By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
On Friday, July 27, athletes from around the globe will converge in London for the XXX Olympiad. But here on our own sands, thousands of under-the-radar athletes are training every day of the week — often for hours at a time, usually when everyone else is still asleep, and without any fancy gold or silver medals to motivate them.
Forget, for a moment, the pending excitement of the badminton, fencing, and canoe championships half a world away. We poked around right here in South Florida and found fascinating athletes engaging in offbeat, "extreme," and street sports. They may not be Olympians, but their talents are remarkable nevertheless. Though some of them make a dollar or a thousand from their sport and could therefore be called "professional," most do it simply for the love of the game.
The 13 people featured in these pages share a few qualities. Aside from killer abs and optimal BMIs, each has achieved a level of renown in his or her sport. Their physical prowess? Considerable. Their natural talent? Impressive. Their dedication? Ridiculous.
Meet the masters.
BMX Racing (member of team Speedtech/Ssquared) and Mountain Biking
Karrie Norberg's introduction to BMX in 2007 was as a self-described "proud sports mom," sitting on the sidelines and watching her son as he raced around the track during practice sessions in Miami. But then she bought "the cheesiest little BMX in the universe" and started pedaling.
The first year, she'd "go around the track and think, This is so much work." She kept at it and tracked her progress by counting the number of laps she was able to do during each of her son's practices. The world of racing opened up to her when she accompanied him to his first BMX championship and she impulsively signed up for her own race. "I did terrible," the emergency-room nurse laughs.
Bitten by the bug, she began taking coaching tips from her son. She worked her way up the ranks in state competitions and eventually the national level. Things culminated in a trip to Adelaide, Australia, for the 2009 UCI BMX World Championships, where she finished seventh in the world in her age group.
Now a full-fledged bike chick, she has a room dedicated to her wheels, and she has found a passion for mountain and road biking. "I think a lot of people don't understand what I do," she says, though other moms do ride BMX. "Anybody could come out and do it. I'm not some Amazon, and I was never that much of an athlete in high school. The one thing I had going for me was that I wasn't a quitter."
One of Peter Miller's fondest memories of his sport has nothing to do with tournament trophies — although he has dozens of them for all types of competitions, from marlin to sailfish and beyond. It also has nothing to do with cameras, even though he has served as a spokesman for numerous national brands and hosts a popular NBC Sports show, Bass 2 Billfish.
His best memory is of the time he headed out onto the Atlantic, alone, on a whim. He had just dropped his son off at school and was pulling out of the carpool lane. "I looked up to see a light breeze of about five to eight knots out of the north and just got the feeling like I had to get out there." Struck with angler intuition, he headed directly to his boat without stopping to pick up food or water. "I knew it was going to be a great fishing day."
His intuition was right. "The sailfish were pouring through in 120 feet," he says wistfully. Miller spent the next ten hours battling sailfish and tuna, one after the other, as he watched nearby boats with full crews doing the same. Mentally tracking his take versus everyone else's, Miller stayed out for hours, his competitive spirit and love for the sport willing him to push past bleeding fingers and battle sea monsters for hours on end. "I was playing that little game with myself," he says. It's a "game" he's been playing since he was 3 years old. "The obsession starts early and gradually grows and grows."
They say that when things go right, your career chooses you instead of the other way around. A career of water and waves planted itself in David Hernandez's path after a dispassionate go at academia.
"My parents said, 'Go to school, go to school,'" he says. He opted not to go but then had to deal with the realization that his love for baseball wouldn't manifest itself into a viable career. Having been fascinated with wakeboarding since the early '90s, Hernandez switched gears and forged a career in it, not only as a pro rider but also as a coach and instructor. The two-time Pan American champion — he placed third in the men's open in 2007 and first in the men's II in 2008 — is a coach at Miami Wakeboard Cable Complex, in Hialeah's Amelia Earhart Park. His "office" is essentially a lake, his commute conducted on the wake of a motorboat. "I never go out mad," he says. "I never get tired of it."