Talking TBIs and injured spines with enduro pro Dillon Lemarr before the 2017 BME Keystone on June 24
2017 BME Keystone
What: A full day of steep, technical racing on up to six stages at Keystone Bike Park for the third stop of the national Big Mountain Enduro series
When: Saturday, June 24
Where: Keystone Bike Park, River Run Village base area
Cost: $125 for competitors, free for spectators
Racing is from 9 a.m. to about 4 p.m. with riders starting every 30 seconds or so. Online registration for the event is open until June 22 and on-site registration is open until June 23. Access is free for spectators by walking (it’s a long one) or with a scenic lift ticket ($21 for adults, $13 for children). To sign up or learn more, see BigMountainEnduro.com.
It all happened in less than a split second.
Last August, at one of the final stops on the Big Mountain Enduro series circuit in Steamboat Springs, mountain biking pro Dillon Lemarr was barreling through a long and fast stretch of singletrack during practice. The Texas-born pro washed out at full speed (at least 35 miles per hour) and got tossed straight onto his head, compressing discs, hyperextending his neck and causing major traumatic brain injury at the same time.
“It definitely took a toll on me and that was hard,” remembers Lemarr, a 25-year-old Winter Park local who’s been riding professionally since 18 years old. “I was in a neck brace for a while, so this year has been a late start for me, but I’m just looking forward to getting out there and racing with the boys.”
Lemarr gets back to enduro in earnest this weekend when the Big Mountain Enduro series returns to Keystone Bike Park. He’s raced in a few Winter Park town series events and won a stage at the BME Eagle stop for GoPro Mountain Games on June 9, but this Saturday will be the first true test of his physical and mental rehab. All four (or more) stages at Keystone are littered with massive boulders, tight berms, fast straightaways and technical descents, which place it on the downhilling side of the enduro spectrum — a far cry from the endurance-heavy stages at BME Eagle.
Not like that bothers Lemarr. He’s been riding moto and mountain bikes since 3 years old and fell in love with downhilling when his older brother, Ryan, took him three hours from their native Amarillo to Angelfire, New Mexico. The younger Lemarr moved to Winter Park within weeks of graduating from high school and has since put together a string of big finishes, including sixth place in the men’s pro division at last year’s BME Keystone. He even won the state downhill title at last year’s Colorado Freeride Festival in his mountain hometown.
Between training laps at Trestle Bike Park in Winter Park, the Summit Daily sports desk caught up with Lemarr to talk about injury rehab, the stacked men’s field at Keystone and why he only had one question on his mind after the Steamboat crash: When can I get back on a bike?
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Summit Daily News: I’ve got to start with the big question: Where does a Texan learn to ride mountain bikes?
Dillon Lemarr: (Laughs.) I’ve gotten that a lot. I’m one of few people to come out of the state of Texas and make it to pro in downhilling, but I come from that moto background and a mountain bike is just a dirt bike without a motor. Angelfire (Resort) wasn’t too far from where I grew up in Amarillo and I’d go there with my brother or a few friends — just head out to get some rides in. I come from that dirt jumping background and I’ve always been on the bike. On the results list I still put Texas and everyone is always like, “Who’s this kid from Texas?” But you have to let people know where you’re from.
SDN: When did you realize that professional mountain biking was in your future and not just a dream?
DL: Growing up as a kid on a bike, a dirt bike, you always have the dream of being a pro one day — of making it a career with sponsors and everything else. But you don’t really know what that entails until you’re thrown into it and find out what it takes. When I was 17 years old, I knew I could get my pro license even though I’d been racing for about a year, and my parents backed me 100 percent. They said, “If you want to skip college for now and pursue your dream, do it.” I packed up my bags and headed straight to Winter Park right after that and have been doing it ever since.
SDN: What drew you to Trestle? You moved to Winter Park right after high school and haven’t left.
DL: To me, a lot of resorts are the same in the winter: ski resort, nightlife, all of that. But I think what makes a good resort is what happens in the summer, and when you have something like Trestle Bike Park — this valley is Mountain Biking, USA — it doesn’t get better. My mom grew up skiing here as a kid, you’ve got the mountain biking in the summer, so Winter Park is really home.
SDN: How have you been training at Trestle for the bigger, gnarlier lines you’ll get at BME Keystone?
DL: It’s a lot of relying on what you know you can do, what you know you’ve been capable of doing in the past. I know I have the skillset — I just have to rebuild my body to get the fitness back to where it needs to be.
I’ve been working with Joe Horwatt, and he’s a coach who has worked with big athletes and Olympians and everyone else. He has really helped me do the right things in the gym, like strengthen my neck, get my balance back, and that was tough. For a long time I had some balance issues, like I couldn’t even stand on a single foot when I was putting shorts on in the morning. I definitely couldn’t balance on a bike and that took a big toll on me for a while. My family was backing me as well, reminding me that I’ve been there before, I’ve been close to the top, but that it will take time. It’s just a matter of staying focused. You can’t get depressed and fall into party mode like a lot of people do.
SDN: Talk about the injury last summer. What exactly happened?
DL: It was at the Big Mountain Enduro in Steamboat. I washed the front wheel on a high-speed section during practice and that sent me straight to my head. I was wearing a half-shell at the time. Smith — they’re one of my sponsors and I was wearing a Smith helmet — that helmet made the difference. You look at it and it’s completely cracked, with dents all around. As bad as it could have been, it ended up better than it could have been. I had a TBI with a hyperextended back and neck, plus a compressed C4 disk.
SDN: How long were you forced to stay off a bike?
DL: I was in a neck brace for a couple of months. As soon as I got done with that I could get on the stationary bike, and then soon after that I could get on the bike, but it was just cruising around. I wasn’t on the trails or anything else for quite a while. I also couldn’t lift any weight or anything. That’s when I started trying to rebuild muscle — I’d say it was around February or March — and I’ve been working on it since then.
SDN: Was that your first major biking injury, or is it just the latest in a long line of them?
DL: I’ve had separated shoulders and ligament damage in my wrists, but this one takes the cake for sure. It’s been so good to have good people around me, like family and my trainer, and also good friends to keep me motivated and keep me accountable. They ask me, “Have you been eating right? Have you done your workout? Have you stayed on top of things?” As soon as the injury happened, the first question I had for the doc was, “How long until I can get back on a bike?” That’s all I cared about at the time.
SDN: Back to the Keystone BME: Who will be your biggest competition this weekend?
DL: Shoot, all of them. Shawn Neer and Chris Heath and the Yeti national (team) guys — I’m good friends with them and they’re out freeriding Keystone now — they’ll be tough to beat. There’s also Chris Boice, a friend of mine who will be a threat, and a bunch more. There are just so many riders these days that anyone can make it, and that’s the cool thing with enduro: It’s not a one-run and done. You have a few stages to make up for a slow run if you have one and that doesn’t happen in downhill. Consistency plays a bigger role in enduro than in downhill.
SDN: Do you have a favorite section on the course? There are tons to choose from with six long stages…
DL: I wish I knew more of the trail names (pause). The whole thing is good because you have these really technical, gnarly sections, and then some long runs on blues and greens. One of the best ones last year was a long cruise on those blues and greens that led you to a really gnarly, short stretch at the bottom, and you had to do that after you’re gassed from sprinting for eight minutes. It really does bring out the best in every rider because there is so much out there.
SDN: Looking ahead, where do y9ou hope to be at the end of the season?
DL: I want to consistently be placing in the top-5 at the BME series and I have the skill set to do it, but it’s just a matter of getting back into the race mentality and getting races under my belt. It’s about staying healthy and qualifying for races and competing at the Colorado Freeride Festival. I won the state title (in downhill) last year — that happened about two weeks before my injury. But if I can at least keep it in the top-5 this season I’d definitely be stoked on that.
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