X Games competition is intense enough on its own, but the heat is really on for Jono Schwan and Rachel Reinhard, two skaters from Colorado Springs, Colo. competing in Los Angeles this week as wildfires threaten their houses and communities back home.
"My family's home is right in the path of the fire and our area is next in line to be evacuated," says Schwan, a late addition to the Skateboard Big Air field. More than 100 homes near his neighborhood have burned, and his family is preparing to clear out this week while he's preparing to take on the MegaRamp. The fires, which have been only partially contained, have also temporarily sidetracked the Sk8-Strong project he spearheaded back home to build a new vert ramp in Colorado Springs. "It's weighing pretty heavy on my mind, but at the same time I know I need it to not be a distraction so I can focus on my skating here," he said.
Schwan, 15, has skated in the X Games' Vert Amateurs competition since 2009 and took bronze in 2010. He said the invitation to compete in Skateboard Big Air came as a surprise; he'll be among a sea of new faces in the event this year, including six other riders under the age of 17.
"Tuesday's practice was only the sixth time I've ever ridden on the MegaRamp, and I know it's going to take everything I've got to ride it safely," Schwan told ESPN.com. "I got the call to see if I'd be interested in competing in Skateboard Big Air and just decided to go for it. I flew out to Woodward and got as many days in as I could, and here I am."
Reinhard, a Women's Skateboard Street competitor since 2008, says her home is in less danger than Schwan's and that she's relieved to leave the fires behind for the week.
"It's been so hot in Colorado Springs and the whole city was choked with smoke when I left," Reinhard told ESPN.com. "I could see the flames from my house before I left, even though the fires were miles away, and it's definitely on my mind this week knowing that people I know back home are losing their homes and that my city is burning."
Reinhard just missed the podium in fourth place in her X Games debut in 2008 and finished seventh in 2011. Like Schwan, she's trying to concentrate on what she came here to do.
"It seems like all the girls have definitely gotten a lot better over the last couple years and even just since last year," she said after practicing on the X Games street course on Wednesday. "To win you're going to have to really take some risks, hitting all of the biggest features and just going for it. It's been a lot of fun getting some practice in today and trying to figure out my run for the competition. This one's going to be for my friends back home: I know how fortunate I am to be here right now."