July 13, 2017 12:00AM
Many kids ride bicycles. Many kids take risks.
Darrell Pulliam always preferred to do both at the same time.
“I started riding bicycles at the age of six, and I was the daredevil of the neighborhood,” he said. “We would build plywood jumps in the alley by our house, and I would see how fast I could go and how far I could jump my bicycle.”
He may not have known it at the time, but those plywood jumps marked the beginning of a Hall of Fame BMX racing career.
“At the age of 12 I had saved enough money to buy my first BMX bicycle,” he said. “My cousin introduced me to the local BMX racing scene in McPherson, and I entered my first official bicycle race that same year. I earned a third place finish in that race, and from that point on, I was hooked on BMX racing.”
Pulliam, the interim executive director of the Kansas Polymer Research Center at Pittsburg State University, enjoyed a BMX career that took him to races across the country. And this weekend, that career leads him to Wichita, where he will be inducted into the Kansas BMX Hall of Fame.
“Between the ages of 12 and 22, most of my time was spent riding a BMX bike and going to races all over the country,” he said. “I always considered myself very fortunate to have the opportunity to get to do something that I loved and to travel around the country at a very young age and see and do things that I might not have been able to do if I had not started racing bicycles.
“To be part of an elite group of riders from Kansas that have now been inducted into the Hall of Fame really brings a sense of great accomplishment to me,” he said.
To mark the occasion, and to appeal to his thirst for a challenge, Pulliam decided to travel to Wichita for the ceremony on his favorite ride: his bike.
“For me, it’s really about the freedom that you feel when you’re out pedaling the bicycle, knowing that you’re the one that makes it move,” he said. “You want to go faster, then pedal harder, want to coast, then enjoy the ride. So when I found out about the Hall of Fame honor, I knew that riding my bike to Wichita would be the best way to celebrate.”
Pulliam, who retired from BMX racing in 1991, is not alone on his ride to Wichita. Joining him for the nearly 200-mile journey is his supervisor Shawn Naccarato, who serves as PSU’s Chief Strategy Officer. Naccarato heads the University Strategic Initiatives unit in which the KPRC is housed.
“Darrell is the consummate team player and has always been so dedicated to PSU,” Naccarato said. “He's been an integral part of our team and has been there for me through a lot of challenges. So when he asked me to join him on this journey, I couldn’t say no. I’m honored to be riding this trail with him.”
To prepare to “keep up” with Pulliam, who took up long-distance biking after his BMX career, Naccarato put himself through a crash course on long rides. He learned the hard way, he said, that it’s not as easy as it looks.
“There are life lessons to be learned in any endurance sport, and cycling is no different,” Naccarato said. “During one of the first long rides that Darrell and I did together, we stopped for a quick snack. He'd sat down to take a short breather and he motioned for me to lean in and said, ‘I have some important advice: slow your roll.’ This was sage wisdom for the long ride and life.”
Pulliam said it’s been an honor to share his passion for riding with a friend and "teach my boss a few things" about cycling.
“In the past, I've went on several multi-day journeys on the bicycle, but for Shawn this is a first,” Pulliam said. “I am very thankful that I get to experience this with him and help him do something that he has not been able to do before. To me it's really about stretching and pushing yourself to new heights.”
For Pulliam, reaching new heights means longer and longer rides.
“The longest distance that I have ever ridden in one day is 128 miles,” he said. “I am currently training for an event next year called the Dirty Kanza. It’s a nationally-recognized event held every year in Emporia. It’s a 200-mile, one-day ride through the Flint Hills in central Kansas.
“Riding 200 miles in one day sounds a little crazy,” he said, “and that’s what I love about it.”