November 2019 ~ Rider of the Month ~ Alan Decker

It’s always bittersweet coming to the end of another BMX season, but this month we end on a happy note by celebrating a tenacious, hardworking rider who persevered through a tough 2018 on his way to a breakout season this year. That rider is 8 Intermediate Alan Decker, and he exemplifies what Rider of the Month, and BMX, are all about here at NOVA.

Many of us fondly recall our first bike or the first time we took off pedaling on our own. Alan, however, can’t remember a time when he WASN’T riding or racing. And even for many of us old-timers at NOVA, it now seems hard to remember a time when the Deckers were not part of our track family.

Alan’s dad, Greg, is an avid cyclist, and he passed on the love of the two-wheeled life to his son from Alan’s youngest days. One of Alan’s first words (before even “Momma,” we’re told) was “bicycle,” and he started riding a Strider at 18 months. He then graduated to a pedal bike on his 3rd birthday.

Alan’s early aptitude for riding got Greg thinking about the BMX tracks that dotted the DC area during his youth in the ‘80s. He wondered if something like that were still around today.

An Internet search led Greg to NOVA BMX, and 4 ½-year-old Alan rode his first race in 2016 on a tiny Cleary Hedgehog during his first visit to the track. The bike’s gearing was more suitable for parking lots than BMX tracks, and Alan’s legs spun like eggbeaters as he negotiated the course. But he completed the race and got his first taste of the BMX stoke. In about a week, Alan had a race bike.

The stoke of that first race then blossomed into a full-time passion for the Deckers. Greg took up BMX himself, quickly becoming a strong presence in the 41-45 age group. Alan’s mom, Kendra, began volunteering at NOVA and dedicated herself to learning the arcane intricacies of sanctioned BMX competition. And Alan kept improving as a rider, competing in his first national at age 5 in June 2017 at Chesapeake BMX. By the end of 2017, Alan had moved up to the Intermediate Class.

Six-year-old Alan began the 2018 season facing the challenge of having almost simultaneously classed up in both age and proficiency. He was also competing in a large and competitive class. That was a year for learning and developing as a rider. But unlike the early success that propelled him to the Intermediate Class, Alan didn’t win a single race in all of 2018.

Alan and his parents, however, remained undaunted. Kendra had by that time joined the NOVA BMX Board of Directors, becoming an indispensable presence at nearly every race. Greg continued racing and volunteering. And Alan began the 2019 season focused on raising his BMX game to the next level.

Thanks to Alan’s consistent hard work and the encouragement of his parents, team, and fellow riders, Alan achieved several goals and breakthroughs this year.

First, Alan wanted to make the podium at a national, which he did at the Stars & Stripes National, held this year at the iconic South Park BMX near Pittsburgh. Later in the year he went even further, getting a first place at the Garden State National at Egg Harbor Township BMX. Alan was on fire at Egg Harbor, making the podium in every race he entered, both Opens and Class. (An Open race is open to multiple age groups – and in Mixed Open, different proficiencies -- whereas a Class race is limited to a specific age group and proficiency level).

Alan also earned a coveted USA BMX Open Jacket for making the main in 7 national Open races.

Also on Alan’s agenda was a top 3 spot in the Virginia State Series, which he achieved by earning the #2 plate for the 7 Intermediate/Novice Class.

In fact, Alan was riding so well as the season progressed that he and his family decided at the last minute to go to the final of the regional Gold Cup Series at Tanglewood BMX in North Carolina. There, Alan earned a second overall in the 7-8 Mixed Open class of the Southeast Region.

At press time, Alan was also in the top 17% of all 8-year-old boys competing nationally.

Those are stats of which any BMX racer would be proud. Alan, however, had one more goal for 2019, one of which even his parents were not aware and which for a time had seemed out of reach. During our interview, he explained: “Well, I heard about Rider of the Month, and I’m like, I kind of wanted to do that. So I was trying super hard. But I never got it.”

Well, Alan can now check that one off his list as well. As always, it’s not just an impressive resume of race results that led to his selection by the Rider of the Month Committee but his consistent work ethic, his dedication to progression, and his sportsmanship and good attitude.

In fact, Alan showed Rider of the Month potential at least as early as May, during NOVA BMX’s Open House. Alan was a kind and welcoming host to all the kids who showed up and patiently worked with new riders to help them feel confident and comfortable. It was an unusually hot day for May, but Alan rode the track again and again with kids trying out BMX for the first time, offering coaching and encouragement.

As much as any national or regional ranking, that’s what BMX is all about, sharing the love of the sport and helping to cultivate the next generation of riders.

But make no mistake, Alan is a keen competitor. What he loves most about BMX, he told me, are the close races that require a racer to dig deep and put in his best effort. “When you get competition,” he said, “it’s a lot of fun.”

Alan is coached by his Powers Bike Shop team manager, Fredy Caceres, and his dad. They’ve taught him that BMX racing is not just about pedaling fast but making the right moves in the heat of a tight race. Kendra noted that Fredy believed in Alan enough to put him on the Powers National Team this year, and that vote of confidence was powerful motivation for Alan to rise to the occasion.

A rider for all seasons, Alan also likes mountain biking and dirt jumps. This year he branched out into Gravity Soul, a timed dual slalom race on dirt, and competitive cyclocross. He said BMX remains his favorite, but he loves whatever kind of biking he’s doing at the time.

For 2020, Alan has his sights set on State, Gold Cup, and National racing. He also wants to race more often on Cruiser and progress to the Expert Class.

With so many cycling accomplishments and experiences already, it’s easy to forget that Alan is only in the second grade. We can only hope that means we will get to enjoy the high-impact presence of the Deckers at NOVA BMX for years to come.

For now, however, Alan can look back at 2019 with satisfaction, as well as for encouragement with future progress. There are many milestones for this young rider still ahead, but as far as Rider of the Month is concerned … mission accomplished!

This rider spotlight was written by our local racer and BMX dad, Christopher Zealand. Photo credits go to Alan's parents, except the race photo by Nichole Marie Dowdy Photograpny.