PATTON TOWNSHIP — Jamie Bestwick has been upside down, sideways and every other way on a bike, often yards in the air, so he spoke from the heart.
“It’s really important to protect the most valuable asset you have, which is your head,” he said Tuesday to dozens of Gray’s Woods Elementary School students during a bike safety demonstration on the school playground.
Bestwick, who lives near the school, probably could have handled a presentation about bicycles by himself. He’s a BMX legend, a perennial champion and among the world’s best vert riders.
But at Gray’s Woods, he had a special assistant.
His son, Sam, a third-grader, helped impart bike safety tips by donning a helmet himself and wheeling around. Bestwick has made the presentation an annual tradition since Sam was in kindergarten.
“He’s super funny and great with the kids,” said second-grade teacher Tara Kauffman, who taught Sam last year.
Bestwick employed humor and clowning around to engage his audience, but his message couldn’t have been more serious.
At an impressionable age, children need to learn the importance of wearing a helmet and other protective gear, having parents or other adults inspect their bikes for loose parts, pumping up tires and checking brakes, he said.
“To have a head start at that, to be more cautious about being safe, is a great thing,” he said afterward.
He used himself as an example of why helmets matter.
“I’ve had so many accidents,” he said. “Because of helmets, I’m still here.”
Taking five seconds to put on a helmet can mean the difference between walking away from a crash and a serious, life-altering injury, he said, noting protection is well-worth any expense incurred.
“If you’re going to value your head, where would you start?” he said in private. “You can’t. It’s priceless.”
But in front of the children, he struck a lighter tone.
“The one thing this helmet will do is mess up your hair and you will have a bad hair day,” he said. “But it will protect your brain. It’s a good investment.”
Time and again, he drew on the Socratic method — drawing laughs in the process.
“Who likes to ride bikes and scooters with no shoes and socks?” he said.
A few hands shot up.
“Why?” Bestwick said, feigning disbelief.
Later, another question prompted a round of giggles.
“Who checks to see if their bike is safe?” he said as more hands appeared. “Who’s telling a lie right now?”
Third-graders Hannah Garlin, Zander Faust and Riley Kauffman said they learned that helmets and other precautions can protect them.
“Ask a parent if a bike is OK and to check it,” Zander said.
After promoting safe riding, Bestwick rewarded his listeners with a trick straight out of the kids-don’t-try-this-at-home department.
Everyone was waiting for it.
Each year, Bestwick has capped his appearance with jumping his BMX bike over teachers lying on the asphalt. Because of an injured calf muscle wrapped in a bandage, he arrived Tuesday with no plans to top last year’s record of five teachers.
He first joked that Sam was going to fill in for him.
Then Bestwick revealed that not all his showmanship occurs in the air.
“I shouldn’t be doing this,” he said, changing his mind and agreeing to do the trick after all. “But I also shouldn’t be riding BMX bikes at 42 years old.”
Tara Kauffman and fellow teacher Todd Roth volunteered to lie side by side. In the spirit of the day, Bestwick playfully pointed out his helmet.
“That’s the most important thing,” he said. “If your teachers get hurt, at least I’m wearing a helmet.”
Bestwick built up the anticipation, drawing gasps, by racing up to the prone teachers and either braking just short or swerving around at the last second.
“I just do that for fun,” he said after one fake.
Then he flew for real, zooming over nervous faces and sticking a clean landing. To prove it wasn’t a fluke, he added teacher Kyle Diveny and soared once more.
“A big round of applause for your teachers,” he said to the students.
Riley Kauffman said she liked Bestwick’s effort for her classmates, how he “jumped over the teachers, even though he had a boo-boo, and he tried his hardest.”
“I learned it’s always good to try something new,” she said. “Maybe even if it’s not as impressive, it’s better than nothing.”
Jumps aside, Bestwick tried to leave his audience wiser as well as entertained.
“Thank you for your time,” he said. “Go out and be safe.”
Chris Rosenblum can be reached at 231-4620. Follow him on Twitter @CRosenblumNews.