After Redbud and the Tragedy of Josh Lichtle?

You may have read the story on http://motocross.com/features/What-Really-Happened-Redbud by Steve Cox as I did. Steve stated his long held opinion about heat and the relation to injury and even said that if nothing was changed, someone would pay the ultimate price of death. Unfortunately he was correct, and while I know Steve feels terrible, I think I may feel just as terrible because what I am about to write is based on information that I have known for a long time, but have never put to paper. Maybe if I had, this would not have happened, but who really knows and that is not the point. I want to make it abundantly clear right now that even though I do not know Steve personally, I respect him highly through his works and offer this not as a counterpoint article, but as another point of view. If you sense any antagonism while reading this, you need to stop and rethink, as I am not going against Steve’s impassioned plea just merely stating my opinion on the matter.
What Needs to Happen After Redbud and the Tragedy of Josh Lichtle?
This past weekend, most of us were celebrating the 235th anniversary of the birth of democracy in our great nation and freedom from the oppression of the British. The date stands as a testament to personal choice to make decisions based upon our own free will. Without getting into political issues of our government, I want to use my freedoms to offer my own opinion of what should be done to avert the type of loss we experienced in the moto-community this weekend. You see, while most of us were hanging out with loved ones, celebrating the fourth and maybe even watching AMA Pro Motocross, others were out there competing for us and their own glory in that series, and in that time we lost a member of that exclusive fraternity, Josh Lichtle.
Josh succumbed to heat related injuries suffered while racing in the AMA National Motocross at Red Bud in very high temperatures with smothering humidity. Normal folks would fold just mowing the lawn on a day such as race day this year and that just shows the high degree of dedication to their craft that professional racers have. Josh, just as many professional racers, was in it to win it and was not a pretender. A faker would never have put in all the hard work, long hours and seemingly endless desire with no promise of the fame, money and accolades that only a handful of professional racers will ever experience. There are many like him and will be many to come, hopefully between mine and Steves articles, your voices and the powers that be in moto-sport, we will not lose another athlete in the same manner ever again.
If you haven’t read Steve Cox story on Motocross.com, please follow the link above at some point and do it. To prevent another event like this without dilution of the meaning of sport is going to take many ideas, opinions, facts and studying- just like the forming of this great nation of ours. Generally and in short, Steve would like the promoters of races and the officials of the AMA to step in and shorten or modify races that would jeopardize the racer’s health. He states that they do look at temperature and rightly calls them out for not taking humidity into the equation as well forming the heat index. Taking heat index into account is absolutely necessary when determining the stress that can be placed on the body, but it is not the only factor. You must also make provision for individual racer health, preparation, genetics and mental state. Also, physical risk mitigation such as cool vests as worn by Brett Metcalfe, knowing when to say when and education about heat and how it can affect the body come into play. The education part is the one that is missing the most in my eyes.
So who is to blame? I think placing blame is a negative effect and pointless and I did not detect any blame in Steve’s article. What really needs to happen is a change to the way we perceive the danger. Racers practice, train and study the art of moto. They are educated on line choice, bike feel and how to communicate that to the technicians. They are taught how to scrub, how to speak to the press and make sure they get all the sponsors names right on the podium. They aren’t trained to judge heat properly and are not given the tools to do so at the track. The United States Military uses a system of weather testing and reporting to determine the activity of its members in non-combat situations. Throughout boot camp, troops are trained to drink water, conserve energy and to look for the warning signs of heat related stress. They also learn how to treat it until medical professionals are on hand as well. The drill instructors use and train the troops on the use of weather flags that give strong guidelines about what type of physical activity may commence that day. Certain flags flying on base will show when it is too hot for running, but should be safe for marching or exercising in place. When a certain flag flies- no outdoor exertion is allowed at all in training. Even past boot camp, group activities like forced marches, unit led runs and the like are held to these rules. However- if the service member would like to go for a run, bike or moto on their own they certainly may. The individual has been provided with the knowledge and training to modify their personal activity to the conditions at hand. And as with anything, some can compete at a higher level and those who can’t match that level also know through training and experience and will modify their activity accordingly. Even our service members, who give up many personal liberties and freedoms in their general lifestyles, are allowed to make a choice about how hard they go on their “own” time. I think racers should too.
This isn’t just about heat though. It is about the whole system of professional moto. We cultivate our youth who excel at a certain sport by pushing them hard to be the best. These are special kids who have exceptional ability, but we only teach them how to exploit that ability and very few ever learn to harness that ability and use it wisely. We rarely teach preservation of greatness in this culture and focus too heavily on the use of it. And far too often the overuse of it occurs causing all manner of problems.
So my take on the problem so bravely brought to the forefront by Steve Cox is not another rule or regulation that stifles the heroic ability of others, but mandates that allow for the intelligent use of that ability so that we can remain in awe of them as mere mortals and honor the true meaning of the toughest sport in the world. This is an opportunity for the AMA along with the promoters to take the forefront of an issue that plagues many sports and help direct the protections that will prevent damages to not only professionals but the local rider as well while casting a positive light on the sport as a whole.

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