There are any number of ways for Minnesota families to bond, including fishing, camping or enjoying winter sports together.
The Haugen family from Isanti has found a unique way to bond, though: BMX racing.
Father Sam Haugen, his brother Jesse, and Sam’s children Emily and Zack all were amongst the competitors at the 2019 Minnesota State BMX Finals hosted by Rum River BMX at the Isanti Indoor Arena on Sunday, Aug. 25.
But their introduction to the sport a few years back was anything but smooth.
“In my very first race, I crashed,” Sam Haugen said. “I broke my shoulder blade, my collarbone and five ribs. And I punctured a lung.”
So why did he come back to the track after he had healed?
“My kids had just started the sport, and I couldn’t quit after one crash,” Sam Haugen said. “That would have set a bad example.”
Sam, who is 44 years old – “I’m 44, but I feel like I’m 12 when I’m on the track” – said the sport has helped his family become closer.
“We have barbecues with our team, and we’ve traveled the world together,” he said. “We do national events from Florida to Maine. BMX is one of the most family-oriented sports, and it helps us stay close.
“And for me, when I’m riding I feel like a kid; I feel like yelling, ‘Whee’ every time I take one of the jumps. It’s like a roller coaster, and it’s a lot of fun.”
Emily, a seventh grader at Isanti Middle School who is 12 years old, said having a track close to home is the reason she entered the sport.
“We used to go to Rehbeins, but it was kind of far away,” she said. “I didn’t really want to race there; it was kind of confusing to race there. But when I started racing here, I fell in love with BMX.”
Zack, a nine-year-old who is a fourth grader at Isanti Intermediate, started riding BMX bikes when he was four.
“It’s very nerve-wracking, but it’s also cool,” he said. “Now it’s super-fun because my family is with me.”
It is not all sunshine and roses for the Haugens at the track, though. For example, asking whether Emily or Zack is the better racer produced a spirited exchange.
“I am, obviously,” Emily said before Zack chimed in, “I’m better at jumping!” and Emily responded, “That’s fair.”
And when Sam and Jesse Haugen were asked which brother is faster, 36-year-old Jesse quickly responded, “I’m faster – and better looking.”
The Haugens are not alone in bonding on the BMX track. Melanie Muyres and her brother Ethan also spend time at the facility, while their father – Isanti chief of police Travis Muyres – is a volunteer there.
Melanie Muyres, a 12-year-old who is a seventh grader at Isanti Middle School, started riding in May of 2017 and started racing that December.
“At first I saw all the people who were crashing, and I was scared to crash,” she admitted. “But now that I’ve crashed a couple of times, it doesn’t seem all that bad. You just get bruises and scrapes. Just put a Band-Aid on it; you’ll be OK.”
Speaking of injuries, Ethan Muyres was racing with a black eye that he suffered riding a scooter at home. But the fifth grader at Isanti Intermediate School said he enjoys the opportunity to race at a facility in his hometown.
“It is pretty cool,” said Ethan, who is 10. “We can come here in the winter and race, so you keep building your stamina for the next year.”
Speaking of family pride, all of the local racers said they were proud to have a high-quality BMX track in their home town.
“We travel around the country, and we see a lot of facilities – and they really don’t compare to this one,” Jesse Haugen said. “We have a bike shop in the facility, and it’s indoor so we can race any day of the week no matter what the weather.
“Some may take it for granted, but it’s amazing to have a facility like this in our backyard.”
Melanie Muyres agreed, adding, “All my friends, and people from school, go here. And I think this track is the best. The outdoor tracks may be muddy or dry, and they’re not as smooth as this track. And if it rains outdoors, it’s hard to race because of the crashes.”
“If there wasn’t a track to race at, I may not have started the sport.”
The commitment to the sport by area racers has lifted the Isanti Indoor Arena to a position among the top tracks in the United States. USA BMX, a subsidiary of the American Bicycle Association, has divided the country into three districts, and the Isanti facility is the top-ranked facility in the Midwest District and the No. 2 track in the U.S.
“That’s a point of pride for every track in the United States – which track is the best one out there?” said Larry Merchlewitz, the Community Development Director for Rum River BMX. “In 2015, ’16 and ’17 we were the No. 1 track in the country, but in 2018 we ‘slipped’ and a track in California was No. 1.”
Each year, tracks around the country are ranked in a variety of areas, including the number of new riders who join a particular track, the number of riders from a track who compete in five state races over the course of a year, the number of riders who compete in races the track hosts, and the number of renewals the track collects for the year.
The commitment to those areas from Rum River BMX was apparent during the state finals. The event began with “striders,” also known as balance bikes because they are created without pedals. The idea is for riders between the ages of two to five to learn balance and steering on a track by riding without worrying about pedaling.
At the end of each strider race, the young participants were handed frozen ice treats, “and most of the kids are more excited about the ‘freezies’ than they are about winning,” Merchlewitz said with a laugh.
Who was handing out the frozen treats? Cole Frederick of New Ulm, a 12-year-old who won his third straight BMX world title in Belgium earlier this summer.
That’s why, while Rum River BMX may have “slipped” a bit last year, the organization is determined to regain its spot as the top track in the country.
“We’re currently ranked No. 1 in 2019,” Merchlewitz said. “It’s a lot of work, but we pride ourselves on the work we do. We’re one huge family, and we take pride in that, too.”