Starbrick native turned BMX racing champ
It’s not every day a world champion BMX racer is waiting for you when you show up to work.
Don Beals grew up in Starbrick.
He started racing BMX bikes at 13 or 14. A resident of the then Allegheny Village, Beals said he’d ride his bike into town to catch up with other friends who rode. Before the age of 15 he was racing competitively.
“I just had a bunch of local friends, local guys who raced BMX,” said Beals. “The next thing you know we’re at the races competitively.”
Beals said that this mother used to work third shift, so she wasn’t able to help him get back and forth to races so he started teaming up with local friends who were going.
His first major race was in Buffalo, N.Y., in his early teens.
“I was fast,” said Beals, “but I was like a scud missile. The handling skills weren’t quite there yet.”
As Beals started attracting attention for his speed, he took advantage of mentorship from other professional racers who helped him learn how to develop his handling game as well. He said that, since becoming a world champion, he has been happy to be able to pass that mentorship on to other kids as well.
“I teach clinics,” said Beals, “and I don’t take any money for it. Sometimes I’ll just charge like $25 to come and then donate whatever we get to the track.”
Beals, until today, owned two GNC stores by way of work, but he said those are being sold Monday morning and he’s going to devote all his time and energy to racing and traveling to races. Beals moved to Port Richie Fla. at the age of 22 and has lived there full time ever since. Mainly because he can ride every day thanks to the weather, he said.
Beals spends around an hour in the morning training, then around two hours at night, just practicing the basics – jumping, turning – but also, he said he puts in around a 30 mile “little” ride per day. Weight training is also a large part of the practice leading up to a race.
Training is “like that movie Groundhog Day.” Beals said.
At this point he’s looking at mostly international races. At 53 years old, Beals looks like he’s maybe in his thirties. He’s enjoyed relatively few injuries that have set him back, although he recalls once training through a broken wrist and says that his teeth have taken more than their share of hits.
Once he got to Florida, he said his his Ellery Center days were over and he began getting into state and then national series races. He’s been a 16 time state champion for Florida, and he’s won various east and west coast championships as well. When he started getting into the national series races, he did well there too.
Then he qualified to go to the world championships.
Nine of which he placed.
The three times that he was unable to follow through on his qualification were because of injuries, he said.
As far as international travel goes, said Beals, he considers it one of the best benefits of the job.
“You get addicted to it,” he said, “you have to travel more and more.”
Beals said that he’s made friends over the years in the BMX community, and those friends are all over the world, so when he sets up a race abroad he very often has someone local with whom to stay. He also gets to take advantage of the friendships he’s made over the years to get a ground-level authentic experience of a place.
As far as least favorite places to visit, Beals puts Paris, France pretty high on the list. His favorite place to be abroad, he said, is South Africa.
He’s also been to Brazil, Columbia, Denmark, and Baku, which lies north across the Caspian Sea from Tehran.
From riding down a hill in South Africa near where a lion had escaped a transport truck and was watching the entire time, unbeknownst to Beals; to driving with and, of course, the terror that is international road rage. Beals said he’s had an opportunity to collect an endless supply of stories and life experiences.
Beals was in town this past weekend for his high school reunion – he graduated from Youngsville in 1983.
“I remember everyone from Warren who helped me get started,” said Beals, and he still has many friends here, many of whom asked him during the reunion why he never shares his many wins with the world.
For Beals, he said, “I’m just a guy who started in Warren, loves riding his bike and competes around the world.”
While he’s kept his success in the world of BMX racing humbly quiet, Beals said he was ready to let Warren know that one of its own has a pretty cool story since starting off right here. Beals said that he had a blast riding on the trails at Jakes Rocks while home, taking in the Kinzua Dam area, and just spending time taking in Warren’s history – “I’m a big history buff,” he said – and sharing his endless stories with former classmates.
Monday morning, Beals said, he’ll be heading back to Florida to start training again and then he’ll be setting off for yet another adventure.