Spencer Lowden waits intently while the judge slowly counts down.
“Five, four, three, two...”
He tightens his grip on the handlebar of his bike and prepares to race through Rock Bridge State Park for the Show-Me State Games mountain biking competition Sunday. The judge gets to one and Lowden, 15, takes off through the woods. His mother and father cheer him on from the sidelines while his younger brother waits in the back for his turn to race.
Five minutes into the race Lowden comes back to the track with a slashed tire. He has a look of frustration and hopelessness. His father, Gary Lowden, springs into action helping his son fix his flat so he can get back into the race.
“You can’t give up Spencer, you don’t want a DNF (did not finish),” Gary Lowden said.
Spencer Lowden listens and, with a new found enthusiasm, hops back onto his bike to continue racing. Meanwhile, the family cheers on Spencer Lowden’s little brother, Zack Lowden, as he finishes his first lap.
“Things like this happen, it’s unfortunate but you have to continue,” Gary Lowden said as his son rides away.
Spencer Lowden came back a second time after he ran into a tree going too fast trying to catch up to his opponents on the course. Gary Lowden tried to help fix the bike, but the damage from the tree was too much and Spencer Lowden had to take a DNF. However, Gary Lowden was proud his son had tried to get back into the race.
The Lowden family is from Diamond and has been competing together in mountain bike races across the Midwest, including the Show-Me State Games, for more than three years. Gary Lowden and his two kids participate together in 12 races a year for the KC Bike team. The mother also competes in one or two races a year. But the sport provides more than competition, it has brought the family together.
Gary Lowden first got into mountain biking when he was 19. He used to ride in motorcycle races, but wanted another way to stay in shape and mountain biking offered that opportunity. Gary Lowden said he began competing at the age of 21 because needed a new reason to stay interested in it other than fitness. Lowden said the sport helps him feel young. Even now, while waiting for his turn to compete in the Show-Me State Games, he was hopping around on his back tire doing tricks like a kid.
“Mountain biking allows you to get dirty, you feel like a kid again,” said Lowden, who finished second in the sports bracket, which was the intermediate level, for the 50 and over division. “It gives you a reason to feel alive.”
As he got older he passed on his passion for mountain biking to his kids. However, he refused to push his kids into the sport. He wanted to let them decide whether they want to race. In 2005, Lowden’s oldest son Spencer decided to compete in races after watching how much fun his father had. Spencer Lowden also plays basketball, but he says he enjoys mountain biking over other sports because it is up to the individual to win. He has even qualified to train in an Olympic facility and hopes to get a scholarship for mountain biking.
“First time I did it I was hooked. It was fun, good exercise and good competition,” Spencer Lowden said.
Zack Lowden, 12, has also started competing in different mountain biking competitions with his brother and father. He finished first in the beginner under-12 age group. He said he enjoys the independence of the sport.
“Mountain biking is different from other sports. Not a lot of people do it,” Zack Lowden said. “I like it because you’re not on a team. You’re all alone and it depends on you to win.”
The family will often train together once or twice a week and nearly every weekend in the summer they travel to races around the Midwest. Gary Lowden said that the nature of the sport has helped keep his family close. The challenge of the sport brings out all of a person’s emotions, whether it’s trying to get over a log, avoiding trees or dealing with the long distances of a race. The kids have seen their father hurting, excited and worn out in a competition, and he’s seen the same with them.
“We’re able to see sides of each other that normally they wouldn’t have,” Gary Lowden said. “In normal day to day activities you don’t see those emotions, it brings out the good and bad.”
Gary Lowden said he helps them prepare for the tournament by helping check their tires and adjusting their bikes, but once they take off in a race they are on their own to deal with flat tires and other problems. The mother, Carrie Lowden, said that in a marathon race, Zack Lowden’s bike broke and he was able to find help and be picked up because of the lessons he’s learned from the sport.
“It gives them a little mechanic talent and problem solving,” Gary Lowden said.
Sarah Ashman, the commissioner of the Show-Me State Games mountain biking competition says that the atmosphere of mountain biking is great for families. The Lowden’s often camp together before races and are always cheering each other on during races. They even offer each other advice before races and joke around with each other before races.
“There’s a lot of camaraderie between riders,” Ashman said. “It’s a nice family atmosphere and the fact that 12 and under riders are free helps promote that.”
The family says they don’t know what they would be like without mountain biking, but they do know they wouldn't be as close.
“We’re probably closer because of mountain biking,” Spencer Lowden said. “I don’t think we would have the same relationship.”