We quickly forget as fans of any sport who it is that we are really rooting for. I am a 32 year old grown man, yet it's a 17 year old kid that I expect to win on Saturday nights. If he doesn't win, the forums on Monday mornings will be filled with reasons why he sucks and doesn't deserve the ride he has. The pressure at the professional level of motocross is possibly higher than any other sport. Do we forget that these riders are young adults with lives of their own?
It starts at the amateur level. Performing well at big races puts you on the radar of sponsors and dominating your class sets you up to be "the next big thing." At one point it was Suzuki's amateur program that groomed the top mini stars to sure shot pros.
As the pressure builds only a few will truly handle the challenges placed in front of them. A few will plateau at a certain level and others will cave hard. Failures at this level can mean letting down not just yourself but friends, family, fans, sponsors and teams. Lack of results and injuries can take a rider to dark places.
Three very similar riders with nearly the same paths laid for them. Ben Riddle, Shane Bess and Nico Izzi. All amateur national champions who'd turn pro with Factory Suzuki contracts. They'd go on to face similar results as professionals, loose their rides and after suffering injuries fall into a world of addiction.
Kentucky's Ben Riddle was the first of the three to turn pro. After a long stint with Kawasaki's Team Green, he'd collect his final national championships as a member of Team Suzuki. In 2001 he'd make his pro debut under the Suzuki rig. He'd score a career best 6th place at the New Orleans Supercross that year. After breaking his leg at Washougal, Riddle felt given up on and one injury seemed to lead to another. After a stint with the Motoworld Suzuki team in 2002 and earning a few national numbers he'd hit bottom hard. Addicted to opiates and surrounded by the wrong people it'd turn worse and Riddle would find himself in prison for over 6 years. Now clean for 3 years, Ben is healthy and focused on a good life not just for himself but his wife, family and newborn daughter. He's giving back to the sport through Riddle Motocross Coaching and running a track back home in Kentucky called Sand Trap MX. Looking back now he says "injuries are just a set back, it's what you do during and after that determines how strong you bounce back." He knows it was his mistakes that took his career. "If I can help one rider avoid the same choices and path I took, that's why I coach."
Shane Bess of Oxnard, California made a name for himself at a young age. Pretty much the only kid who was able to beat James Stewart straight up. His skills landed him a Suzuki deal on 80's and took him through to the professional ranks. He'd break his arm just before turning pro and considers that his biggest setback at the next level. After being fired from Factory Suzuki, he'd spend a season with Team ECC before finding some success in Arenacross with the Troy Lee Honda team. Fighting injuries and suffering the loss of his girlfriend he'd turn to pain pills. This lead to dabbling with nearly anything Bess could get his hands on. After pills he became addicted to alcohol, then cocain, cough syrup and more, ending with heroin and meth use daily. "Slave" is the word Bess used to describe his addiction. It lasted over 8 years. After being stabbed, shot at and overdosing Bess became clean on December 27, 2012. "I was a liar, a cheater and a thief...but not today." Thanks to sobriety he's found god, rides a few times a week and is focused on getting his education. He wants to be a counselor.
|Shane Bess awaits his moto during his time with ECC. | Photo: provided by Shane Bess|
Maybe one of the biggest mini stars in amateur motocross, Nico Izzi was a dominant force from day one. The Michigan native won 6 Loretta Lynn's titles along with multiple other national championships. When he turned pro in 2008, he'd find himself at the front of the pack early. Dealing with personal issues and having his baby girl due in 2009 added stress to his championship fight. A big crash would leave Izzi with a severely broken heal. He'd become reliant on his pain medication and when that was gone the cheaper route would be heroin. "I was scared of it, I was afraid to die." Izzi would find himself and another shot to prove himself on the track. His stint with Kilbarger Racing in 2011 would produce results and land him a Rockstar Yamaha ride. He was a solid top 10 guy in the 450 class when he'd tear his ACL. "It's was a recipe for disaster." The prescribed pain pills took Izzi back to a bad place. He lost everything. He was lying, stealing, begging and at rock bottom. He admits to just not being able to handle the pressure. So much was expected from him, but he was a failure. He wasn't chasing the high, it was numbing out the bad he was looking for. In early 2016 he'd seek help in Kevin Kolb of Sick MX. Izzi would slowly break his habits and reunite with former mechanic Thad Merz. The plan as of now is to be on the line for 2017 Supercross. Look for Izzi to race the 450 class beginning at the east rounds.
|Nico Izzi all smiles. | Photo: Kyle Pesci|
Drugs. We look at them as a crutch and a negativity. The users we see as bad people and we are quick to give up on them. Truth is these people most likely don't want to be where they are. It's a sickness. It takes good kids with a lot of talent to really shitty places. I'm really happy to call all three of these guys friends. I'm happy to say they've found themselves and a reason to live. We need to realize that these guys were all looked up to and expected to perform at a young age. When injuries took away all they knew in life, they had nothing. They even hated themselves. Addiction is real and it affects real people.
This article brought to you by: Race Tech