What Really Happened: RedBud
No sport is worth paying the ultimate price. RIP Josh Lichtle
At any given AMA National Motocross or Supercross race, there are 10s of thousands of people there to enjoy the sport. They show up to enjoy the racing, the camaraderie, the competition, and the one-on-one nature of the sport we all love. And the life lessons to be learned from the sport are numerous and valuable if you pay attention.
But what really happened at RedBud is that we all got a lesson about what really matters in life, and motocross racing doesn’t. Not really.
This past weekend we lost Josh Lichtle. Like most racers at any AMA National, Lichtle had been racing motocross since he was a little kid, and he and his family have been a staple in the motocross community for almost 20 years. Lichtle would’ve turned 24 next month.
Reports say that Lichtle passed away this weekend from heat-related issues coming from racing at the RedBud National. And no matter how much anyone likes motocross, it’s not worth this. No sport is.
Switching gears, though, I have talked in the past about the need for the AMA and/or MX Sports to take heat index – how the heat actually feels due to combining temperature and humidity – into account at their races.
Temperature just doesn’t cut it.
The temperature at RedBud topped out at 93 degrees, and the relative humidity throughout the day averaged out at 73 percent (although it topped out at 90 percent). Calculating those two numbers together to get the heat index, that’s 118 degrees Fahrenheit, or 48 degrees Celsius.
That’s a dangerous temperature to be out in at all, much less be exerting yourself. And as I have pointed out before in columns for other magazines and websites, motocross is especially difficult in the heat because motocross gear prevents your body from cooling itself naturally.
The human body is cooled by sweat evaporating off of the skin. You get hot, your skin beads up sweat, and then the evaporation of that sweat cools your skin, and more importantly the blood underneath, just like a radiator in an engine cools the coolant contained therein.
Well, you need a large portion of your body to be exposed to the air for this to happen, and you also need to stop doing what’s causing you to become overheated in the first place. In motocross, racers won’t ever stop before they see the checkered flag, which is problem number one. And the second, more important, problem is that they’re covered from head to toe in riding gear, preventing their body from cooling itself through natural means. This is why Brett Metcalfe, who has suffered heat stroke a few times in the past, was wearing an active cooling vest in the second 450 moto at RedBud.
In order to cool effectively in the natural way, racers need to wear less gear, which is essentially like asking them to sacrifice one type of safety for another.
And the problem here is that I’ve said it before that heat is not a joke. I said in a previous “250 Words” column for Racer X Magazine’s website here on June 9, 2010 that “People can and will die from heat exhaustion,” and that the AMA or MX Sports needed to come up with a policy that calculates heat index and shortens races a certain amount depending on the number. Obviously, that hasn’t happened yet, and unfortunately now an athlete has died from heat exhaustion at an AMA event.
And before anyone says anything about guys being tough or whatever, remember the AMA shortens races due to wet weather, such as Budds Creek in 2009. So, if races are shortened due to rain and/or lightning (in other words, safety reasons), why wouldn’t they shorten them for heat index?
It’s extremely unfortunate that it had to come to this, but it’s often the case in life that changes are made reactively instead of proactively. Hopefully, Josh Lichtle didn’t die in vain, and changes will be made.
No sport is worth the ultimate price.
RIP Josh Lichtle
Addendum: It should be noted that the AMA and MX Sports definitely do have a policy in place for hot days at the Nationals; the race doctors can speak up about the heat and recommend the races be shortened at any point during the race day, and if they do speak up, the sanctioning body will do what the doctors recommend. But as we understand it, the medical staff didn’t believe there was a reason to shorten the races or anything along those lines at RedBud. - Steve Cox
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