As a 10-year old kid growing up Nottingham, England, BMX rider Jamie Bestwick didn't know that his first bicycle -- a gift from his father-- would inspire him to become one of the best athletes in the history of action sports.
Growing up, Bestwick was having fun with a hobby that allowed him to spend more time with his friends. As a child, there wasn't much more he could want.
"I guess it was just all the rage at the time," says Bestwick. "Everybody was riding BMX bikes, and you know, you're a 10-year old kid, you just want to do what your friends do."
As Bestwick grew older, there was a growing desire to keep riding, because maybe one day, it could take him to heights he could only dream about. And he's reached some amazing heights as one of the world's best freestyle riders.
"I loved everything about [BMX bikes] - the colors, all the accessories, what you could do, and I just found myself getting more and more involved in that scene," he says of his first experiences with BMX riding. "I just found out that what I had been introduced to was just the tip of the iceberg. There was so much more out there that I never even knew about."
"From that day forward, it kind of got me hooked on riding bikes of any kind."
While working for several years as a mechanic for an airline company in England, Bestwick only had time to ride on the weekends. He continued to compete in BMX events for fun, but didn't see it taking him anywhere in the future.
"For awhile it was just a matter of working the job to feed the sport that you loved," he says. "I guess if you're a professional, you can dedicate every hour of the day to your trade. I couldn't really do that. I had responsibilities in England. I worked jobs, had bills to pay, and the BMX bike wasn't paying the bills. It was more of a hobby at the time."
In 1996, Bestwick got his big break. An extreme sports competition called the X Games was beginning its second year in Providence and Newport, Rhode Island. The inaugural event was a big success -- attracting half a million spectators.
Competing against some of the best freestyle riders in the sport as an amateur, Bestwick placed third, winning a bronze medal.
"With the introduction of contests like the X Games, World Championships, there was avenues to make money from," says Bestwick. "And when ESPN and all the big TV companies got involved, obviously the big sponsorships rolled in, and that was another avenue for us to make revenue."
Bestwick had a decision to make. Hoping to capitalize on the rise of action sports in America and across the globe, he quit his job as a mechanic and became a full-time rider. It turned out to be a pretty smart move. To date, Bestwick owns 11 X Games gold medals, holds sponsorships from Monster and Toyota, and was named 2014 Laureus Actions Sports Person of the Year.
Following his introduction to the national stage at X Games II, he moved to the United States in 1999 to be closer to the competition, and found a home in State College. Bestwick, 43, has been living here with his wife Kerry and nine-year old son Samuel ever since.
"It's beautiful," he says of the small university town he's called home for the past 15 years. "I'm a big cyclist, I love anything outdoors and sports, and this is a big sporting town. They have the best mountain biking riding in the whole state of Pennsylvania. The road cycling routes around here are amazing."
I think it's one of the most awesome towns I've ever lived in," continues Bestwick, who's spent time in many cities across Europe and the United States throughout his professional career. "I'll probably live here for the rest of my life."
Bestwick's devotion to community led to the creation of a foundation that bears his name. The Bestwick Foundation, started in 2011 by Jamie and local charity activists Steve Greer and Dan Rallis, has been delivering both financial and emotional assistance to families in need through a number of charitable organizations, including Mount Nittany Medical Center, Centre Volunteers in Medicine, and Tides Program.
In 2013, the foundation raised just shy of $100,000. According to Bestwick, "every penny" goes back into the community. He doesn't believe in rewarding administrators with sizeable paychecks. Instead, if all the fundraising efforts go to the right place, the money is used more efficiently.
"It's nice to know from our perspective that no bonuses are being paid, we don't pay anybody's salary," he says. "It's all sweat equity. What we need to make the foundation run, we chip in ourselves, or we get sponsors to chip in. That enables us to write some good size checks that make a bigger impression."
Before the foundation began, Bestwick experienced the pain of dealing with the suffering of a close friend firsthand. Steve Greer, his eventual charity partner, was diagnosed with cancer. At the time of his diagnosis, Greer was a prominent State College personality, and had a large hand in putting together the annual Coaches vs. Cancer charity golf tournament. According to Bestwick, Greer was very proactive in getting people to work together in the community and raising funds for those in tight financial situations.
It was Greer's infectious personality that led him and Bestwick to become fast friends. He called Greer a "larger than life character" who was super friendly, and garnered the respect and admiration of everybody in town. Even on your worst day, he could make you feel good about yourself.
"It was unfortunate to see a guy as healthy and strong as Steve come down with cancer, and it really brought it home how at that moment in time, he needed all the help he could get," he says.
With the support of the community rallying around him, Greer made a full recovery. Realizing the strength of a supportive environment, especially in a small town like State College, Bestwick saw the need for a charity that took advantage of the compassion that helped Greer overcome his battle with cancer.
"It was a real kind of eye opener that with the right people and just making sure everything was in place, you can come through on events like this in your life," says Bestwick. "So to see Steve come back when he was fit and well and getting a little bit more active, I said to him 'let's do something in town.' I have a huge passion for riding bikes and he is just the number one people person in town - he could get everybody in this room huddled together in a big conversation. He's just that kind of guy. With a good friend of ours Dan Rallis, we just put together the Bestwick Foundation."
Along with fundraising events like a reverse car drawing at Spikes Stadium and Christmas Party at the Ye Olde College Diner, one of the cornerstones of the Bestwick Foundation is its cycling rides throughout State College. Bestwick says his goal is to hold the bookend events of the cycling season, putting together a ride at the end of the fall and beginning of spring seasons.
Beginning Saturday April 27 at 9:30 a.m., the foundation will hold a Spring Ride, beginning and ending at Kelly's Steak House in Boalsburg. Riders can choose between a 74-mile and 36-mile track, snaking through historic Boalsburg and Penns Valley. Registration is $35 ($40 on the day of the ride), and all proceeds will benefit the Bestwick Foundation.
"It's great riding," says Bestwick. "There's a big cycling community in State College in its surrounding areas, and also it spreads down through Harrisburg, Philly, and Pittsburgh and D.C., so we get riders from all over that come in and it's all to raise money for State College."
More than 75 people are expected to take part in the ride, leaving Bestwick busy to get everything finalized. He's already enlisted the help of the Bicycle Shop in downtown State College to take care of any mechanical issues, and PYP Studios, owned by Bestwick's wife Kerry, will provide food and energy snacks for participants.
Come the day of the big ride, you'll find Bestwick cycling with the group, circling back and forth and keeping an eye on everybody as the self-proclaimed "concierge" of the event. At the end of the race, he'll make sure he's with the final man, woman, or couple as they cross the finish line.
To further continue the great work he's done for the community, Bestwick is campaigning for a skate park to be built in downtown State College. He's already spoken to State College Borough Council and Ferguson Township, and is waiting to receive word on whether or not they can find enough space. He says "the ball is in their court now," but is hopeful the community can recognize a growing need for a safe place for kids to have fun.
"I just feel that the more and more families move into town, there's more and more kids coming in with skateboards and scooters and inline skates and BMX bikes and mountain bikes, and I find that they're riding the developments and the roads a lot more," says Bestwick. "It's only a matter of time before something bad happens, and I'd rather them have a free public skate park in town to where they can ride a bike lane or use a CATA bus to get to the skate park, and they can go there knowing it's going to be a safe place."
Bestwick says he's received countless emails from parents and kids asking when the park is going to be built. As he's progressed from a 10-year old boy in England riding his first bike to an award-winning BMX professional in the U.S., he's noticed a change in the landscape of American sports toward action-activities. With a skate park downtown, he thinks State College can capitalize on that change.
"Kids are picking up skateboarding and the non-team sports because they want to be creative, and they want a different outlet, and they want to be social rather than being ordered by a team manager to do certain drills," Bestwick says. "I've lived in that world. I've seen how creative kids can be. I just need State College kids to have somewhere they can go to do that."
Having witnessed the growth of State College from "having one Walmart to what we have today," Bestwick has been paying close attention to the changing social landscape that's come along with it. Even in this town, he says, there are people who need help, and while it may not look that way on the outside, it's important to be aware of your surroundings and be involved.
"In this day and age of social media, everybody wants your "like" really quick," he says. "You forget that there are people around you. You're so trapped inside your bubble that you still want everybody's attention, but you forget about everybody else and what they're going through. They're too trapped in a computer and a phone. And so it's been great for us to educate people into seeing that there are people who need help in this town."
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