As promised in my most recent Medal Stand column, here is my full story on Firth BMX athlete Kurtis Downs. He competes Friday in BMX Big Air in his second consecutive X Games Minneapolis appearance.
Several of the athletes he mentioned to me during our interview I met two years ago at the Ramp Riot at Holt Arena organized by Pocatello’s Colton Satterfield. It really opened my eyes to the extreme sports athletes eastern Idaho has.
Thanks to Kurtis for the photos.
Firth’s Downs strives to inspire, push limits
By MARLOWE HEREFORD
Growing up in Firth, Kurtis Downs rode dirt bikes, motorcycles and watched videos of the traveling action sports organization Nitro Circus Live.
One of the athletes featured in those videos was Travis Pastrana, who founded Nitro Circus Live in 2003, and Downs made it a goal to live that kind of life someday.
“If I ever got the opportunity, that’s exactly what I wanted to do,” Downs said Tuesday by phone. “There’s very few people that wanna push and see what the body’s capable of. It’s always been something I’ve been drawn to. The price of winning your fear is the bliss moment.”
Downs got his dream. Since joining Nitro Circus in 2013, he has trained with some of the same athletes he grew up watching and is now a few days away from competing in his second X Games Minneapolis. After graduating from Firth High School in 2010, he sold his motorcycle and switched to BMX upon seeing fellow eastern Idahoan Ben Voyles have success. Three years later, Nitro Circus learned about Downs and flew him out to attempt a stunt. After filling in some voids for the team for a few months, he was added to the team on a full-time basis.
“I was luck of the draw,” Downs said. “I ended up fitting the bill for the character they’d wanted to do.”
Downs is based in Draper, Utah, but has lived out of a bag ever since joining Nitro Circus. He was in Australia and New Zealand earlier this year, and his next stop is X Games Minneapolis. He qualified by claiming the bronze medal in BMX Big Air last year with a best score of 88.33 out of four runs. Last year was his first time competing at X Games, and he described the atmosphere as nervewracking until getting on the ramp with other athletes nearby.
“Everyone’s really supportive,” Downs said. “Everyone tries to build each other up. You just kinda zone out. You’re ridng the ramp with a lot of your best friends.”
The BMX Big Air final takes place Friday at 7:45 p.m. Mountain Time and it will be broadcast live on ESPN. Downs said he has spent recent months staying conditioned by rock climbing and mountain biking, and his approach to X Games is the same as last year.
“Go in there with the mindset of do what you think you can land,” Downs said. “Get a safety run out the way and pull it out and see if you can climb the ladder and get on the podium, and be safe.”
Downs injured his wrist during last year’s X Games but competed through it. He returned home to heal before resuming Nitro Circus shows and traveling to events. Last weekend, he was in Las Vegas to watch Pastrana clear 143 feet over 52 crushed vehicles, 192 feet over 16 Greyhound buses and 149 feet over the Caesars Palace fountains live on the History Channel to replicate three of Evel Knievel’s most iconic stunts.
Pastrana did all three on an Indian Scout FTR750 motorcyle while wearing a white leather jumpsuit with a blue V and white stars, cape and boots like Knievel. The Caesars Palace fountain jump Knievel attempted in 1967 ended in a crash that resulted in a crushed pelvis, several fractures and a concussion that kept him a coma for 29 days. Pastrana successfully landed all three of his jumps, putting him in the same category as Knievel’s son Robbie, who cleared the Caesar’s Palace Fountain in 1989, and Mike “the Godfather” Metzger, who did a backflip while clearing the fountain in 2006.
“It was really cool to be there and be a part of it,” Downs said. “A bunch of my buddies traveled 12 hours to watch it. It was a really good tribute from start to finish.”
More history is in the works for action sports as BMX freestyle park makes its Olympic debut at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Although he competes in big air, Downs said it is a great step for BMX.
“It’s always awesome to hear a sport, especially one you’re in, is getting added on a fully recognized level of Olympic status,” Downs said. “I feel like our athletes have been on the same page. I just feel like it’s gonna be great for the future generations.”
Reaching future generations has become a full circle experience for Downs. He credits Pastrana for inspiring him as well as Voyles, two-time X Games BMX Big Air champion Colton Satterfield of Pocatello and 2009 Dew Tour BMX Dirt champion Josh Hult of Idaho Falls.
“I grew up going to Josh’s backyard park,” Downs said. “Me and Ben have always been really good and tight. Eastern Idaho has got tons and tons of talent.”
Downs said he has had several ‘is this real life?’ moments since reaching his dream of joining Nitro Circus, and he hopes to inspire others wherever he goes.
“That’s what life’s all about, build everyone up around you,” Downs said. “May as well enjoy everyone instead of shutting each other out.”