Revamped BMX track rises from the ashes

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Media caption,

The new BMX facility is in the Lambeg area of Lisburn

She only lives a few bunny hops away from a BMX track, so it is not surprising that Sorcha McConnell finally succumbed to the lure of the sport after four decades.

The mum, and her two children, Amy and Finn, are now regular users of Lisburn BMX track which has been transformed over the past few years thanks to a nucleus of volunteers.

Image caption,
Sorcha McConnell is glad she got involved with BMX racing

The facility at Bells Lane Park in Lambeg was a popular location in the 1980s when renowned riders like Andy Ruffell and Tim March were in their pomp.

After falling into decline, it has since been rebuilt and is now the focal point for a new generation.

Image caption,
Sorcha's children Finn and Amy are also part of the Lisburn BMX club

Sorcha and her children have competed in a number of events across the island of Ireland and she describes it as a "wonderful experience".

"I had never been on a BMX bike before at all and neither had the kids," Sorcha told BBC News NI.

"I came to the training nights last year and during the winter time the weather was quite cold and it was quite wet, but my only way to get warmed up I was told was to get on the bike and have a go.

"The kids actually get quite hooked on it, it is the one thing that my kids have both been interested in.

"That's actually really good because they are a boy and a girl, but they both follow the same sport - for me as a family that is excellent.

"We really encourage each other."

Image caption,
The club in Lisburn has more than 90 members

Sorcha said a number of BMX riders who had used the track in the 1980s had put "blood, sweat and tears" into rebuilding it so their children could enjoy the same thrills they had.

Lisburn BMX Club secretary Brian Mallon said his own children's interest in the sport was ignited after they stumbled across his trophies "in the roof space" during a house move.

Image source, Lisburn BMX Club
Image caption,
Riders at the gate during the track's heyday in the 1980s

He said conversations with some "old acquaintances" on social media, who had progressed to be factory team riders, helped kick-start the reformation of the club in 2012 with the aim of creating a competitive track.

Image source, Lambeg BMX Club
Image caption,
The track was popular with various BMX riders

"We thought it would be good to get a track here, it gave us a good life travelling across the UK and Europe," he said.

"We secured funding in 2014 for the track to redesign it.

"It was a BMX track, but basically had disintegrated from what it had been in the 1980s, it was good to have the official grand opening this month on 14 October."

Image source, Lisburn BMX Club
Image caption,
Steven Bell used the BMX track at Lambeg during that era and went on to race in the US

Steven Bell is another who has played a vital role in the regeneration of the track which he says is "one of the oldest BMX sites in the UK".

He originally raced there in 1984 before later showcasing his skills in the US and says it is "pretty amazing to see it back up and running again".

"I raced in America with a BMX back in the 1990s," he added.

"I raced on tracks from Florida to California and everywhere in between. I would do three months, come back, and do another three months.

"I was pretty much here on the whole build, whenever we were rebuilding the track.

"For my sins, I have rebuilt the place in the wet."

Image caption,
Steven and others who had raced there in the past helped with the rebuild of the track

The Lisburn club now has more than 90 members and BMX Ireland Youth Development representative Jonathan Reid says there has been a surge in interest in the sport across Northern Ireland in recent months.

However, as riders of various ages prepare to take part in the World BMX Championships in Belgium next year, he believes more needs to be done to create tracks of a similar standard.

"Forty children, aged six to 13, were introduced to the sport last month (September) through the BMX fundamentals four-week programme," he said.

"This (Lisburn) is the only national standard track in Northern Ireland, and there are hardly any pump tracks which are small non-competitive tracks for skills."

Aidy McLaughlin, a Lisburn club representative from Dunmurry agrees and acknowledges people travel from the likes of Portadown, Newry and Larne to use the club's facility.

"My eldest son Stephen McMorrow has Down's syndrome and races in the sport," he added

"It (BMX) is for people of all ages and ability, we encourage them to come down."

His younger son, James, said he was keen to follow in the tyre treads of the riders who helped create the track.

"I love to be here. When I am in school it is all I think about being up here on my BMX," he said.

"I race all over Ireland and went to London this year to race in the British nationals, it was very competitive.

"I would love to be a factory rider in the future."