Roman Jaworsky sat the trophy down on the kitchen table and stared at it for a few moments, still unsure if the weekend in November was a dream. Maybe he’d wake up and it would still be the morning of the big race, and all of the stomach-turning nerves would return. It was an improbable victory, and the local rider was still soaking it in.
It had been a year since Jaworsky’s 2013 BMX season ended in disaster. At Grand Nationals, the biggest annual domestic competition, he fell on the first turn and finished at the back of the pack. It was a bitter end to what was supposed to be a season that continued the rapid ascension of “RadRo” into the sport’s top ranks.
All of 12 years old, Jaworsky stewed in self-evaluation over his frustrating finish, deciding he needed to rededicate himself to the sport that came so easily in the beginning.
“I was disappointed about 2013,” says Jaworsky, now 14. “I didn’t do well throughout the year, and then I fell at Grands. It was kind of like a wake-up call that I should start working harder.”
In July 2014, South Point Casino hosted the Las Vegas BMX Nationals, and Jaworsky was back in form, thanks to improved training under U.S. Olympian (and fellow local) Connor Fields. He narrowly won, edging out Aram Schwinn, the best rider in the age group at the 2013 Grand Nationals.
“Vegas was a big race,” Jaworsky says. “So, when I won here I knew I had a shot at the championship.”
Next to the door leading from the garage to his house is the only artifact betraying Jaworsky’s lineage—a plaque for the Arizona State BMX title his father won in 1981.
Roman “BigRo” Jaworsky started BMX racing in San Diego when it first came on the scene in the 1970s. The roots of BMX trace back to Southern California, and Jaworsky senior was a natural. He won his first 35 races and a dozen state titles, but gave all of those trophies to the local track, except for the Arizona plaque.
Around Christmas 2009, he thought his son might like to check out BMX. He took him into a Las Vegas shop, and the employee at the counter recognized BigRo. “He said I beat him for the state championship in 1980 and wanted to race again,” Jaworsky senior says. “I said I’m done, but I’m looking to get my son a bike.”
RadRo was competing by the time he turned 9, and won his first eight races. He was hooked. He learned quickly and joined the national circuit, taking long trips with his dad to cities across the country to race against the best riders.
BMX racers whip through a single lap on a dirt track over jumps and hairpin turns. There are no points for style or tricks. The singular focus is speed. Jaworsky was born with speed, which set him apart and carried him to victories when he first started.
“He’s always had that natural ability. He’s just good at it,” Jaworsky senior says. “Roman has that drive to be the best. He doesn’t get mad if he doesn’t win, but he wants to find out what he did wrong, and he fixes it.”
As he got older the competition got stiffer, and he had to develop technique. After the fall in the 2013 finals, Jaworsky knew he needed focused instruction. He turned to Fields, who placed seventh at the London Olympics, higher than any other American.
“Roman is naturally very strong and fast off the start,” says the 22-year-old Fields. “This is a blessing and a curse, because when he’s not in front he’s not as comfortable and needs to work on his tactics, because as you get older and eventually turn pro no one is out in front all the time anymore.”
Jaworsky has little idle time these days. He trains 10 to 12 hours a week, and also plays golf. He travels often for races, which means keeping up with homework while on the road. He loves tinkering with technology and built his own PC, and likes to race go-karts with his friends. His focus on long-term goals and willingness to put in the work would be the envy of most any parent of a teenager. He habitually thanks his parents, sponsors and coach for his success.
“Roman does have a level of professionalism that is much further along than I would expect out of a 14-year-old,” Fields says.
As Jaworsky was set to start his freshman year at Clark High School last fall, he was having his best season and stood within striking distance of the amateur title—to be determined at Grand Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma, right after Thanksgiving.
As his final race approached, Jaworsky was a ball of nerves. Fields did what he could to calm him, including a game of “would you rather.”
“Before his final Roman could barely speak,” Fields says. “I stayed with him up until the last minute and just talked to him about school, girls and all sorts of things that were not about BMX to keep his mind relaxed.”
The amateur title is decided by points accumulated over the entire season. The more riders in your group, the more points you get for winning. In general the groups of older riders are larger, so Jaworsky earned fewer points with his victories. The setup makes it difficult for younger riders to take the title, and the last time someone younger than 16 won was 2005.
RadRo waited at the starting gate, visualizing the race—every jump, every turn and the exact number of pedals he would take. The announcer laid out the stakes: “Roman Jaworsky will take over the lead with a win, and only a win.”
When the gate dropped he took off like a coyote was on his trail, legs pumping in blurry circles, his long blond hair spitting out the back of his helmet as he took an early lead. Aram Schwinn, who won the previous year in Tulsa and who Jaworsky edged out for the victory in Las Vegas in July, nipped at his back tire and threatened to pass.
Jaworsky drove his legs harder. He stayed low over his handlebars and limited his air off jumps, just like his dad taught him. He fell back on his training with Fields: His technique was sound and he stayed tight through the turns. On the final turn Schwinn got caught up with another rider and fell. As Jaworsky crossed the line first he settled back onto his saddle, and pumped his right fist.
The title was not his quite yet, though. He had to wait for the older groups to finish. One rider from the 17-18 age group was poised to overtake Jaworsky with a win, but he finished second. So Jaworsky finally had his title, and when he came home from Tulsa, cup in hand, he took a moment to enjoy it. “I just sat the trophy down and stared at it, I couldn’t believe I had won,” he says.
Jaworsky also competed at the 2014 World Championships in Denmark, coming in fifth. He has quickly moved on to his next set of goals, winning back-to-back amateur titles and improving his world ranking. He also left a corporate team to start his own one-rider outfit, RadRo Racing, which gives him more freedom to work with different sponsors and to choose his own race schedule.
He’s off to a good start in the 2015 season as the current points leader. Lurking in the back of his mind is his long-term goal, making the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team. “As someone who has been through the process of making the Olympics, I can tell you it is so incredibly hard to make that three-man team,” Fields says. “Roman definitely has the potential, and I think he has the right head for it. If he keeps on his current trajectory he has a chance.”