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Olympic gold medalist Connor Fields visits Eagle County BMX track

First U.S. Olympic gold medalist in BMX has made full recovery from traumatic crash at Tokyo Games

2016 Olympic gold medalist Connor Fields runs a clinic at the Eagle County BMX track while film crews film a commercial for the Steadman Clinic.
Eagle County BMX/Courtesy photo

Connor Fields has cornered the inspiration market.

He’s the first American BMX Olympic gold medalist — enough said, right? There’s the comeback equity — his Rio Games title came just four months after an operation at the Steadman Clinic, one of three the three-time Olympian has had at the Vail clinic over his decorated 12-year career. Most importantly, he possesses a presence few world-famous athletes have: a transcendent but personable mien willing to kneel alongside the next generation with authenticity.

“He’s a figure,” said Eagle County BMX board member Christie Notewhere.



“All the kids know Connor Fields. He’s been number one, he’s been an Olympian,” Noteware continued before shifting, revealing the juxtaposition of Fields’ fame and dichotomous relatability.

“He’s really down-to-earth and he’s a good guy; he takes the time to look at each kid. When they’re standing in the gate, he says, ‘ok, tweak this, do this — and helps them.’”



Fields was in Eagle to run clinics for the Eagle BMX athletes Tuesday and Wednesday alongside a commercial shoot for the Steadman Clinic.

“It’s a very unique opportunity for them,” fellow board member Jen Schrader added.

“Our kids are really lucky. We’ve built a really positive relationship with Connor the past couple of years, and now we’re initiating that relationship with the Steadman Clinic as well.” 



Fields gave two 2-hour clinics each for 20 beginner/intermediate athletes and 20 expert level athletes, focusing on all aspects of BMX — starting gates, cornering, jumps, mental toughness and race strategy.

Schrader said her 14-year-old son, Axel, described Fields as the best clinician “because he actually pulls us aside and works with us one-on-one on various portions of the track.”

2016 Olympic gold medalist Connor Fields chats with an athlete at a clinic at the Eagle County BMX track on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Eagle County BMX/Courtesy photo

The importance of eliminating any wasted movement was the main takeaway for Tiegan Stiebel. “One thing I learned from Connor is not move your head up and down,” the 12-year-old said.

Calen White, 11, enjoyed Fields’ coaching style. “He focused on form more than speed,” White, who is hoping to make the mains at USA BMX Grand Nationals later this fall, said.

2016 Olympic gold medalist Connor Fields instructs athletes duringt a clinic at the Eagle County BMX track on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Eagle County BMX/Courtesy photo

“The coolest thing about having him at the track is that he’s a big role model. It’s just cool to see him here and helping out the kids and stuff,” Stiebel, who is shooting for a national age group (NAG) plate this year, added. 

Fundamentals are important — but secondary — to Fields at these clinics, of which he’s done eight to 10 around the country so far this year.

“Obviously I want to teach the riders new techniques and show them some new ways to ride and have them leave learning how to be a better racer — that’s one of the goals — but, one of my main goals is that everybody has fun and enjoys it,” he said.

2016 Olympic gold medalist Connor Fields instructs athletes during a clinic at the Eagle County BMX track on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Eagle County BMX/Courtesy photo

“If they leave saying they had fun and learned a couple things, then that’s a success in my eyes.”

The Las Vegas star enjoyed a respite from “sin city’s” 115-degree temps, but Eagle’s altitude was a shock to the system.

“They’re used to it but I’m certainly not,” he said, impressed at his pupils’ ability to jubilantly ride, albeit oxygen-deprived. “I was feeling the altitude and they weren’t — so I was impressed.”

A meet-and-greet with Fields before Eagle BMX’s Tuesday night races gave parents and kids a chance to meet the hero, who “autographed absolutely everything,” according to Schrader.

“No foreheads though,” she joked, adding the kids were ready to offer the personal advertising space against their parents’ wishes. For Fields, it’s a way to give back.

Athletes pose with Connor Fields at one of the two clinics the three-time Olympian hosted this week at the Eagle County BMX track.
Eagle County BMX/Courtesy photo

“It’s a cool feeling. I try to remember that at one point I was that kid,” he said on Thursday morning, a few hours after checking out the Boneyard and Pool and Ice mountain bike trails. 

“I remember how much it meant to me. I try to give back, be a positive influence and motivate and inspire the kids the way I was.”

Then he added, “The crazy thing now as I’ve gotten older is signing autographs for kids who are 10 years old and thinking I was racing pro before they were even born.”

Coming back to the valley

Fields finished seventh at his first Olympics in 2012. In 2016, he was operated on by Randy Viola at the Steadman Clinic just four months prior to the Rio Olympics.

“It was a cool success story for us to share,” he said in reference to the commercial and documentary being shot at the clinics. 

At the Tokyo Olympics last summer, the 29-year-old suffered what Dr. Jonathan Finnoff, the chief medical officer for the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee described to the New York Times as, “the worst injury of the Tokyo Games.” The traumatic brain injury from his crash in the finals wiped away his memory from several hours before the accident until about five days after.

“Yeah, it was definitely a gnarly injury,” Stiebel described when asked if he saw the icon’s accident.

“I’ve had injuries throughout my career; if you do anything for 20 years, you’re inevitably going to get some injuries,” Fields admitted.

“This one was a bit different — it wasn’t a broken bone or torn ligament. This was a traumatic injury with four brain bleeds and a concern for survival, which is like a completely different ballgame.”

He spent a week in the Tokyo hospital before flying back to Las Vegas for weeks of evaluation and therapy. Eventually, he ended up back at Steadman to have his shoulder operated on.

“I made a full recovery,” Fields said of his current status.

“All my testing and everything for my brain function came back as full. It had some deficits initially and was not operating at 100%, but I’ve made a full recovery.”

2016 Olympic gold medalist Connor Fields instructs athletes during a clinic at the Eagle County BMX track on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Eagle County BMX/Courtesy photo

While the takeaway for Fields from his most recent injury was “how fragile life can be,” a topic he didn’t bring up with his younger audience this week, he does see how BMX can teach youth resilience and perspective, the latter of which is “the hardest to pass onto kids.”

“When you’re a kid, every single race is the most important race, and if you lose, the sun’s not coming out tomorrow,” he described.

“As you get older, you start to learn that whether you win or lose, the sun’s still going to come out tomorrow. If you’re hurt and have to take some time off, the sports are not going anywhere.” 

“He genuinely cares about them as riders and as human beings — giving them advice whether that be skills or just the mental health, too,” said Schrader, who said the “baby steps” to get back on the track constitute a “major mind game,” and Connor is “living proof” of what is possible.

“We have some kids with injuries and just being able to talk to them and give them some positive reassurance that you come out better and stronger after your injury … Connor does that as well because he has a story — most of the kids know because they saw it on the big screen. We were all watching him,” Schrader said.

Fields added, “I remind kids that if you break your collarbone, you’re going to be out for 6-8 weeks, and they’re going to be slow and a bummer … but then you’re going to be back.”

Speaking of coming back, Fields is eager to continue visiting the track for future clinics.

“I’m definitely up for that,” he said, noting that he enjoyed his Thursday morning rides on the local trails.

“You don’t have to twist my arm to get me out here.” 

After over two decades of enjoying the sport, Fields hasn’t set his future plans in stone.

Athletes pose with Connor Fields at one of the two clinics the three-time Olympian hosted this week at the Eagle County BMX track.
Eagle County BMX/Courtesy photo

He’s unsure if he will compete again. “I turn 30 next month, so I’m still kind of undecided on that,” he said.

“I was already considering retirement after the most recent Games anyway. Really what it boils down to is if I want to come back and go out a different way or if it’s not worth the risk to do a few more.”

With a business degree from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, he’s contemplating motivational speaking, broadcasting and other ventures.

“I’ll always remain involved in the sport of BMX, whether that’s through riding schools, coaching or whatever that may be,” he said.

“I’m not really sure what I want to do when I grow up yet. We’ll have to figure that out.”

For area BMX enthusiasts, the hope is more visits to Eagle County are included in whatever plans he decides on.

“It was a surreal experience — the kids having an Olympian on the track with them,” Schrader said.

“It’s not all about the skill. He’s doing games, he’s making it interesting, challenging, pushing a lot of their comfort levels. It’s just a good space for these kids to be and the more kids we can get on dirt, the happier we are as a track.”

2016 Olympic gold medalist Connor Fields instructs athletes during a clinic at the Eagle County BMX track on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Eagle County BMX/Courtesy photo

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