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Digging the dirt

Jeff Tully

Bill Bryant insists he’s not trying to relive his childhood, nor is

he going through a late-life crisis.

It’s just the Burbank resident gets a thrill out of strapping on a

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helmet, putting on protective gear, getting on a bicycle and playing

in the dirt and mud as a BMX racer.

However, what makes Bryant unique is he’s almost six decades

removed from his boyhood days of making mud pies. In fact, at 64, he

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is one of the oldest racers on the American Bicycle Assn. racing

circuit.

“They call me the old fart,” said Bryant, wearing the nickname

like a badge of honor.

“When I go out and race, some people are surprised that a

64-year-old man is doing something like this. But I enjoy it so much

and I really like the competition.”

Competing in the 56-and-over Cruiser Class division, Bryant is

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tied for third in the national ABA points race.

Taking part in a sport geared for younger athletes, Bryant and his

older counterparts often take their share of ribbing. Some times

prior to races, track announcers will jokingly ask for oxygen to be

ready for the 56-and-over racers.

“We do get kidded some times,” Bryant said. “But most of the other

racers respect us for what we’re out there trying to accomplish.

“Some of the best people to us are the pros. They have been really

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willing to talk to us about racing, answer any questions that we

might have and give suggestions.

“The BMX racers in the ABA are really like one big family.”

Speaking of family, Bryant became interested in the sport of BMX

because of two of his grandchildren. After watching one of his

grandchildren, Alex, 12, compete in Valencia, he also took in a race

in Arizona to see 12-year-old Justin race.

Sitting in the stands observing the racers, Bryant got an idea.

“I was sitting there and I started thinking ‘What am I doing just

sitting here? I really should be out there racing,’ ” he said. “So

that’s when I got the idea to get into the sport.

“After that, I just dedicated a lot of time and effort to it.”

Since taking up the sport four years ago, Bryant has traveled the

United States and enjoyed his share of success.

Along with winning district championships in 2001 and 2002 --

enabling him to display the coveted No. 1 plate on his bicycle for

the year. In his age group, Bryant finished third in the points race

in 2001 and 2002 and was fourth in 2000.

Since his induction into BMX racing, three more of Bryant’s

grandchildren have become competitive in the sport. Add them to his

two son-in-laws who help out at various BMX tracks, and eight members

of the family are involved in the sport.

“It’s great because we all have a lot to talk about, since so many

of us are involved in it,” Bryant said. “When we get together we can

talk about racing and other things about the sport. Some of my

grandchildren even try to give me pointers.”

One of the most successful riders is 9-year-old Carly Dyer --

Justin’s sister. Bryant’s granddaughter is ranked third in her ABA

age group

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Originally from Colorado, Bryant was a pretty good athlete in high

school, staring in football and wrestling.

Although he had never done any bicycle racing before, he did spent

his share of time on a bike, more as a recreational rider.

Later in life, he began to delve into sports with a more extreme

edge. Along with being a successful ski jumper, Bryant also tried his

hand at water-ski racing.

With his competitive background, it wasn’t a shock to members of

Bryant’s family when he informed them he was taking up BMX racing. In

fact, his wife and three daughters have been behind him 100%.

“My wife [Ruth] really doesn’t made me racing,” he said. “She just

doesn’t like it when I get hurt.

“I guess I’ve always been kind of crazy that way. I’ve always been

willing to try new things and sports that might have a little danger

to them.”

That danger caught up to Bryant last month while competing in an

event in Utah. During the race, Bryant took a spill and broke three

ribs.

“I was battling for position in the race with another rider when I

went down,” Bryant said. “I was trying to get past him and my bike

hit his back wheel, sending me over the handlebars.”

Still recovering from the injury, Bryant said he expects to be

healed by October for a race in Del Mar.

Bryant -- who is a salesman in the seafood industry -- said

traveling around the nation and buying the equipment needed for BMX

is not inexpensive. With bikes that can cost $1,300, and racers

spending thousands more on accessories and protective equipment, the

sport is not for athletes on a budget.

“My bike isn’t that expensive,” Bryant said. “I think I bought my

for $300 or $400. But I did add some things to it.”

Competing in eight to 10 races a year, Bryant had traveled to

places like New York, Tennessee, Illinois, Texas, Delaware and Canada

for events.

“You have to take part in a certain number of races to keep up

your point totals in the ABA,” Bryant said. “So I have logged a lot

of miles to compete.”

At his age, one might think Bryant has a timetable for how much

longer he wants to stay involved as a BMX racer. But as long as his

body holds up, Bryan said he isn’t close to hanging up his racing

helmet just yet.

“There is a pro racer who still competes and his name is Harry

Larry,” Bryant said. “Harry Larry is 45 years old and is still

racing. When I see him I tell him as that as long as he is still

racing, I’ll be out here racing too.”

If Bryant keeps up his competitive ways, and continues to do well,

the ABA might have to create a division all his own -- the Geritol

Class.


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