Remembering Our Mate Roddy
It isn’t a race without a finish line, but unlike BMX racing, in life you never quite know where the finish is, unless you cop a shitty diagnosis and all of a sudden the focus becomes treatment and tests, more treatment, more tests and so forth. I don’t know how I would cope with it, but our mate Mark, well he’s just getting on with it and being as pragmatic as his usual self as I have known for over 30 years.
I miss a call on my phone, back in November. Then a text comes through, “hey mate, I’m in Brisbane…..” . Come on over, I reply and leave it at that thinking that it’ll be good to see my mate Mark. He’ll get a kick out of seeing the shop and all the cool BMX gear that we have. The type of shop our 15 year old selves would have loved to check out.
One of the boys comes upstairs and grabs me and says your mate is here and I drop down into the showroom and see Mark, and his two daughters Emma and Jane. He has his back to me and as he turns I clock that something ain’t right. When you’ve known someone that long, you know their mannerisms and something wasn’t adding up. He turns and shows me a large post-surgical bandage on the side of his head and as I begin to process this, Jane grabs me and whispers to me what has transpired 10 or so days prior. Emma looks on pensively as Jane explains that Mark collapsed at work the Friday prior and they flew him from Bundaberg to Brisbane that night, and the next day a neurosurgeon gives him the news that there’s a tumour of a fair size in his brain and on Monday they are going to operate to remove it.
Mark is standing here in front of me not 10 days later and I’m looking at him incredulously! Apart from being a little slow on his feet and having a couple of minor issues, here he is after major surgery on his way home. I race BMX, I’m no rocket surgeon, but even I know that when they open up your brain and carve out a tumour the size he had that the outcome isn’t always optimal. Mark it seems has had a great team and a great result, although they couldn’t get it all and he’ll have to have some “weed killer” (as he put it) to take care of the rest of it. He is so upbeat and optimistic that I’m amazed.
He wants to look around and check out the warehouse and what makes us ratbag lot tick and I grab him a LUX t-shirt before we say our goodbyes. I’m pretty rattled and plod through the afternoon and do what most blokes do and stop to grab a beer on the way home, stopping in at a small brewery and contemplate the news that a mate has been dealt a dud hand.
Mark is a quiet and humble bloke and reminds me a lot of my father, Max. A life of endless volunteering and just getting on with the job without looking for praise or reward. Occasionally grumbling when others don’t see his way, but otherwise stoic. In Mark’s case, it’s been over 40 years of involvement in the Bundaberg BMX Club. A fair sized town on Queensland’s coast about 370km north of its capital Brisbane, there’s been a BMX track there since the early 80s and I would of raced Mark there in the state titles in 1984. But it’s not till the early 90s that I remember traveling up there and staying with him with my mate Hicksy and riding the dirt jumps he’d built in his yard. Not sure if his wife Kathy had signed up for this at this stage, I’m sure a garden was more in her vision.
Life goes on, I dip in and out of BMX, but Mark never stops, and when I steam back in full time again in 2009, I cross paths with Mark and we reconnect through the Bundy club and the now infamous “My Dad’s Faster Than Your Dad” event at the club’s annual July open day. It’s origin was in 2003 and was one of the first 35+ money classes and every year it grew and eventually was dubbed the “my dad’s” race. I’m proud to say that I took a win one year, but I’m not sure when because of too many “fancy” beers over the years, but needless to say that every year it was a fierce battle.
Fast forward to 2023, and a call from another BMX brother Clint Jackson sparks an idea that year we are going to make this year’s “my dad’s” race something to remember. Do you reckon they’d go for a perpetual cup and call it the Rohdmann Cup? I ask.
We approached the club and tentatively put forward the idea and they totally embraced it. The event has evolved through the years and over the past few years every rider that nominated received a special event t-shirt, and over the past few years, LUX has supplied a winner’s jersey. I was stoked to see last year’s winner, Ben Tann, rocking his on Saturday.
Behind the scenes, Clint, myself and Cam Small (another absolute legend of our sport) work on getting things rolling. Cam designs the 2023 t-shirt with the full My Dad is Faster Than Your Dad theme, with us then telling him, there’s a name change, but you can’t tell Mark about it. You see, despite the chemo, radiation and hospital visits, Mark is still totally getting things sorted for the event, scoring sponsorship and making sure it’s all running smoothly.
So we are running a decoy t-shirt and jersey while poor old Cam has to design another t-shirt and jersey parallel to keep Mark off the scent. I feel slightly bad telling Mark “leave it all to us, you rest and be fit for the weekend, we got this”
As we get close to the race, Shane Davies from the club tells me that they are going to name the start hill “Rohdmann Hill”. Fitting as Mark was instrumental in elevating one of the flattest hills in Queensland, sourcing the soil to lift the start gate to nearly the highest point in Bundy! I know Mark was pretty proud of the project.
Cam sends me the 2023 t-shirt design and I’m flattered that it features Mark and I battling it out. Cam draws these and it’s a piece of art, with the original now in Mark’s hands. But he doesn’t yet know that we’re going to be calling it the Rohdmann Cup.
Clint gets to work on the boys around south east and central Queensland to gee them up to race, we’re trying to do this on the quiet until it comes to light that this is the 20th anniversary. Brilliant, that’s the cover we need to really shout about the race and get everyone racing. A subterfuge we can work under to get the class pumped up.
The event draws closer and although I’ve said that we’ll cover the cost of the perpetual cup, Shane calls me and says that the big one is a little expensive, are you sure? It ain’t big enough I reply and we lock in the cup.
We watch the noms, I shout loudly on the socials and by the close of nominations, there’s 28 of us in the class. The biggest year yet, and overall, the most nominations the event has had in several years. I’m stoked as the traditional open day has been struggling in our country since the advent of AusCycling and even this event has a clash of dates with a national series round in Sydney. But never mind, the pretenders travel south while the contenders travel to Bundy for the real victor to be crowned. The national series doesn’t even fill a gate, while we have 8 man semis!
We get to Bundy on the Friday and set up, with my usual traveling crew banging out laps while I confirm Saturday night’s booking at the brewery for us. Priorities. God it’s relaxed here and I can only guess at the anxiety levels of a race happening simultaneously 1500km south and smile that I’m glad of the clash of dates. This is a breath of fresh air, egoless and smiles all round. I don’t think I heard anyone mention gearing all weekend, except for me pointing out that my Sunday Model C that I was racing in cruiser had a 67 inch gear. Thank god for that big hill that Mark built!
Saturday is a relaxing midday start, so it was out to Bargara for coffee and yoga, then head out to the track. I see Mark, and his girls. Jane is already teary and gives me a hug and all thoughts of racing goes out the window. This weekend is different. It’s for our mate. Mark has a hint that something is going down as he’s seen the t-shirts with “Rohdmann Cup” printed on them, but not much more, and when all 28 of us gather at the bottom of the start hill prior to racing and the t-shirts get handed out I see Mark’s family gathering, I lose it a little again.
Shane grabs a mic and up on the second berm Mark and family are together as the signpost is unveiled, pronouncing that it is now Rohdmann Hill. Mark isn’t the only one teary and I hide behind the camera banging off shots. It’s fitting that he’s recognised for his work and selfless contribution.
Now let’s race!
Mark is racing cruiser and is adamant that he just wants to do 3 out of the 5 motos that day (god they love their motos north of Noosa!) and I say no way as I look at the sheets, I haven’t dragged my Sunday all this way not to do a lap with you mate and the racing software hasn’t matched us till the 5th moto. Righteo he says. Jane isn’t happy, she’s making sure Dad is taking it easy. Mark has had two round of chemo and a week in hospital recently from acute brain swelling, but does he moan and groan? Nope. This bloke is astonishing.
The 5th and last moto of the day of the two day event is about to run and I’ve had a quiet word to the blokes, including ole Butch who’s been racing since Jesus was a pup, Mark is going to have a win. Well, fuck me if men can’t follow directions, and the fellas tear off like there’s free beer at the leagues club next door. I’m shadowing Mark and watch them nearly kill each other until something clicks and they remember to back off a little. Good grief!
We all fist pump and I check in on my weekend housemate, Brad, who’s tested the soil in the second corner. He looks like he’s gone a round with Mike Tyson, but I’m surprised that he’s still up for a beer and dinner at the brewery. Mark is tired, but to my amazement comes out to join us. I’m amazed because I watched my wife go through chemo for breast cancer in 2021 and know what it does to a person. And here’s Mark racing and then coming out to talk racing that night. I look on incredulously at him that night. In awe of his determination that this prognosis and treatment isn’t defining him. This weekend he’s a BMX racer.
I wake up and repeat coffee and yoga out at Bargara and get that all important downward dog sunrise shot for Insta and head to the track and fuck me, here’s Mark wheeling in his cruiser in race gear! “You racing mate?” Yep he replies and I’m stoked as I’m racing him in the final moto for the event. Moto 6!! I see Jane and we hug. She’s just a little older than my daughter and I can’t help but wonder how she’s going, and Emma. She’s teary, I blame hayfever for mine.
We race our last cruiser moto and I ride around with Mark thinking at 56, we are a couple of big kids who never forgot our dreams of forever riding bikes. He beats me to the line and a few minutes later I check Sqorz and see that he’s in the final, with me missing out. P9 out of 9 and I’m silently cheering. I’m so happy for my mate.
The boys line up for the final of the Rohdmann Cup and I capture the seriousness of the moment through the lens of the Nikon. It’s a battle down the first straight between last year’s winner Ben, and the forever young, Brad Silsby. The crowd is screaming as they rip around the Bundy track with Brad taking the win and the title of Australia’s fastest dad.
Mark races his cruiser final and I bang off a heap of shots, admiring the sheer determination of a bloke who is facing a much bigger challenge than a 350m lap.
Presentation and everyone is in great spirits and I sit and see Mark chatting with the boys and everyone having a laugh. I think of what it means to have these connections throughout my life and think how much BMX means to us all. Support, friendships and mates you can depend on when things go pear shaped.
Many thanks to the Bundaberg club, its present and past committees for fostering and supporting this event. Thanks to all the blokes and their weary partners for letting us play on our bikes and pretending we’ve never grown up, have jobs, mortgages.
Thanks to people like Mark who have selfishly given their time to grow the sport of BMX racing. We are forever grateful for what you’ve done.