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DeCock: A family uses its passion for dirt bikes to display love for ailing dad

By Luke DeCock - staff columnist
ldecock@newsobserver.com
Luke has worked for The News & Observer since 2000. He covered the Carolina Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a sports columnist in August 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.
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The three Jankowsky boys caught the dirt bike bug from their father and liked nothing better than to show off for him on the track, winning races, gaining sponsors, traveling across the region nearly every weekend as a family to compete on BMX bikes and motorcross cycles.

That was before their father, Alex Jankowsky, 41, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, in October 2011. A stem cell transplant bought him six months of remission, but only six months. Through it all, dirt bikes kept the family together. They kept racing, whenever they could, and whatever energy Jankowsky had, he spent it watching the boys race.

“He hasn’t made all of the races, but almost all,” said Renee Jankowsky, Alex’s wife and the boys’ mother. “We just drag him along. He puts on a smile, never complains, just sits there with a temperature, because he’s very sick.”

While he renewed his fight with the disease, his boys wanted to find some way to help. They put their love of dirt bikes to work off the track. On Saturday, from 2-7 p.m. in the parking lot of BJ’s Wholesale Club at Brier Creek, the three Jankowsky boys –16-year-old Logan, 13-year-old Cole and 8-year-old Roman – will put on “Cranks for Cancer,” a massive BMX exhibition tohonor their father and raise money for cancer research.

They hired the King BMX Stunt Show, a halftime staple at arenas and stadiums everywhere, and a motocross stunt team. With the help of their mother, they tracked down celebrities to make appearances, including 15-year-old BMX star Cameron Moore, former Carolina Hurricanes player Cory Stillman and one of the guys from the “Lizard Lick Towing” TV show.

They secured the venue and pursued sponsors. They came up with the name and sketched out the logo. They sold tickets and bracelets at school and spread the word on Facebook.

And then they were blown away by the response from the BMX community.

“At first I thought it was going to be some small, local deal,” said Logan Jankowsky, a junior at Millbrook High School. “It just grew and grew. Someone told one person and that person told another. It’s crazy it got this far. There are people who were in the X-Games this year donating stuff, people I see on TV. I thought there was no way I’d actually meet some of them, but they’re coming to support this in honor of my father.”

Moore is skipping a day of competition in a national event to be here, leaving Saturday night for Delaware so he can race Sunday. There’s still even a chance Dave Mirra, one of the sport’s biggest crossover stars, may show up, although he has been unable to commit definitively.

The three boys had the idea for the event last year to celebrate the end of a six-month clinical trial at Duke they hoped would get their father back into remission, and the timing happened to coincide with Leukemia, Lymphoma and Myeloma Awareness Month in September.

That trial failed, and Alex Jankowsky is now back at Duke Hospital. The event became a tribute to their father in a way they never expected.

“To be honest, it was very upsetting to know he wasn’t in remission and it wasn’t going to be a celebration,” said Renee Jankowsky, who owns Generations Salon and Day Spa, across Lumley Road from the event site. “But in the same sense, it’s keeping them very busy and excited to know they’ve done all they can for their father.”

Adult tickets are $30 at Generations Salon, $35 on the day of the event; kids 10 and under are $15. Proceeds will support the myeloma research conducted by Jankowsky’s oncologist at Duke, Dr. Cristina Gasparetto.

Logan said he’s 100 percent certain his father will be able to attend Saturday, but at this stage of the disease, there’s no guarantee he’ll be able to leave the hospital. Whether he’s there or not, the three boys are going to put on this show for their father, in hopes that showing off their shared love of BMX bikes reveals just a little bit of the love they share.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947
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