By Matt Stewart, Correspondent
Lowell native Matt Ray, a BMX Street competitor, was looking for redemption on Saturday at the X Games in Minneapolis, and he got just that.
Ray pulled off the biggest accomplishment of his riding career, earning a silver medal in the BMX Street field. In addition to the hardware, the success lifted him to upper echelon in the sport, which could open some doors for his career going forward.
“It’s 100 percent my biggest accomplishment,” Ray said. “It’s so crazy, I feel like it still hasn’t hit me yet, because there is so much going on and so many people around. But once I get home I’ll be like ‘holy (cow).'”
Each BMX Street competitor gets two runs on the course, with the best of the two scores being the individual’s final score. Ray’s first run was marvelous, as he scored an impressive 86.33 points, which lifted him into first place at the time, and second place by competition’s end. The highlight of Ray’s trick repertoire during the first run included a smooth 540 on pyramid he landed backward, and a two fakie 360 double bar spin. He tallied a lot of points by the fluidity of his run, which featured only one minor mistake at the end, in a near-flawless performance.
“I was pretty confident,” Ray said. “On the 540 it’s hard to stay straight sometimes so I told myself to stay calm. I landed it and it worked out fine.”
It was an interesting dynamic for Ray as his medal-mates were athletes he looks up to in the sport. Garrett Reynolds (89.66 score), the gold medalist, won his 12th gold medal in BMX Street at the X Games, and is the most accomplished rider in the BMX Street world.
“Every since I was a younger rider, (Reynolds) was my favorite,” Ray said. “His style stood out to me. He rode big ramps and everything like that, and he’s just my idol, and to be riding against him is pretty crazy. I had to tell myself not to compare myself to him, because in my eyes he’s just the best. He’s the Tom Brady of BMX, and just watching him was crazy.”
Chad Kerley took home the bronze medal and is just two years older than the 23-year-old Ray, so the two look to battle it out for the next several years.
Ray had a lot of nerves prior to the competition, which contributed to his struggles in his first X Games appearance in Austin in 2016, where he took home, in his eyes, a somewhat disappointing 10th-place finish. But this time around, under the big lights again, he seemed to shine.
“I was nervous Thursday and Friday leading up to it,” Ray said. “But Saturday I felt good. I had my friends and family around, with big support for me. Everything just felt right, and I was riding well in practice.”
The two days prior to the competition, Ray was mapping out what his trick selection would be for Saturday’s finals.
“Thursday, I started putting the pieces together, linking this trick to that,” Ray said. “Friday I had it in my head. I knew if I landed the first run, I would set the bar high.”
In addition to the major accomplishment of being a medalist at the highest BMX Street competition in the world, the performance should open up some doors for Ray, who is still a relatively new rider to the scene.
The opportunities should come both from an endorsement standpoint, as well as chances to compete more frequently at the highest level. By making the podium, Ray automatically qualifies for next year’s X Games, which would be his third trip.
“You never know when the next opportunity is going to come,” Ray said. “But having an X Games medal and being a fresh face will help. It’s great knowing I secured my spot for next year’s X Games.”
Ray sees the medal as a victory not only for himself, friends, and family, but something he can bring back to Lowell and Hadley Park, the home site where he trains in Lowell. He feels it can offer inspiration to other young riders, in that success can be achieved if you work toward your dreams.
“I tell people all of the time that they can do this too,” Ray said. “It’s kind of cool to come back and get them motivated. My dad came out too, and he was all teary-eyed, and I was like I need to hold it together. It was emotional.”