Trent Jones: The Cost of BMX
Physically, mentally, financially …
Trent Jones: The Cost of BMX
Physically, mentally, financially …
‘To be honest, this is an embarrassing story, but now I’m through the worst of it I can at least make light of such a shit situation’ Trent Jones told us as he recalled the accident that has all but forced him from the Elite BMX World stage. ‘There was no spectacular crash at all. I was purely warming up for sprints. That’s right, sprints of all things! I rolled off a slight hill heading back to my car when my front tyre washed out on polished concrete and then re-gripped, kinda flicking me off in a high siding action at an awkward speed. I put my hand out to stop the fall, but unfortunately my hand hit perfectly flush with the ground causing my elbow to pop instead.’ So, there you have it, Ireland’s best hope (we’ll come back to the Ireland thing in a moment) of BMX glory was out … not off the 8m, not over 40m doubles … but sprinting, bloody sprinting! He picked himself up off the ground, dusted himself off while muttering ‘idiot’ and bent to retrieve his bike from the ground when he realised that he couldn’t straighten his arm, ‘shit, it’s dislocated’, he initially thought.
OK, the Irish thing … lets get that out of the way. Trent was born here, he’s got an Irish passport, he’s Irish, simple. Kiwi by geography (and a couple of parents) but Irish by birth. For a couple of years there, we got a huge amount of amusement by repeatably claiming he was Irish, Trent knew what we were doing and he secretly laughed along. We must dig out some of the angry DM’s we got … comedy gold! But, under that childish but oh so amusing prodding, we would have loved to see Trent in an Irish jersey on the biggest stage, he was, and maybe still is (huh Trent?) Ireland’s best hope at Elite level in the near future. Yes, there where/are major hurdles to overcome, Olympic charter rules, UCI rules, not to mention the federations, Cycling New Zealand and Cycling Ireland. National federations are, after all, not exactly consumer friendly at the best of times. Even with all that to contend with, we had hope … we still live in hope, albeit a faint one at best, but Trent did consider it, ‘there’s a saying I like – “go where you’re appreciated”… if I had my time again …’. So, should Trent have switched allegiance? From our perspective … obviously yes, but it would have been a very risky thing for Trent to do …
So, the crash, … when the X-Ray technician caught a glimpse of the scans, he let out a gasp, ‘you know that’s not good’ Trent recalls. Indeed, the prognosis was not good. With extensive surgery and some new hardware installed ‘we aim to get you back to 85% of its original range of motion’ he was told. The realisation that he may not race again was sinking in but his concern quickly shifted ‘from racing a bike fast, to getting the one body I have back to a state to where I can at least live my own life outside of BMX to the fullest’.
Six weeks after surgery, October 2018 or thereabouts, things were looking OK. ‘Bones are all healed, but the range of motion is shocking … I’ll be lucky to get back on the bike before the end of the year … but all in all, no complications, which is positive’. Trent was coming back … the green jersey was still a possibility we mused.
December 2018 … things went south. ‘At the moment my elbow is at the bottom of the successful surgery scale for this type of injury. Which is fine for a 9 to 5 job, but competing at the Elite level of BMX, it’s no good by any means.’ … ‘BMX racing is being put second behind my health at the moment.’ At this point further surgeries were not really an option. Trent was looking at extensive physio with the goal of just regaining the ability to straighten his arm. The green jersey faded once again.
Trent was left with some hard decisions to make. Financially he could not afford to stay in the US plus he had a contract with BOX Components that he could not fulfil. ‘In any professional sports contract there’s clauses around injury and payment. As both parties knew I wasn’t able to meet these clauses I took it upon myself to take the professional approach and stepped down.’ He packed a suitcase, and flew home to New Zealand.
‘At the end of the day, we can all agree on the fact that if there’s no athletes, there’s no sport. No sport, equals no federation. This basic view of the structure of professional sport gets lost in the politics of Federations. As for myself personally I’ve always had the view that the athlete is purely a name and a number in the book of the National Federation, Nothing more, nothing less.’
Trent fired up the machinery and dived head first into ‘TrentsTracks’ and a two-month city contract to build a recreational BMX track, ‘this kept me busy and my mind stimulated while my body was coming around. Not to mention it was New Zealand summer, so pretty much the best place on earth to be at that very point in time’. While the Elite tour moved on, Trent invested in his future and built tracks, all the time his arm was slowly recovering. Five months past … and then a video appeared. ‘Are you riding again?’ we DM’ed, ‘Yeaaap I’m riding, gingerly, but even in the three sessions I’ve ridden, I’ve probably gone from a 16 novice to A-Pro spec in that time but If I’m going to race Elite, I have a ton of work to do! I’d have to spend a solid 4 months in an intense training environment to get the body back to where it can handle a full race day. As of now, I do a two straight effort and I’m gassed, so I may not be chasing PB’s to the kink, or numbers in the gym but I ain’t completely washed up and retired haha’ So, that’s now the question … will Trent Jones return to Elite racing, can he afford to, does he still have the support, is it even viable?
‘Do I want to put myself through all that work and risk with zero support from anyone. When I’ve built only 2.5 tracks and earned more in that six months than my past four years riding full time’ … ‘To break things down, I was earning, after prize money, BOX and NZ (in the good years) the same as a modest job working 40 hours a week would earn over a year. But to ride your bike all day, every day, is rad! This is where the catch is, (and the biggest misconception). To compete on the UCI SX circuit and the USA BMX circuit after travel, coaching and athlete expenses you’re looking at around $45-55k USD … that’s on the cheap. Fly in, fly out, type of schedules. No 10-day training camps before each race. So, in 2017 and 2018 alone I made a loss of $15K USD each year after everything was taken into account. To make up these losses and breakeven is where coaching clinics, track builds and things like bike parts sales come into play. Ironically that $15K figure is the exact difference between what I would have earnt on top of my $5k earnings from USA BMX in 2017 before the men’s pay scale cut happened at the end of 2016…’
Money is one thing, obviously very important, but just over there, on the horizon, is the big elephant in the room … Tokyo 2020 and the overwhelming pull of the Olympics. The dream! Yes, Trent is missing the run up and the points that go with it but there is another way to punch your ticket to the Games … Houston 2020, the BMX World Championships. Assuming Trent has the will to put in the work, and New Zealand does not qualify a spot prior to Houston, we think there may be a Tokyo spot there for Trent. Obviously, Cycling New Zealand would have to be onboard with the plan. Trent is not ruling it out … ‘It depends on the level of support. Technically they do have minimal support now but in reality, it’s not enough to compete properly against other athletes with more established federations, without being on the back foot. Like anything, money is the start but using that resource to get systems in place as a platform for athletes like myself to stand on and compete is where the real problem lies. So yes, done correctly I’d be more inclined to line up in the gate. But, in reality, Trent has had only contact from New Zealand Cycling since his accident, and that was to get his 2019 race schedule! ‘I’ve not had a single slice of communication about where I am, what I’m doing, why I don’t have a UCI license. What’s the status of my health?’
‘If New Zealand called me saying they need an athlete to qualify (for Toyko), the next year or so is covered, do what you do best and tell us what you need to get there I’d have zero doubts I’d be able to get where I need to be and be racing in qualification spots.’
Reading between the lines, if there is to be a return to Elite racing, Trent Jones will have to be the driving force and pull the federation along with him. Is it the steady income of track building or the draw of the O-Show? We’re not ruling out an appearance in Houston … one last roll of the dice.
‘Everyone’s journey in the Elite class is different. As a Kiwi heading into Rio it was a case of getting my ass on a plane living in foreign countries for 11 months of the year in preparation to perform well enough, week in week out, to keep my dream alive and qualify for Rio. Post Rio, it was solidifying a factory sponsor, living in America, racing essentially what was known as the original Holy Grail of BMX … Now that I’ve done both, I still don’t feel fulfilled with my path as an Elite within BMX. Thinking back, this feeling was prevalent before I got injured, I just never stopped to realise it. I just got on with what I was getting paid to do and that was race my bike. Now that I’ve been forced to branch into other avenues of our sport it has opened my eyes in a wider sense of reality and appreciation for BMX and what I can offer to the sport, and what’s available in return. I’ll be the first to admit that parts of my own personal journey in Elite BMX sucked a lot at times … she’s not an easy road. The Men’s Elite class is saturated with hard working, talented world class athletes, ready to risk it all for nothing at times. As for myself being able to identify that sacrifice and work ethic that comes at the Elite level and channel into other avenues such as Track Building or life outside of BMX is cultivating and refreshing at the same time. One thing that that ignites me is being able to combine the two … design and build a World Cup track, then compete on it. Has that been done yet? Is it even legal under UCI? So, short answer, no! You’re not going to be seeing me racing week in week out, but hey, the way the Olympic qualification works it may be worth getting TrentsTracks to sponsor Trent Jones a flight to Houston … that’s if I get selected for Worlds … but I ain’t doing sprints in the street or lap efforts to stay competitive for a hobby …’