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Families, riders help open BMX track at Rock Hill's Riverwalk

Children often pick up hobbies from their parents, but the opposite is true for the O’Neil family of Indian Trail, N.C. when it comes to BMX biking.

“My children started first and then my husband joined,” Judy O’Neil said. “And I figured if you can’t be them, join them.”

O’Neil and her husband Dennis have been BMX riders for about 10 years. They family came Saturday for the grand opening of the Novant Health BMX Supercross Track in Rock Hill’s Riverwalk.

Dennis O’Neil had planned to ride the new track until his doctors told him Friday not to. Judy O’Neil was thrilled, but nervous, about riding the new professional BMX track, comparing it to riding a roller coaster.

The O’Neil parents weren’t the only older folks excited about getting on the new track. Robert Baker, manager at College Cycles in Rock Hill, said Rock Hill hasn’t had a BMX track since he was 14 years old. He is now 49.

“I’m not in any kind of shape to do it and I’m probably going to break something, but I’m going to come out and do it,” Baker said.

More than anything, Baker said he is happy that children in Rock Hill will be encouraged to start riding bikes again.

“It’s something for kids to do instead of sitting on the couch and playing the Xbox,” Baker said. “We need to get the game out of their hands and a pair of bike grips in – that way they’re doing something. Even if they never do anything more than just going and riding the track, they’re doing something.”

There was a flood of young riders at the opening ceremony, taking their chance to ride the jump track and the amateur track. Calvin Denny, whose father works for Novant Health, rode three laps around the track. He and his younger brothers traveled an hour and a half to ride the long awaited track.

“We knew about this when they first started having plans for it,” Denny said. “We’ve been following all their work and progress over the months, so we’ve been looking forward to it.”

Michael Hayes of Rock Hill has been riding BMX bikes since he was 6 years old and plans to ride the new track as often as he can.

“I didn’t bring my riding gear today because I just wanted to check it out, but I will most definitely be riding here more often,” Hayes said.

Children and amateurs aren’t the only ones the new track is attracting. Tim Townsend of Charlotte is a three-time national champion and was once world ranked. He came as a spectator and was impressed with what Rock Hill has done to set the track apart from the average BMX facility.

“It’s a supercross track so they’re trying to make everything a little bigger than the local tracks, so it takes a lot of work to get here,” he said.

The opening ceremony featured seven top professional racers.

Carolina Buchanan, 2008 Olympic bronze medalist and former world champion, checked the track before she competes on it in the DK Gold Cup regional championship in October.

“This is a huge plus for an international rider, to be allowed to ride your U.S. facilities. Rock Hill’s been really welcoming,” Buchanan said.