July 18, 2018 02:32 PM
Just making his X Games debut last summer was already a dream come true for Colton Walker.
Being able to do it in his own backyard, at U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis, only made the experience that much sweeter.
But what transpired once the competition got underway ... well ... that's an experience the rising BMX freestyle star still has a little trouble believing actually happened.
The youngest competitor in the BMX field at last year's games, the now 21-year-old New Richmond, Wisconsin, resident won gold in the BMX Dirt competition and placed fourth in both the BMX Park and BMX Park Best Trick events.
"That was insane," said Walker, who will return to defend his title when the X Games return to U.S. Bank Stadium for the second straight year this week.
Qualifying in BMX Dirt is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Thursday. The finals in the event are scheduled to get underway at 6 p.m. Saturday.
"I just wanted to get invited (last year). I've dreamed about being part of the X Games almost my whole life. So to get there, then to win gold my first time out, was just amazing. It's still pretty crazy to even think about."
It marked the high point of a BMX career that began at an early age, and one that could very well have ended at an early age too.
In March 2011, Walker was practicing a new trick at the Bluff Valley Campground in Zumbro Falls, Minnesota, when he came off his bike in the air.
The bike landed first, and Walker landed on top of it - the handlebars essentially impaling his abdomen.
"It basically split my pancreas in half," Walker said. He spent around a week in the hospital afterward. "They ended up having to take out half my pancreas and remove my spleen because it was in the way."
"That hurt pretty bad," he added. "I've never experienced pain like that with any other injury I've had in my life. I've broken my elbow and broken my arm a few times, but nothing compared to that."
And yet, before he was even out of the hospital, the then-13-year-old was already making plans to get back on his bike.
"I've always known this was what I wanted to do," said Walker, who traces his interest in the sport to riding bikes and skateboards on trips to Jellystone Park in Wisconsin when he was little.
"I knew once I got out of the hospital I wanted to keep riding. As long as I wasn't dead, I wasn't going to stop. And my parents were awesome. They supported whatever I wanted to do. If I wanted to keep going, they were OK with it. But if I had wanted to stop, that would have been OK too."
And as the years went on, Walker began to pick up sponsors and achieve success. Two years ago, he won the BMX Triple Hit championship at the Nitro World Games in Salt Lake City, a feat he repeated a year ago.
Last year brought his first X Games appearance ... and his first X Games win.
Now he's attempting to repeat that success, though he said he isn't feeling any pressure.
"I'm just going to go out there and try to win again, I guess," he said. "That's about it. I'm really trying not to focus on last year too much. I just look at this the way I do any other competition. I'm going to go out there, give it my best and see what happens."
Looking ahead, Walker has a new goal for which to shoot. Though BMX racing has been an Olympic sport since 2008 - St. Cloud-native Alise Post captured the women's silver medal in Rio in 2016 - BMX Freestyle will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo in 2020.
"I would love to earn a spot in the Olympics," Walker said. "That would be another amazing experience."
"I'd say the Olympics and the X Games are pretty equal," he said. "The X Games have been around so long now (debuting in 1995) that just to be part of that history and tradition is really exciting; and the Olympics are the Olympics. So it's hard to say one is more important than the other. They're both just as exciting in their own ways."
In the meantime, Walker continues to ride on the FISE World Series circuit, which has already taken him to to Saudi Arabia and France so far this year. And it will bring him to Hungary and China before the year is out.
Not a bad life for a guy who just graduated high school in 2015.
"It's a pretty sweet ride to be able to just pedal my bike and see the world," said Walker, who continues to reside in New Richmond and rides in the Twin Cities when he isn't off competing. "It's still pretty amazing to me that this is my job."
Updated: July 18, 2018 02:32 PM
Created: July 17, 2018 02:28 PM
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