Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Lots of spills on the fast track

James Anderson has broken more bones in his 16 years than most people break in a lifetime. But it hasn’t put him off his passion for motocross and supercross. Having signed a sponsorship deal with local and Australian KTM dealers that allows him to compete on both sides of the Tasman, he’s now aiming at the United States. “I’d like to get there this year and I think that’s a realistic goal,” he said. He wants to train at the invitation-only Georgia Practice Facility near Jacksonville in Florida. It has two motocross tracks and two supercross tracks. (Motocross is traditional cross-country racing, while supercross features circuits focused on high jumps.) “All the really fast guys go there,” he said. Longer-term, the goal for the boy from Himatangi Block Road near Foxton is to be one of those “fast boys” on the world circuit. And if Plan A fails, Plan B is to continue working on the family dairy farm. James left Manawatu College at 15 and took naturally to the farm work he’d grown up with. “I love working on the farm,” he said. “It’s great tagging along all day and working with Dad. It’s cool.”

He's unusual for a 16-year-old in more ways than one.

James is the youngest of five Anderson children. His older sisters Nicole, 27, Terri, 25, Kylie 23 and Cara, 22 are sporty types too, playing basketball and netball. Kylie also rides motocross bikes.

"She's my motivator. If she comes in the door and I'm watching TV or something she'll say, 'What have you done today?' She pushes me a lot,” James said. “It's OK. I need it sometimes and I like it."

And he pays homage to his father Richard and mother Sandra for backing him 100%.

"Dad doesn't take a day off work. Mum goes everywhere with me. She takes a lot out of her life to go with me wherever the sport takes me. I've got a great support team."

Richard said James was no “late mistake”.

"Mum always wanted a boy. But he's never been a ‘'Mummy's boy”.

As Dad puts it: "He always played around on motorbikes. He started riding when he was about six. One day he went to a motocross fun day. He was about nine, and that was that."

Can he attain the world status he aims for?

"He'd like to think so," Richard said.

 Injuries

"There's a career there if he wants it I suppose. We'll find out in time I guess. He's had lots of injuries though. I don't like seeing him knocking himself about. He'll be an old man before I am. I don't know if he can make enough money in the sport to make that worthwhile. If he had a second time around I think I'd rather that he didn't do it.

"Ask Sandra. She kicks around with him riding and I kick around with him on the farm."

Mum has been with him at the tracks when he has broken bones and spent hours afterwards sitting outside the operating theatre waiting for the verdict on his injuries.

"It's not good when you're sitting outside the theatre,” she said. “I've spent more time at hospitals than anyone I know."

She details James' injuries.

"At Timaru he smashed an arm when he was T-boned by another rider. At Whakatane he broke his femur and half his hip went through his butt, plus he took the top layer off his hand and broke some ligaments in his wrist. He's broken his heel in three places.

“In Australia, he ripped the AC joint in his shoulder. He's had three broken fingers.

"His hip is stuffed now. He'll never be right.”

James started his ride to the top of the cross-country motorbike world when he was selected for the World Junior Championships at the Digger McEwen Track at Taupo in 2009, where he competed in the 85cc class. He'd won the New Zealand supercross title for the 11/12 age group and he finished 11th at the worlds. In 2010 he suffered the accident that ruled him out of racing for 10 months.

"We were really lucky," Sandra said. "A local doctor put us on to an expert from Austria who was attending a seminar at Tauranga. He agreed to have a look and the result was that James had five hours in surgery."

In 2011 he suffered a series of arm, wrist and finger injuries that kept him out of competition. He began again at local meets and by Labour Weekend last year he was back at the Digger McEwen track for the nationals. He won the 14-16 age group 250cc three-race title with two firsts and a second and was third in the 15-16-year-old 125cc three-race series after a setback with a bad start in race one.

Worth backing

"Obviously he has some talent,” Sandra said. “We haven't had to buy him a bike since his first couple. He's been backed by AFC Motorcycles in Palmerston North since the second year he was riding and now he's got deals with a range of companies for his riding gear, so lots of people think he's worth backing. Everyone is encouraging him and when he gets that support from people providing gear it drives him on. It's not a hobby for him, it's a passion. It's what he wants to do. I'll follow him until he's had enough."

And what about the injuries?

"I'm always nervous watching at the track, especially the supercross, because you see the whole circuit, whereas at the motocross they go out of your sight. And the supercross has much bigger jumps, so there are more bad injuries. I can deal with the injuries from the accidents after it's happened but I have trouble dealing with the accidents. That's worse, waiting to find out what's wrong."

Daughter Kylie also rides hard.

"She's very competitive. She likes to win," Sandra said.

So she has also had her moments in the emergency ward.

"She's had a broken shoulder and smashed nose. But she goes when James goes," Sandra said.

Among the support James has had was training at the Greg Moss Motocross Academy at Neringa in New South Wales. Moss is a former world champion, with 20 years’ coaching experience behind him, whose two sons are featuring now in world motocross events.

James said he learned a lot about riding while there, and also learned about observing other riders' techniques and taking out of it what was useful for him. That is what he has concentrated on during the injury-enforced time out of the saddle. He watches the pros to pick up tips.

In October he and Sandra went to Australia, where James competed in events including the Australian Junior Championships at Coolum near Brisbane. He also raced in Toowoomba and Newcastle and at the first round of the Australian National Supercross championships at Dubbo in the north-west of New South Wales. At the junior championships he finished sixth in the 125cc and 250cc classes in his age group. At Dubbo he qualified third, then during the race hit another rider who had crashed, stalled his bike and finished 13th. The muddy track at Toowoomba didn't suit him.

"I had no luck over there. I crashed, I fell off my bike, I stalled the bike. But I know I can definitely stay with those guys (the Aussies) and that's was pretty good. I just have to stay on the bike and stay clear of trouble. After the Aussie champs I felt I could have done better in both classes."

He didn't think it was an injury-prompted lack of confidence, rather time out of the saddle.

At the time of writing, James was looking forward to the NZ Supercross Championships, the annual event at Woodville Forest north of Auckland and then the Australian Motocross Championships.

"I just want to keep improving slowly," he said.

New approach

Sandra appreciates that new approach.

"He used to think he had to go out and get in front in all his races in lap one, then he used to try to lap everyone in the race. He's wised up a bit now. He knows he's got until the last lap to win it."

Dairying remains a prospect if the riding comes to an end. Richard was brought up on a local dairy farm, then bought 120ha at Herekino before moving up to the 400ha block the family has been on for about 20 years. They milk 950 Friesian cows.

"They're our preference. They're easy to manage."

The stock are pellet-blend fed through a grain feed system and the Andersons also grow 100ha of maize, as well as silage and turnips.

They had a good season in 2011, sending about 500,000kg milksolids (MS) to Fonterra.

Richard voted against trading among farmers (TAF) and is against some of the co-op's other market moves. "We (farmers) always had a shareholding anyway and if the idea was to raise capital, well they could have borrowed it on good rates in today's market,” he said.

“That would be cheaper for them than what the float cost and what it's going to cost to pay dividends that might be 7%.

“ I also think we should be concentrating in our own country rather than looking at buying farms in Chile and China."

He thinks the industry is becoming more fragmented rather than more unified.

"The future is debatable with more companies coming into the mix. It might be the long-term downfall of Fonterra, despite how big it is now, if they can't keep coming up with a decent payout to the shareholders. The smaller companies have an advantage in aiming specifically at niche markets."

But he does see a job for James.

"He's a bit of a handyman here, he does everything. He'd make a career of it if he wanted. He's a bit too young yet to make up his mind but I reckon it'd suit him.

“That's if he falls off the bike, which at this stage looks unlikely.”

James Anderson flying high on the motocross track.

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