Aug 14, 2023
BMX event at Okeeheelee Park displays growing enthusiasm for sport
In the sizzling sun, more than 100 kids donned helmets, gloves and long-sleeves Saturday afternoon to race around Okeeheelee Park’s BMX track, a snaking three-quarter-mile course of berms and hills
In the sizzling sun, more than 100 kids donned helmets, gloves and long-sleeves Saturday afternoon to race around Okeeheelee Park’s BMX track, a snaking three-quarter-mile course of berms and hills west of Greenacres.
It wasn’t the weekend’s main attraction — qualifying races for the USA BMX Gold Cup Championship Series were later in the day, and the pro-am was Sunday — but it some ways it was the heart of the weekend’s events, a time for children of varying ages to hone their racing skills on their own yet together.
“Our biggest age group is 5 and under, believe it or not,” said Jennifer Kraatz, president of the Okeeheelee BMX Parents Council, which manages the track. “There’s something kind of for anyone.”
Regarded as one of the top facilities of its kind in the Southeast, the Okeeheelee BMX Track draws cyclists from Miami to the Treasure Coast each week to master BMX racing, which became an Olympic sport in 2008.
The course has stood at Okeeheelee Park since the 1980s, where it’s been patronized by a steady stream of BMX enthusiasts. The track saw a jump in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic, as parents searched for new outdoor activities for their children, Kraatz said.
Saturday afternoon, kids were hard at work doing practice runs on the course, prepping for a chance to qualify for the Gold Cup Championship Final Southeast in Alabama next month.
Marissa Campbell, 12, of West Palm Beach, said she’d been racing for about 4 years, even since her family brought her to watch a BMX event.
She remembers being “really excited” watching kids in helmets racing along the up-and-down course. Now she’s risen to expert level in her age group, the highest amateur designation, and she relishes the feeling of measuring her progress in the sport against other riders.
Her favorite racing memory?
“This one kid always said a girl could never beat him," she recalled, grinning as she stood over her bike in helmet and gear alongside the track, "and in the race I smoked him."
Luke Clements, 14, an incoming freshman at Palm Beach Central High, followed his brother into BMX racing three years ago and has since earned the expert designation. Racing has taken him all over Florida, he said, and even to events in North Carolina and Georgia.
Now, he said, he aspires to one day turn professional.
“That’s part of my goal,” he said.
Parents praise the sport for its natural camaraderie it creates and the way it lets children socialize in a sport without the pressures of team play.
Cole Sherman has been driving his 12-year-old son up to the track from Pompano Beach three or four times a week since shortly before the pandemic started.
It’s a long drive on weekdays, he conceded, but the atmosphere and sport is great for his son, who’s grown close to his fellow racers over the past three years.
“The environment’s great,” he said. “The people are nice. They’re all friendly and everyone gets along.”
Kraatz said about 800 BMX racers list Okeeheelee Park as their home track, and that the track averages 150 races a day during racing events.
For people new to cycling, the track has a free classes at 8 a.m. Saturdays and 5 p.m. Mondays. You can sign up at okeeheeleebmx.com.