The Zwieners of Mooresville are your average American family.
They go to church together. They go boating and watch movies together. And sometimes they race BMX bicycles and even break a bone or two together.
Norman Rockwell never painted that picture.
Shortly after Tony Zwiener encouraged his son, Joshua, to try BMX racing three years ago, the others followed suit: Tony; his wife, Juanita; and their daughters, Victoria and Amelia.
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Since then, the Zwieners have competed regularly at Charlotte's Hornets Nest Park, their home track. They also participate in regional and national events all over the Southeast.
This weekend, Amelia is scheduled to compete in the American Bicycle Association's Disney Cup Fall Nationals in Orlando, Fla. Joshua was planning to participate until he broke his wrist in a wreck at Hornet's Nest recently.
Achievements come quickly
The passion for BMX racing goes back to Tony Zwiener's youth. As a Nebraska teenager, Tony said, he competed for a year before he progressed to motocross racing.
He didn't touch a BMX bike for another 30 years but remained an active cyclist through mountain bikes. Tony and Joshua used to ride together around Mooresville.
Through others involved in mountain biking, the Zwieners heard about Hornet's Nest BMX, the organization that operates the 1,500-foot red-clay track at the Charlotte park. Unaware that racing was open to adults, Tony at first encouraged only Joshua to participate.
That was in November 2007, and by spring, the BMX bug had gotten to Tony. With a little nudge from the boys, the Zwiener girls and their mom were all involved by the end of the year.
Joshua picked up the sport so quickly that Hornet's Nest BMX named him its most improved rider at the end of 2008. A 16-year-old sophomore at Lake Norman High, Joshua considers his greatest BMX achievement to be his fourth-place finish in the 15-year-old novice division at the East Coast Nationals in 2009.
A Statesville High freshman, 14-year-old Amelia gave up gymnastics so the family could concentrate on BMX. She became the most accomplished rider in the family, winning a state championship and earning a No. 1 ranking in the age 14 Expert division in western North Carolina.
'We run each other down'
The children race on bikes with 20-inch wheels. Adults race in the cruiser division, on 24-inch-wheeled bikes.
If a small number of riders in their respective fields dictate it, Tony, 49, and Juanita, 46, sometimes race in the same division.
Juanita, a competitive long-distance runner, finished second at the East Coast Nationals and also won a state championship in the age 46-50 women's cruiser division at Hornet's Nest this summer.
"She actually does fairly well (against the men)," Tony said. "When she's getting in the gate with us men, it's going to be a greater challenge for us. We get out there and run each other down. The only difference is, we try our darnedest not to hurt each other."
The Zwieners don't need any help getting hurt. Victoria, 17, has given up racing, but the other four have suffered a combined eight broken ribs, three broken collar bones, a broken wrist, a shattered heel, a punctured lung, an ACL separation and a dislocated hip.
"After I had my first major crash," Juanita said, "... when I fractured a rib and punctured my lung, I thought, 'I'm a mom, I can't be doing this.'
"I thought, 'I won't be coming back,' but it kind of tugged on me. It was about three months after I recuperated and went back to distance running. I would pick up the kids from practice, and I had the urge to get back on a bike again.
"It wasn't to see how far I could go, but just something to overcome."
The Zwieners are not the only family immersed into the Hornet's Nest BMX culture. Matthews resident Judy O'Neil and her family were one of Juanita's original inspirations for trying BMX racing in the first place.
Tony thought about how things will be a few years down the road, when Joshua and Amelia will be college age and probably not as involved as they are now. That won't slow him down, he insisted.
"It's a great sport for someone who has a stomach for the risk," he said.