BMX: Rewarding ride

Chad Kagy performs a 360 whip during a performance at Camp

BMX bike pro and Gilroy native Chad Kagy participates in Bikes
Over Baghdad 3.
Performing extreme sports for a living doesn’t leave much time to be afraid.

And Chad Kagy is no stranger to death–defying stunts – a broken neck in 2003 says plenty.

Kagy, a 1996 graduate of Gilroy High School, has created a comfortable lifestyle perfecting awe–inspiring twists, turns and flips on ramps and rails as a professional BMX rider over an eventful 15–year career, which has led him to destinations across the United States and the world. Not to mention racking up a shelf full of awards.

The view of his surroundings is often from a unique vantage point: Upside down on a bike, hands easing off of the handle bars or feet off the pedals as the two–wheeler soars through the air – a journey he’s lived through countless times.

At the 2010 X Games in Los Angeles, Kagy, 32, dropped into the daunting apparatus known as the Mega Ramp in search of his second gold medal in the Big Air event.

With a seemingly fearless ease, Kagy delivered a jaw–dropping combination, first flying over the 70–some–odd–foot gap while perfecting a tail whip back flip before shot–gunning 13 feet, 4 inches into the air above the 27–foot ramp and descending to the surface after pulling off a flair whip. The run garnered Kagy the gold.

So for a guy who risks injury every time he goes to work, it isn’t surprising why he felt a calling when best friend Nate Wessel approached him last year regarding a unique opportunity to take the exhilarating and dynamic sport to Iraq and entertain American troops.

“I said absolutely let’s do it,” Kagy recalled. “I’ve had offers in the past to go to different countries and locations that I thought were too dangerous for me to go into – risk versus reward. This particular one probably has more risk than the others but the reward out of it, being able to give back to people who risk their lives on a daily basis, I was on board.”

Aside from the normal worries of the unknown, Kagy said he wasn’t frightened by his surroundings and added that the soldiers made he and the others feel right at home.

“When you really think about it, those soldiers will do anything in their power to keep you safe,” Kagy said.

In conjunction with Harley–Davidson, the main presenter of the event, Kagy, along with other pro riders, Brian Kachinsky, Mike Escamilla, Anthony Napolitan, Drew Bezanson, Zack Yankush, Mykel Larrin, Ron Kimler and Wessel, is a part of Bikes Over Baghdad 3, a two–week tour (Nov. 28–Dec. 9) of roughly five U.S military bases in Iraq.

Founded by Christian Schauf, lead singer of the band Catchpenny, Bikes Over Baghdad is geared toward the soldiers stationed across Iraq who fit the demographic of service men and women that Schauf recognized as a group being overlooked.

“I simply thought that much of the entertainment being provided was missing the mark,” Schauf wrote. “Many entertainment providers sit in offices back in the states, never visit Iraq and are out of touch with the demographics that make up a giant population of our military. The reality is the troops are kids, the same kids that go to rock shows and X Games.”

The group set out on the first Bikes Over Baghdad campaign in September 2009 and the impact was immediate.

“It started out as one (trip) and was never really planned to be more than that,” Kagy said. “But we did the very first show and after we had a soldier come up to us and say, ‘I forgot I was in Iraq for the last hour of my life and I’ve been here for 11 months. Thank you.’ Every single one of us there knew we had to come back.”

There isn’t a Mega Ramp, but Kagy and crew find plenty of props to include into their high–flying act, which they feel gives the soldiers a break from the norm and a change of pace in their “Groundhog Day” lives.

“Let’s put something together that’s not typical and make something cool happen with a stack of plywood, a nail gun, an air compressor and five riders,” Kagy said.

And the result is action–packed.

“We have soldiers wait in line for two hours to shake our hands and say thank you, when in reality we are really going over to Iraq to look at them face to face, shake their hands and say ‘thank you for what you’re doing,'” Kagy said.

“It’s a totally different feeling than what we are used to. It’s so gratifying.”

Following the initial trip, Bikes Over Baghdad returned in June of this year and plans to schedule one more in June 2011.

“It makes you come home and appreciate what you have a lot more and it makes you come home and not (complain) about everything,” Kagy said. “You focus on the good things in life and priorities definitely get aligned in the right spot.”

Now on his third trip, Kagy has a feel for what to expect, including the military escort waiting to take the group to an Air Force base once they land in Kuwait.

“We are never allowed off the base,” Kagy said. “Some of the bases are legitimately like college campuses. They have their own hospital, stores fast–food – Starbucks on some of them.”Kagy described what usually goes on once the group arrives at a destination and the agenda usually consists of an hour tour of the base where the riders scope out different props, a Bradley Fighting Vehicle for instance, to use during their show, whether its to jump over or lay a few tire tracks on to, a sort of remembrance of the event, Kagy said.

“It’s a community, a community where everyone dresses the same and carries a gun, but a community nonetheless,” Schauf wrote. “The obvious difference is that outside the wire, it’s dangerous and it adds a level of seriousness. But for the most part, it’s a big family, a long ways from home, working towards a common goal. And that creates a lot of pride, love and respect.”

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