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Skill, danger, injury? Just part of being a Nuclear Cowboy

| Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Performers in Nuclear Cowboyz do death-defying stunts in freestyle motocross.
Credit: Nuclear Cowboyz
Performers in Nuclear Cowboyz do death-defying stunts in freestyle motocross. Credit: Nuclear Cowboyz
Performers in Nuclear Cowboyz do death-defying stunts in freestyle motocross.
Credit: Nuclear Cowboyz
Performers in Nuclear Cowboyz do death-defying stunts in freestyle motocross. Credit: Nuclear Cowboyz
Brody Wilson
Nuclear Cowboyz
Brody Wilson Nuclear Cowboyz

The Nuclear Cowboyz aren't poised to detonate, and don't give off radiation.

They're mostly nice kids from normal middle-class families, who just happen to be able to turn off the parts of their brains that are supposed to say, “Hey, don't do that. That's dangerous. You could get hurt.”

Not everybody has that particular quirk, so being a Nuclear Cowboy is kind of a specialized field.

“When I started when I was 14, 15, I never thought about getting hurt, or crashing never crossed my mind at all,” says freestyle motocross rider and Nuclear Cowboy Brody Wilson. “Now, when I'm 27, yeah, I think about it more.”

So, that “avoid danger” part of your brain can grow as you get older, at least a little.

Still, Wilson is paid to thrill audiences with death-defying jumps. Plus, he really enjoys it. A broken wrist or two is just the cost of doing business.

“My worst (crash) was my wrists — I broke and dislocated both of them at different times,” says Wilson, whose Nuclear Cowboyz will be at the Consol Energy Center this weekend. “I was in casts for four months, five months off the bike. That sucks. It takes so long to rehab it.”

Freestyle motocross is a sport, and quite competitive at the top levels, which would include the X Games. Wilson rode in the 2010 X Games, and hopes to get invited back. The Nuclear Cowboyz is more of a show. It's kind of like the Ice Capades — but with fire.

There's a story about two rival post-apocalyptic biker gangs in a future Los Angeles, and a nefarious Cyborg Army. Plus, dancers, loud rock music and plenty of pyrotechnics.

Really, it's just an excuse for these riders to try their most difficult jumps and tricks, sometimes at the same time. Of course, those that require the most concentration tend to coincide with flaming fireballs and explosions going off all around you.

“All week at rehearsals, we go over the pyro — where they're going to be blowing up things and shooting flames,” Wilson says. “After the first few, you get used to it. You hit the jump and see a fireball and it startles you, at first. Then, you kind of don't even notice it anymore.”

This weekend at the Consol Energy Center, there will be plenty of teenage and preteen boys, thinking, “I can do that.” Their parents, equally amazed, will fervently hope that another fantasy/hobby/obsession gets moving, and quickly. “Anything else, really.”

A select few will say “Sure, go for it.” And perhaps another Brody Wilson, somewhere, will get started jumping off a backyard ramp.

Wilson's parents were more than sympathetic.

“They got me my first bike,” Wilson says. “I raced for five years, and my dad would take me to every race. My mom was (supportive), too — she just doesn't like to watch it as much. She gets nervous. My dad is always building ramps and jumps in the backyard. He has some construction equipment — a loader and bulldozer and dump truck.

“A new bike costs so much money, around $8,000, for a kid to try to get into it. Then you've got to find a ramp or build one. You've got to be pretty lucky. Then learn the tricks. To learn the flip, you have to have a foam pit. And they're still pretty rare.”

Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7901.

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