Don't Mess with Texas
AUSTIN, Texas -- Thirty minutes after Chase Hawk gave this city a reason to be proud Sunday, a throng of people waited for him at the bottom of the stairs.
It had started with a few and quickly swelled to more than 100. His parents were there. So was his sister. His friends, male and female, stood among strangers. Austin's native son had won BMX Park gold in a BMX town, and it was time for the locals to rejoice.
When Hawk finally appeared, no one freaked out or chanted his name. They simply stood and applauded, the volume escalating with each stair he descended. It was noble, almost like a royal prince being received by his people.
Hawk's mother, Donna, beamed on the perimeter. Roughly 12 months ago, she got news that the breast cancer she had battled for two years was in remission. Hawk's father, Danny, a steel guitar player in Austin since the early 1970s, wore a grin that stretched from earlobe to earlobe under his cowboy hat.
"I'm Willie Nelson's neighbor," he told a reporter proudly. Then: "My son won the X Games."
Hawk, who had never won a medal in seven prior X Games appearances, made it his mission to change that this year. The biggest event in action sports was coming to Austin for the first time, and he wanted to represent his hometown to the best of his ability, he said. He changed his diet and started consuming protein shakes. Every minute was focused on one afternoon in June.
The commitment was mutual on Sunday.
"There wasn't one silent person on either side of these bleachers today," Hawk said. "After every run, everybody was at full volume. That does a lot for a rider; it adds a lot of motivation to what you want to do."
Top moments of X Games Austin 2014
More than 160,000 people came out for the four-day music-and-action sports festival that was Austin's inaugural X Games. Fans were wowed by BMX, Skateboard, Moto X and RallyCross feats during the day, and crooned to the conclusion of each night with the rocking sounds of performers like Pretty Lights, Kanye West and the Flaming Lips. All in all a resounding success and we can't wait to do it again next year. X Games Munich 2013 Skateboard Park gold medalist Curren Caples, pictured here, can't wait to do it again, either. He made the finals of Men's Monster Energy Skateboard street this year. Future double-gold contender, anyone?
Perhaps the most talented X Games athlete never to have won a medal, Hawk carried quite a burden into this week. It floated away with the ghost of his hardware drought.
"This is honestly the first time in the last few months where I really feel like I can relax," Hawk said.
Standing among the crowd, Tom Parsons may not have been able to relate to Hawk's feeling. But on Friday night, he experienced his own superlative moment.
Parsons broke his tibia in three places in January, chipping a shard of his shin clean off the bone during a motocross practice session. He still walks with a limp and wears a hard cast on his lower leg.
When he visited his doctor in mid-May, three weeks before he was scheduled to make his X Games debut, the doctor told Parsons his bone was not healing well and that he should avoid riding his motorcycle for another two to three months. The man might as well have punched Parsons in the stomach.
An ex-racer from Florida who soars upside down when he whips his bike, Parsons, 32, had spent the past four years begging for an invitation to the Moto X Best Whip contest. He finally got his wish this year. One can only imagine his despair when the doctor told him he still needed two or three months to heal.
"I was like, I finally made it, and I'm going to miss it," he said. "I can't let that happen."
On Tuesday, 72 hours before the Best Whip competition, Parsons got on his bike for the first time since his injury. He hit jumps for 20 minutes; the next day, he rode for another 20 minutes. His leg felt stable enough that he figured he would give the contest a shot.
He packed up his van with a friend and began driving to Austin at 6 p.m. After a nap at a rest stop, he arrived on Thursday afternoon.
The following night, Parsons left no doubt. He may have been the least known rider on the track but fans rewarded his talent -- and seeming ability to defy physics -- with by far the most votes.
Asked to describe his X Games journey, Parsons said: "Honestly, I wasn't thinking about medals or money. I was OK going home with nothing. It's taken me so long to get here, and I watch those guys every year in this contest. I just wanted my chance to ride with them."
More than 160,000 people attended the inaugural X Games Austin. They came in all shapes and sizes, from toddlers to grandparents, sweating and soaking in the summer sun like lizards on a rock. They saw favorites come through with flair, a la Jamie Bestwick, Nyjah Huston, Scott Speed and Pedro Barros. They saw underdogs finally triumph, notably Kacy Martinez, who won Enduro X gold for the first time in seven tries, and Lacey Baker, whose Skateboard Street victory came in her eighth appearance. (Stat of the week: The average age of Austin's six skateboard champions was 19.6, the youngest in X Games history.)
They saw a 47-year-old man land a 900 on a kids bike, a feat that earned Dennis McCoy his first BMX Vert medal since the '90s. If you're looking for an X Games ironman, McCoy would be a good candidate. He has never missed a vert competition in the X Games' 20-year history and knocked himself stumbly in a crash 10 minutes before his medal run.
The story in action sports always seems to revolve around the future, whether that applies to evolving tricks or athletes. But this week was a good reminder to savor the present, which is exactly what Chase Hawk's mother did Sunday afternoon.
After watching the newest X Games champion sign autographs and pose for photos, she could no longer resist the urge that had been welling inside of her all day.
"Excuse me," she said. "I'm going to go hug my son."