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GRIT - Liam and The Atherton Family

Updated: Nov 4, 2022

Throughout the BMX community, the bike skill of riders is known and shouted to the rooftops, but the trials and tribulations those racers and their families battle to overcome are lesser known. When the news of a young racer starting his day receiving his final treatment of chemo and concluding his day winning his moto at the Derby City Nationals boomed over the sound system, we knew we had to hear their story.

This is Liam Atherton’s fight to be #LiamStrong

Growing up as a BMX kid, starting at 4 and a half years old, Liam dove headfirst into the sport we all love. Being brought to the track without any clue what racing was, Liam progressed quickly to the expert ranks, followed by his younger brother Madden who did the same. The Atherton BMX Family was born at the legendary Derby City BMX, and they were there to help in any way they could. Will Atherton, Liam’s Dad, quickly offered his time to the track and has sat on the board of Derby City BMX for the past six years. As they began to travel around the Midwest and Southern regions of BMX, Liam and little brother Madden grew their love for bikes, landing their place on the Bluegrass BMX team and becoming two of the top riders in the area.

For any parent to see their child not be able to do what they love is heartbreaking, and that is exactly what happened to Liam after getting a crick in the neck after a family vacation,

“This went on for about a month, and it kinda stopped him from riding his bike. I have a buddy who’s a physical therapist, and he took a look at him, and then we got into a CT, got into MRI scans and all that stuff. Then they found a tumor on his C5.” Will explained, “It was pretty scary times, they didn’t know what it was, but thankfully it was not cancer.”

After testing, the Atherton family learned what was keeping Liam off the bike; a rare autoimmune disease called Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis (LCH). With the tumor caused by LCH being on Liam’s C5, surgery in July of 2021 added a pretty B.A. scar and some titanium parts to his racing engine. With surgery and 12 months of chemo treatments, Liam rocked through all parts of his recovery. On that final day of treatment, Friday, September 2nd, 2022, Liam was greeted by the nurses of the Novak Center for Children’s Health to ring the bell at the end of the hall. Just two hours later, Liam’s second round snapped out of the gate, and he was GONE.

Will Atherton explained, “What’s crazy is the first moto he races those same kids and was battling with them. The second moto, he blasted them; just out of nowhere, it was pretty cool. We had some family and friends down at the Bluegrass tent, and all the team moms got a poster made and had confetti cannons waiting for him…You just don’t know how much that weighs on you. It was a “what’s next, what’s next, what’s next” for so long, but when all that stuff goes off and that weight releases off you, I was just crying.”

Liam's goosebump creating lap // via Will Atherton

Will went on to explain the feelings he and his wife experienced seeing Liam cross the line and through their duties as track volunteers, having another kid racing that day, and everything else that goes on in a BMX parent's day, they both could have left happy right then and there.

Usually a kid that was one to show off and enjoy the spotlight, Liam's dad told us he was the quiet after that lap. Just taking in the excitement from those around him and appreciating the celebration they had planned. Liam was their hero that day, and transferring out of that second round wasn't the reason.

The goosebump-inducing moment showed us and the Atherton family what racing could do, not the accolades that come from being at the top of the sport but those single laps that make everything worth it. As a family who has always enjoyed riding their bikes, even before racing, Liam is back on his bike and enjoying riding again. From working on his manuals to helping his little brother and others at the track, the Atherton Family is planning on sticking around the sport for a long while and enjoying every second of it.

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