Hard work pays off for BMX biker


From the first tail whip, students were hooked. They cheered, they clapped, they laughed as Matt Wilhelm performed his BMX bike show Wednesday at Northern Lights Elementary School.

"It was, like, amazing," said fifth grader Orien Rogers, one of two students called up to learn a bike trick with help from Wilhelm.

The tricks, many of which were showcased when Wilhelm competed in America's Got Talent in 2011, were impressive. Students gave two thumbs up to the spiderman, time machine and tornado spin.

Fifth grader Odin Maudal visits Superior's skatepark to work on bike and skateboard tricks.

"He's a lot better than me, but I want to try to be able to do that," Maudal said.

Wilhelm wove his personal story through the presentation.

As a child in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pajamas, Wilhelm dreamed of competing in the X Games. Perseverance took him from a last place finish at the X Games to two national titles, three X Game medals, a season on America's Got Talent and a spot in the Guinness World Record book.

He's even eaten nachos with Tony Hawk.

"He talked about hard work paying off and never giving up, which is right up there on the Spartan banner, the Superior banner," said Kristopher Leopold, physical education teacher at Northern Lights. "The kids need to know that he was last, and he kept on trucking. I like it. He's a good guy."

Students said their biggest take-away from the program was "Never give up."

Wilhelm also talked about being bullied and called names like "Ears" while growing up in Chicago. One day a boy on a bike stood up to the bullies who were picking on Wilhelm. He urged students to be everyday superheroes like that boy, Glenn.

"I don't care what you say, so long as you speak up," Wilhelm said. "Your words are power."

The presentation left a positive vibe at the school.

"I think his message was so applicable to the problems we have with children today with the bullying, and he kept the kids' attention the whole time," said second grade teacher Sharon Shae. "Lots of fun."

The BMX biker visited both Northern Lights and Bryant Elementary schools this week, a reward to students for a job well done during their PTA and PTO fundraisers.

"We always choose this option that all the kids can enjoy," said Bryant Principal Kate Tesch, instead of individual prizes for top sellers.

This is the second time Wilhelm has visited Bryant.

"He has a nice message about working hard and being kind to others," Tesch said. "He wraps it up with a lot of tricks. He does a really nice job."

The money raised by the Bryant PTO and Northern Lights PTA is sent right back into the classrooms to pay for field trips, supplies and more.

"We plan free family events like the Fall Festival, the Spring Carnival, the Christmas Shop," said Karen LaBare, fundraising chairwoman for the Northern Lights PTA. "We get free yearbooks for every student and staff member."

Although he's known for his athletics, Wilhelm stressed the importance of school.

Hard work honed the Chicago native's saxophone playing, which the neighbors used to complain about, into a talent. He received a music scholarship to attend college and graduated with honors.

And he's made his dreams come true.

"My mom can't believe I ride a bike for a living," Wilhelm said.