Wheels to reels

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Lane McCall, 86th Communications Squadron client systems technician, grew up in Lowell, Arkansas. As a child, McCall raced motocross competing against individuals who are now professionals in the sport. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Devin Boyer)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Lane McCall, 86th Communications Squadron client systems technician, grew up in Lowell, Arkansas. As a child, McCall raced motocross competing against individuals who are now professionals in the sport. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Devin Boyer)

Lane McCall races motocross in his youth. McCall is now a Senior Airman in the U.S. Air Force working as a client systems technician for the 86th Communications Squadron. (Courtesy photo)

Lane McCall races motocross in his youth. McCall is now a Senior Airman in the U.S. Air Force working as a client systems technician for the 86th Communications Squadron. (Courtesy photo)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- A swarm of motorized bikes buzzed like bees as they traversed the terrain. Tires dug into the track, flinging mud behind them. A young boy determined to beat the clock was then confronted by a ten foot roller, a speed deterrent not meant to be jumped. As he climbed the mountainous dirt pile, a competitor collided with him mid-air, catapulting him off the roller.

“It was one of those days where it was real nasty outside,” said Lane McCall, recalling the event. “It was foggy, little bit of mud on the track – normal conditions for motocross. But it was really depressing weather, and my dad was really pushing me to my limits trying to see what he could get out of me before the Oklahoma state race.”

As the boy plummeted down to the mud, his defensive instincts grabbed hold of him.

“I stuck my arm out to stop myself,” he said. “It just snapped.”

THE ROOTS

McCall grew up in Lowell, Arkansas, a small town nestled in the Ozark Mountains. Racing motocross was a normal thing for McCall and his family; and as he put it, “Motocross consumed our lives.”

“My dad grew up racing local races,” said McCall. “He never was inspired to go bigger and beyond that. He said that he didn’t really have the opportunity to take it to a higher level.”

McCall’s dad wanted more for his kids.

“He definitely influenced me when I was growing up,” said McCall. “He took me to the local arenacross races where I got to watch one of my all-time favorite riders. I just ate it up.”

The young rider aspired to be a successful motocross athlete. As a kid, he raced individuals who are now well known in the extreme sports society.

“One of my most notable achievements was a national race,” said McCall. “There are nationals that happen around the U.S. where they rank up kids in each class. They see how they compete against each other, and they battle to see who the best is. I was in the 50cc expert class and I got fourth. I beat Zach Bell who is currently racing the [American Motorcyclist Association] pro circuit.”

Unfortunately, McCall’s racing days came to a temporary halt after the wreck.

“It put me in a gnarly concussed state. I didn’t wake up for almost two hours. I went to the hospital and they started realigning the bones. That’s when I came back to my senses. My parents said that my eyes were open, but I didn’t speak or move.”

The 12-year-old aspiring racer knew the risks associated with motocross, but that never stopped him. However, this injury inevitably set him back.

“I’ve had injuries before. It didn’t really phase me long term, but that was the moment where I thought, ‘Let’s take a little break. Let’s take a breather.’ I was being pushed too hard; I was racing motocross once or twice a week, practicing two or three times a week, and since I was about five years old, that’s all my life was.”

His focus became his downfall.

“I had that grit – the desire to win,” McCall said. “I believe it was that incident that set me back, and I never quite fully recovered.”

Looking back at what could have been, McCall sometimes feels remorse for leaving his competitive motocross days behind.

“That’s something I constantly think about. It kills me on the inside. Sometimes I get a little emotional looking back at how good I was and where I would be now if I kept going. My dad pushed me to be the best because he knew I could be. Regardless of what did or did not happen, those were still some of the best years of my life and it has turned me into the unique person I am today.”

A NEW CALLING

While in his hometown, McCall noticed what appeared to be construction of a motocross track forming next to a soccer field.

Upon investigating the track, a bystander approached him and said, “What’s up dude? My name is James Stevenson. You ever heard of BMX dude?”

After a short chuckle, McCall said that he thought Bicycle Motocross was a silly sport. The stranger proceeded to show McCall his bike.

“I still remember. He had a Kuwahara Laserlite, an import bike from Japan. It was about a $2000 racing bike with carbon fiber components and an aluminum alloy frame, really wicked looking. He let me ride it, and then I just kind of fell in love.”

The simple gesture from McCall’s new acquaintance sparked an interest in him.

“Before I knew it, I was helping him build the track and shaping jumps,” mentioned McCall. “Six months later, the track was built.”

McCall expected BMX to be a lot like motocross. He soon discovered that is not the case.

“My very first race there was only maybe 20 riders total, and I went out there and got my butt kicked,” said McCall, laughing as he recalled the moment. “The fitness that the sport takes is unreal. That’s 45 seconds of everything you’ve got and no mistakes. That inspired me.”

Soon McCall gained traction in the sport leading him to victories in local races. He even won a state championship in Arkansas. Afterwards, McCall entered the 14-year-old novice category for the 2009 USA BMX Grand Nationals, the largest BMX race in the world hosted in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“I was going up those jumps in practice and I told my dad, ‘I don’t think I can do this, this is a totally different level,’ and my dad just reminded me, ‘son, you decided to do BMX so you might as well be the best.’ Sure enough, I went out there, gave it all I had, made it to the main event, and I end up winning it.”

He continued racing in BMX which led him to an opportunity of a lifetime.

“There’s a program where kids between the ages of 14 and 16 who were becoming experts in their division got invited to go out to Chula Vista California to train as Olympians for the upcoming Summer Olympics in 2016,” said McCall.

The Olympic program was seeking riders of McCall’s caliber. He then began a rigorous training regimen to prepare for the program.

“I was working around the clock,” he said. “I was BMXing and working out all the time. I had a personal trainer that took me to the gym every other day, and the days I wasn’t at the gym, I was doing sprints down the street. That was easily the most physically fit my body has ever been.”

His dreams would soon become reality.

That was until the incident.

“I had some people at the track that were watching me. I got a little cocky and decided to show off after a race, and I hit this big triple that I’ve jumped plenty of times, but this time I decided to land in a manual, which is a wheelie. My bike shot out from under me and I couldn’t unclip with my clip-pedals. It rolled my right leg the complete opposite direction.”

McCall was rushed to the hospital.

“I broke it in six different places; I had to have multiple surgeries with rods and screws. It totally crushed my dreams. It took almost an entire year to recover. It took five months just to walk again.”


Despite his injury, McCall hopped back on his bike eight months later to take on the Grand Nationals again.

“If I wanted to keep my sponsors, I had to make an appearance there,” he said.

He finished in second place even though he had not fully recovered from his wreck. McCall continued to win races after recovering from his break. Still, McCall recognized a missed opportunity.

“At that point I was already too old to do the Junior Development Program.”

With his dreams held down in shackles, McCall realized his future may not be as clear as it was when he was a child, spinning tires around a dirt track. Albeit, that did not stop him from finding a new ambition.

LOOKING THROUGH A DIFFERENT LENS

Behind the massive curtain that was racing, McCall had a dormant passion growing within him.

“Since 2009, I’ve been behind a camera doing photography and video work, making short films, commercials – and I’ve always enjoyed it. I just never took it serious.”

When he started getting into videography, McCall would have his brother film him ride his bike. McCall would then edit the video clips.

“I would make really terrible edits,” he said with a laugh. “They were awful. My family could barely stand to watch them,”

He then looked for ways to get better. A television program in the Springdale district of Arkansas accepted McCall as a student. Trent Jones, an advisor, took him under his wing.

“He knew I didn’t have the camera equipment or editing software to make quality content, but he saw potential in me,” said McCall.

After an exchange, Jones asked McCall to put together a video about an upcoming race of his.

“It talked about behind the scenes – what goes on in a BMX and motocross racer’s mind. I wore my GoPro through all of it, and [Jones] loved it.”

Jones insisted on entering McCall’s short film to a film festival.

“So he sent it to a film festival called NFFTY, which stands for National Film Festival for Talented Youth. For any director 26 and under, this is the largest film festival in the world.”

To McCall’s surprise, the film festival accepted his video.

“[Jones] called me when I got home one day and I thought he got into a wreck or something because he was panting over the phone and I couldn’t understand him. He was like, ‘Dude, you got accepted into NFFTY. Bro, I’ve never had any of my students get accepted into this festival. You’re going to Seattle, Washington!’”

McCall flew to Seattle with Jones to attend the film festival. McCall arrived wearing a bright pink suit skater shoes while everyone else wore more sophisticated apparel. As he passed notable film directors in the crowd, Jones pointed them out in astonishment.

“I didn’t know who these guys were, I was never introduced to it,” said McCall.

Some of the filmmakers at the festival recognized McCall, asking him if he was the guy who made the BMX video. They then followed up with the remark, “I have never seen GoPro footage make it into a festival before.”

“At the time I never knew, but that was kind of a trashy remark. GoPros are kind of frowned upon at a film festival.”

McCall said he wore the GoPro because he wanted the viewers to ‘go along for the ride’ with him.

“Either way, I didn’t receive the most positive feedback until the movie was being watched. At the end of the video there was chatter and clapping, and I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing.”

After the viewing Jones told McCall that even though the competition had great footage, they lacked what McCall’s video had – a story.

“That’s how you’re going to win this,” said Jones to McCall on the last day of the film festival.

Jones was confident in McCall’s film and soon the results were in.

“Sure enough, at the judge’s panel, I didn’t win it,” said McCall. “The guy that had all of the cool camera movements won it.”

Following the judges results, the audience choice awards gave McCall one last glimmer of hope.

“The Action Sports category was the last thing of the night,” said McCall.

He then heard the announcer, “And for the Action Sports category…”

A moment of tension filled the air.

“…‘Shred It’ by Lane McCall!”

The surprised rookie filmmaker stood up and started to walk toward the stage when Jones looked at him and said, “Dude, fix your tie! Fix your tie!”

“I went up there, got my award, got my picture taken, and spoke in front of everyone,” said McCall still sounding surprised. “I didn’t expect it. I honestly thought my work was trash, but my advisor kept telling me that I told a story and that’s the important part.”

At that point in his life, McCall knew what he wanted to do as a profession.

“I’ll do BMX and motocross for fun, but I want to make film. I want to tell stories.”

THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL

McCall began looking into colleges for filmmaking. He said if he’s going to do it, he wants the best experience. After deciding on the University Of Southern California School Of Cinematic Arts, McCall questioned the financial feasibility.

“Even if I were to get a student loan, I’d be in debt for the rest of my life unless I really made it,” he said.

The school was going to cost him around $250,000. McCall searched for a way to get his education.

“I was looking for a career that offered a steady job that I could rely on, traveling options, and help with school. Bundle those three and you get the military.”

McCall went to an Air Force recruiter and began the process to enlist. Due to his previous injuries, he ran into some issues.

“The only way I could get in is if I did the Physical Aptitude and Stamina Test,” he said. ”So I had to do the [Special Operations] swimming, running, push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups test.”

To the recruiter’s disbelief, McCall passed the test and was pushed through to basic training.

Through the twists and turns in McCall’s life, he always had the drive to do things to the fullest of his ability even if it ended in an injury. McCall said that drive came from his childhood.

“I’m actually named after a famous bull rider called Lane Frost,” said McCall. “He was a world champion who actually died by a bull attack. In the movie 8 Seconds, there was a quote from his dad, Clyde Frost, who said, ‘If you’re going to do it, you might as well be the best, Lane.’ That’s been my motto throughout my life.”

McCall’s dad would echo this quote to him any time he faced a new endeavor. It stuck with him even when joining the Air Force.

“I came into an [information technology] job that I had zero prior experience doing. I knew the bare bone basic stuff of computers, and the Air Force threw me into this IT career field. I was a little hesitant to jump into it. I wouldn’t say, by any means, that I am the best client systems technician in the Air Force, but if there’s a job that needs to get done, I will find a way to get it done. If I’m going to be doing IT, I might as well be good at it.”

After serving his country as an Airman, McCall plans to go to USC to become a filmmaker.