Kenan Harkin

A Teacher Who Inspires Higher (but Safe) Learning

By Sonny Amato
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 21, 2006

WOODWARD, Pa. -- Kenan Harkin is the host of the Dew Action Sports Tour on NBC, and he was the first bicycle freestylist to consistently pull a 360 back flip in competition. However, on a small set of ramps at Woodward Camp in rural Pennsylvania, he was trying something with a higher degree of difficulty -- teaching me to ride a BMX bike.

Harkin is the premier commentator in the world of action sports because of his discerning eye. So, when he rubbed his chin and gave me a concerned look, I braced myself for some tough love.

"You look sort of shaky," he said. "When you're out of control like that, that's how people get hurt."

He would know. Harkin, 32, has been riding since his mom brought him to Shoreham (N.Y.) Raceway, a BMX track on Long Island, and turned him loose when he was 9. His gradual switch to freestyle was a lucrative but painful one. He broke his leg, collarbone and pinkie finger and, on two occasions, was knocked unconscious.

In a sport without a long history, Harkin is a valuable tool for current riders. Because he doesn't compete anymore, they can talk shop with him and not worry about giving up secrets.

Maybe I should have listened to him, too.

At one point, I failed to keep my pedals parallel and buried one into the wooden ramp, veering off course and almost hitting a few onlookers on the way back down. Among them were two of the best BMX vert riders in the world -- Chad Kagy and Kevin Robinson -- who were smiling rather than laughing, which I appreciated.

My next lesson was to "drop in" from the top of a four-foot ramp. The key is to lean back as you drop down, which was counterintuitive to my instincts of leaning forward, which would have toppled me painfully over the handlebars.

This is where Harkin's comment about my shakiness came in. He suggested that maybe I skip the final lesson, dropping in and then jumping off a small ramp directly across from it.

"I've seen people lose control on the way up and plunge headfirst into the ramp," he said, then added, "but give it a shot if you want."

My first jump was shaky, yet thrilling. I was surprised by how steep the ramp was at the top and, while my bike got very little air, I still landed awkwardly and fell off.

Harkin asked me if I wanted to give it another try.

"I'll just do one more," I said.

"Did you hear what he just said?" Harkin yelled to Kagy, who shook his head and laughed.

The urban legend is that 90 percent of major accidents occur after someone utters "I'll just do one more."

I amended: "I'll try again."

My last jump was less than spectacular, but safe. I leaned forward at the top, hopped a bit into the air and landed both wheels, rolling forward to a smattering of applause.

"See? It's just like riding a bike," joked one of the younger hotshot campers.

Not exactly.

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