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Flying high in Ethiopia

Local businessman and Metal Mulisha daredevil Justin Homan took his talents overseas on behalf of a Christian organization


by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Justin Homan gives a thumbs-up to the appreciative crowd at the Luis Palau Love Ethiopia Festival.

By day, Justin Homan sits quietly behind a desk at a title company.

Clean-cut and attired in business-appropriate clothing, he looks and acts like the responsible husband and father he is.

He’s a real family man.

By night, and on the weekends, he morphs into a two-wheeled daredevil, thrilling spectators with high-flying jumps, flips, and other freestyle motocross (FMX) tricks. He’s competed and won at such high-level competitions as the X-Games, and has been active with Metal Mulisha, a team of professional FMX performers.

It’s this obvious dichotomy that caused the Luis Palau Association, a Christian evangelistic organization based in Beaverton, Ore., to take notice.

“They care about the values,” said Homan, the general manager of Prineville’s AmeriTitle. “Just like any sport, there’s kind of stereotypes of people that don’t necessarily have the best character or do the right things. Of course, because they’re a Christian organization, they want good role models. So I think that kind of solidified my relationship with them. They found out the whole thing. I have a real job. I have kids. All those things that aren’t normal for a freestyle motocross guy.”

In mid-November, Homan returned from Ethiopia, where he headlined Palau’s evangelistic Love Ethiopia Festival. The 30,000 people in attendance at the two-day event were far more than he’d ever performed for, he said, and they were an enthusiastic bunch.

“These countries, they all affiliate with motorcycles because they ride them. Their families have them. That’s how they get around. They know what it is. People get excited.”

Homan said he’s performed for Palau for three or four years in up to five events each year — first in the Pacific Northwest, but now, almost exclusively on foreign soil. Along with Ethiopia, he’s been to Uganda, India, Thailand, and Malaysia. This coming July will find him in Jamaica.

The fact that Homan’s even agreeable to perform overseas is another reason he’s popular with Palau.

“There aren’t too many people willing or have the experience to go overseas,” he said. “It’s a safety issue. It’s simply the bike, the ramps, and the dirt,” Homan explained.

Professional FMX riders leave nothing to chance, and to be successful — and safe — the variables need to be constant from one venue to the next. Riders have to be intimately familiar with their bike, and it has to respond as expected, the same way every time. The ramps have to be built to exact specifications. They have to be of a specific height, a precise distance apart, and with a particular soil and density.

A rider needs to have complete confidence that every stunt will end with a safe landing.

However, even though a contract is written and the bike-ramp-dirt expectations are clearly stated, there are no such guarantees overseas.

For Homan in Ethiopia, the weak link was the bike.

He expected and was promised a familiar motorcycle — the same one he rode in Uganda a couple years ago. Furthermore, he was told it had been stored since then.

“Well, when we got it out of the crate, it had been used to the moon,” he said. The rounded tires indicated daily use, and someone had changed the gearing to allow for faster speeds. The brakes were worn out and the tailpipes were smashed.

Homan said he routinely brings tools along, and was able to fix the brakes — at least one of them. The gearing, though, couldn’t be fixed. That meant he had to stay in first gear — he normally rides in second.

In the end, his 25 years of experience allowed him to counter the mechanical issues with changes to the ramps. He also had to dial back his stunts to be safe — less height, a shorter distance, and less-impressive tricks.

“So I’m getting this bike, that for us (FMX riders), it’s like — say you race NASCAR, and someone hands you a Honda Civic, and expects you to perform.”

In Uganda, he said, it was the landing ramp that was problematic — it was only six feet high when it should have been 13.

“They had a huge loader that kept breaking. (They moved) 400 yards of dirt instead of 40.

“Even in the states, people don’t get how particular what we do is,” Homan said. “Everything’s got to work. If it doesn’t work right, usually you’re broken, or worse.”

And if you get broken in Ethiopia, he said, the medical treatment is different than in the United States. He said he crashed on one trick and “got scratched up pretty good.”

“I went to the ambulance, and all they knew how to do was to slap red iodine on you. That’s all they had in there.”

Homan said there are several reasons why he does what he does with the Palau organization.

“I want to do it for the cause of why they’re there, which is to spread Christianity and hope. When I have time, I try to go to the outreach programs, whether it’s (giving away) shoes or glasses.”

He also enjoys the challenge of successfully performing on sub-standard bikes with ill-constructed ramps.

“It’s not fun. It’s like the stressful piece. And I’ve said several times, of anybody I know that does this at my level, they’d say, ‘See you later. Here’s your bike back.’ I don’t know what it is about me. I like to overcome challenges, I like to prove people wrong. I want to do my job — that’s probably the biggest piece there.”

Another reason is the experience of being in a different land.

“Part of the adventure for me too, is learning another culture, seeing how it really is compared to how I was told it was, and seeing people for how they really are. Stereotypes, or things that you thought you knew, just get shattered. All of that stuff's enlightening and I come home a different person in a lot of cases.”

Homan’s adventures with the Luis Palau Association constitute a new chapter in the 40-year-old’s life.

“I’ve kind of gone beyond the X-Games,” he confided. “I don’t have that much drive, nor do I want to be at that level. For 13 years, I’ve done the West Coast, like 50-plus dates a year. I’ve got kids now.

“It’s one more place I never thought my dirt bike would take me, but it’s great to be there, and the experiences are new, which is what’s keeping it fun. It’s weird how things unfold, and constantly evolve. I never expected any of it.”



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