More than a decade has past since AA pro-Justin Posey threw his leg over a bike and rolled down the starting hill for the first time. Looking back to his first years in the sport, not many would have imagined that he would eventually be in a position to battle for a slot on the 2016 team USA Olympic BMX roster…
Over the years, Justin transformed from one of the smallest riders at the track to accepting a full-ride scholarship as a world class BMX athlete at Marian University, home of the most dominant cycling program in history. It was not long before Justin was competing in his first professional main event during the 2013 USA BMX Bluegrass Nationals. By the end of the weekend, the rookie was cashing checks, taking home his first collegiate national title, and setting the tone for the remainder of the year as the guy to beat. This rookie was already making mincemeat of seasoned professionals within the A pro class. The remainder of the year brought countless wins, some defeats, and a dream season fittingly capped off by being awarded the 2013 Golden Crank Rookie Pro of the Year.
The next season brought the Dans Comp rider into the AA class to compete with the world's best racers from around the globe. It was a humbling year with both highs and lows. As the year ticked down, Posey had cemented himself as a serious contender in the class. 2015 brought the brand new North American Supercross Series offering the best riders in the world bigger payouts and an even better opportunity to prepare them for the upcoming 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. While Posey entered the year 100% ready to take his piece of the pie, little did he know that he would take on the fight for his career come August.
August 21, 2015 – Grand Junction, Colorado – home of stop #2 of the USA BMX North American Supercross Series. "I woke up, had breakfast, lunch, went to the track and prepared for the days race. Practiced the track, warmed up, and got ready to race what would be my last race for six months. There was a lot of wrecks happening before my moto, but just like any race, crashes happen. You just have to maintain your focus and think about the lap you will be preparing for. As I sat up on the starting hill and started my race prep, it would soon all come to an abrupt end," exclaimed Justin as he tells me about the hours leading up to his life changing lap. Like any ordinary lap, JP started off great, taking an early lead as they entered the first turn, seconds before it would all go downhill. "I hit the lip of the jump sideways and with more speed than I had hit it with during practice." Before he knew it his hand blew off the bar, leaving him unable to control his bike as he face-planted into the following obstacle.
"I can remember everything up until the impact. The funniest part was waking thinking, 'Crap, not again.' I could feel that once again my front teeth had been knocked out. I figured I would get up and walk off the pain, thank god the medics and USA BMX staff kept me still. Who knows, if they would not have been there and I jumped up, I could have been worse off." With a broken back, Justin was transported to the local medical center for further evaluation. For the next 48 hours, Justin was forced to lay flat in his hospital bed as surgeons attempted to piece his bruised and broken body back to one functional piece through multiple surgeries. "Imagine a head-on collision at 40 m.p.h. without your seat belt." The pain was excruciating, to say the least, however, the team of doctors on Justin's side kept him positive and were optimistic he would soon be on the road to recovery.
"There were so many simple tasks that became my worst nightmare."
Any time an athlete goes through such an injury, there is no doubt that they question themselves and their future. Justin was no different. "I questioned why I was racing and why I would put myself in that much pain when there is so much more to life. But then again I thought, this is my life, this is my love and my passion, so why give up now? I've come so far to give up now? It was over and out of my head quickly. I knew it was over and now it was just time to overcome the pain and get back to what I love." The next few weeks as he entered the road to recovery tested Justin to a level never before seen. Not just him, but his mother, girlfriend, friends, and family. There was not a single person rooting against Justin, besides his body. "There were so many simple tasks that became my worst nightmare," he said while recalling the weeks following his accident. No amount of painkillers or IV's could take away the physical and mental pain that surrounded Justin and his fight against the body. Having surgery on his shoulder shortly after his back did not help the cause either. "Simple everyday tasks like eating, showering, and brushing my teeth became more difficult than I could ever imagine. Without my friends, family, and the BMX community, I am not sure I would have made it through the challenges that I was presented with. Well that, and lots of sweets ha-ha."
After finally being released from the hospital in Colorado, the staff at the Olympic Training Center, USA Cycling, and the United States Olympic Committee sprung into action to ramp up his rehab and get back on the Olympic trail sooner than planned. After receiving shoulder surgery from the world renowned Dr. Weinstein in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Justin and his mother Michele were flown back to the OTC in Chula Vista, California where they would continue Justin's rehab. "When I first got back to Chula Vista, it was twice a day, every day. Just to move the shoulder a few inches I had to endure a lot of pain. My back was healing nicely, but my shoulder ended up taking months to heal properly. The trainers (Hannah and Kevin) worked on me every day using tools, stretches, exercises, and much more to get me back on the bike. I truly can't thank them enough."
After what seemed like countless months of rehab and being forced to watch his bike gather a thick layer of dust, Justin finally received the green light to line up in the gate shortly after the world rang in 2016. "I never had a true release date. I had to keep busting ass in the gym and rehab. Finally, it was a new year and both my doctors, trainers, and I knew it was time to hit the track." When you go from one of the best in the world to the bottom of the pile, your first laps around the track after months away are truly humbling. Justin's first left him struggling to even get the bike off the ground, but in the end, there was nothing more rewarding than surpassing the obstacle of clipping in once again. "I was just thrilled to be out riding with my fellow competitors and friends again."
It is a shockingly realistic feeling that this experience has changed Justin – something that he faces every day. "It simply helped me with life. When you have these life changing experiences, I truly feel it shows you what is important in your life. Your family, friends, and fans truly show you what you mean to them and how important your life may be. It has let me appreciate the smaller things in life as well. I used to hate reading, and now I love grabbing a good book and sitting in the sun and enjoying what life has to offer. Taking in every minute of every day is important."
While Justin may now be changed, this experience has yet to change his focus on racing. He just recently finished a test event at the Olympic track in Rio. Next, he is off to compete in Santiago Del Estero, Argentina for the first UCI BMX World Cup of 2016 followed up by stop two in Manchester, England. Sprinkle in stops at the USABMX North American Supercross series, the World Championships and the United States Olympic Trials and Justin Posey will be back at full speed while competing for a spot on the 2016 USA Olympic BMX team. There is no doubt Justin will have a mental hurdle to pass, but physically he feels 100% ready.
BMX is certainly known as a sport where the individual can determine their own fate, but Justin has had one hell of a support team in his journey to Rio. Whether it be Justin's psychologist, Dr. Jason Richardson, his coach Tony Hoffman, his family, girlfriend Melissa (who is also a member of the USA Women's Rugby team), sponsor Dan's Comp, the staff at USA Cycling or the many more that are in his corner, JP has a team that can rival any other.
When the last gates drop and Justin learns whether or not he will be draping the USA Olympic jersey over his shoulders in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil for the 2016 games, he will have been through hell and back to get to where he will stand on that day. With the determination, will, and straight talent and skills that this professional possesses, only a fool would count him out on any given day. This long dark road finally has a light at the end, and Justin is ready to attack it with everything that has built up inside of him since that fateful day in August.