X Games medalist spins his wheels to promote safe riding
By Denise Moran For The Courier-News June 15, 2012 10:26PM
BMX performer and three-time X-Games medalist Matt Wilhelm displays one of his talents using a BMX bicycle Friday night in Elgin. June 15, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 18, 2012 6:41AM
ELGIN — Hailed as one of the fastest spinners on a BMX bike, three-time X Games medalist Matt Wilhelm of Aurora wowed his audience Friday in Elgin with tricks such as the “whiplash,” “boomerang” and the “megaspin.”
“I started doing tricks when I was in eighth grade,” Wilhelm said. “After eight years of practice, I made it to the X Games.”
Wilhelm, whose appearance was part of Bike to Work Week events in Elgin, talked about the value of practice and persistence.
“When I went to the X Games for the first time, I crashed into the crowd and made last place,” Wilhelm said. “I wanted to quit. The following year, I won a medal because I didn’t give up.”
His favorite trick, the “tornado spin,” earned him the $25,000 grand prize on Fox TV’s talent show “30 Seconds to Fame.”
Wilhelm has appeared on “Stop Bullying: Speak Up,” a program on Cartoon Network that was kicked off by President Barack Obama.
In addition to winning three X Games medals, he has won two national championships and a silver medal in a world championship. He has appeared on “America’s Got Talent” and made it to the semifinals in Hollywood out of more than 100,000 contestants. He has traveled to Korea, Portugal, Brazil and Japan.
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Sue Grandt of Elgin brought her grandsons Jacob, 11, and Jaden, 5, of Hanover Park to watch Wilhelm perform.
“I remember seeing him on ‘America’s Got Talent,’ ” Grandt said. “Everyone at work was talking about it.”
Kathy Turnquist, a teacher at Lowrie Elementary School in Elgin, came to watch Wilhelm with her son, Eric, 16, and his friend, Patrick Haley, 15.
“Matt performed at our school assembly three years ago,” Turnquist said. “I was so impressed.”
Jennifer Fritz of Elgin said that her son, Evan Williams, 3, was looking forward to seeing the bike tricks. She said Evan has a tricycle and is looking at moving up to a bike with training wheels.
In addition to stressing the need to wear a helmet while on a bike or a skateboard, Wilhelm said it is also important to walk, rather than ride, a bike across an intersection. He learned that lesson the hard way when he was hit by a car while he was on his bike, he said.
“It’s important to stop, look both ways, and listen before crossing an intersection,” Wilhelm said. “You should also walk with your bike next to you. My bike costs $2,000. I would throw it down in a second if it could save my life.”
Wilhelm told the audience that it is important to find one’s talent and go to college.
“In fifth grade, I started playing the saxophone,” he said. “I earned a music scholarship and graduated magna cum laude from Millikin University.”
Bike to Work Week
During one of his tricks on Friday, Wilhelm jumped his bike over two audience members and Tom Armstrong, who is part of the Elgin Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee and who helped organize Elgin’s Bike to Work Week activities.
“We promote bicycling for many reasons,” Armstrong said. “It is good exercise and a good way to address the obesity problem. This year marks the fifth year we have held Bike to Work Week.”
Other events during this year’s Bike to Work Week included a showing of the film “Bicycle Dreams” at the Elgin Police Department. The film shows a 3,000-mile bike race across America.
A bike donation drive held this past week makes it possible to send heavier-duty bikes to Central and South America and Africa.
“We collected 37 bikes last year,” Armstrong said. “It makes a difference in their lives.”
Another part of Bike to Work Week was the bike tour of museums such as the Elgin Area Historical Society Museum, the Elgin Public Museum, and the Elgin Fire Barn No. 5 Museum. The Sunday Ride for Life features a 15-mile, 27-mile and 60-mile bike trip.
“Last year, there were 150 bike riders signed up for Ride for Life,” Armstrong said.