Motocross: Kiwi champ on top and aiming higher

By Eric Thompson

Levi Sherwood is the best in the world, but he knows he'll be even better when his 'free spirit' returns.

Levi Sherwood defies the law of gravity in one of the stunts that have made him a world champion. Photo / Red Bull Content Pool
Levi Sherwood defies the law of gravity in one of the stunts that have made him a world champion. Photo / Red Bull Content Pool

In the nearly two years since the Weekend Herald spoke to young Kiwi high-flyer and Red Bull X-Fighter Levi Sherwood, his body has mended and last weekend he stood on top of the world as this year's X-Fighter world champion.

Sherwood arrived at the last round of the series at Cockatoo Island, Sydney, tied on points with French rider Thomas Pages.

Both made it to the final but Pages fell, leaving the door open for Sherwood to take advantage - which he duly did.

Not too shabby for a young bloke from a Manawatu farm, who's made it on his own to be one of the most respected freestyle motocross riders in the world and the youngest title-holder at 21.

The "Red Bull Gives You Wings" campaign must have been the inspiration for the X-Fighters series, as the riders appear to be flying through the air defying the law of gravity.

Kiwi Sherwood raised a storm when he first arrived on the freestyle motocross (FMX) scene.

The master of aerial motorcycling and consummate showman, 17-time X-Game medallist Travis Pastrana said: "Levi is without doubt the most exciting young rider in the world right now."

A couple of years after that statement, Sherwood is not only the most exciting freestyle rider on the planet, he's also world champion. But his flight to fame and fortune hasn't been clear air all the way; he has had a couple of bad accidents on the way.

He broke his wrist and badly shattered his right femur in an accident at the world FMX championships in Los Angeles in 2010, and last year he fractured two vertebrae, lacerated his liver, bruised a lung, damaged his kidney and broke two bones in his left wrist in a practice crash.

You might think winning the title this year meant he was at his best. Not quite so.

"After last year I realised you can get hurt easier than I thought and it feels like I'm still getting over my crash," said Sherwood.

"The injuries are fine but I don't think I'm riding like I used to yet. I used to be a bit more carefree and not as worried about it.

"I'm not as much of a free spirit as I used to be yet. Before the crashes I would just think of doing a backflip, or whatever, and once it was in my head I just had to go and do it straight away. Now it's a lot easier to decide not to do something. So there's more to come yet."

If you haven't seen what this bloke can do with a motorcycle in the air, go to nzherald.co.nz and have a look. It takes hours of practice and dedication to pull off the stunts Sherwood and his fellow competitors execute.

A lot of the time though, something will come to him when he's out riding with his friends or watching what they're doing.

"We feed off each other and sometimes I'll see someone do something and see a way to make it better and improve on it," he explains.

"You can get a whole new trick out of watching others."

He has got to the top of the heap on his own through sheer determination, a healthy dollop of talent - and a lot of time on the bike to make sure the muscle memory is highly tuned.

Various reports said he made $1.3 million for his win, so maybe you could call him a self-made millionaire. Or maybe not.

"I wish I could say that. I don't know how that got to be talked about, as it was quite misleading. It was a million dollar prize pool for the whole championship, not for the winner. It's been a bit of a laugh watching all the stuff on the news."

One good thing about the assumed amount of money Sherwood was supposed to have won is that it's brought his sport to a wider, mainstream audience, and that can't be all bad.

Until he hit the mainstream, Sherwood was as well known as anyone in extreme sports with his social media presence having tens of thousands of followers.

But he was not widely regarded as an elite athlete. Until now of course.

He's taking a bit of a break at the moment back home in New Zealand before he starts thinking about his international 2013 season.

"I'm looking forward to having a bit of a break. It's been a long season. I haven't got too much else on as I was concentrating on X-Fighters."

"I rode the Nitro Circus [which returns to New Zealand early next year] last time I was here but I'm not sure what's going on.

"I'd really like to do it again but I haven't heard back."

- NZ Herald

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