, for Tyler especially. We don’t need meds. When they race hard, I think it’s an all-out focus. They’re on a team, but it’s not really a team sport, so when they’re on the track, it’s all them. They have to focus, and it works.”
Along with preparing for the competition in this summer’s world championship event, the family is also planning out how to pay for everything. The entire trip, with travel, lodging and registration and other fees, will end up costing about $10,000, John said.
To help with that, he said the family is seeking out sponsorships from local businesses and other area donors. He is offering racing jerseys for display to local business sponsors, and is hopeful that members of the community will rally around the boys.
Anyone who wishes to donate or sponsor the boys can do so by contacting John at email@example.com.
Dave Baker, who led the effort to have the River Bend Bike Park constructed, said he was proud to see the park having such an impact already.
"When I started this project, I presented to the City Council that Lompoc needed this park because there are kids in town that do not play football, baseball, basketball, etc.," he said before terming the Clarks a "success story" for the park.
John Clark said it is “mind-boggling” to him to see the how the park has grown in popularity, especially in areas outside of Lompoc.
He’s hopeful that other locals will take advantage of the free resource available to them.
“I think it’s just a matter of time before we get someone to take it to the next level for BMX,” Clark said.
“We’ve got (Danny) Duffy for baseball and all these other studs in baseball, football, swimming and diving,” he said, referring to the Kansas City Royals pitcher. “I don’t know if my boys will be doing that, but I think somebody will.”
Along that line, Clark has a message for local parents.
“Just because your child doesn’t want to participate in baseball or soccer or whatever — there’s other things out there, and this might be one of them. You’ll never know unless you try.”