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An extreme turnaround for this man

Listen up you parents, teachers and assorted authority figures who think the so-called "extreme" sports are corrupting American youth: Troy McMurray has a story to tell.

Fifteen years ago, McMurray was just another punk running wild in the ghettos of Denver's East Side. He bounced from shelter to foster home headed nowhere but jail.

"My friends were all in gangs _ Bloods and Crips _ and we did whatever we wanted, steal cars, break into businesses, burglarize homes," the 27-year-old professional bicycle stunt rider said.

"We had nothing. If we wanted something we took it. So what if you got picked up and sent to the juvenile hall for a week, at least you ate."

McMurray never had been big on school, but then one day his grandfather made him a deal: go to class and he would buy him a bike. McMurray had played all the team sports, but the idea of an individual activity at which he could excel appealed to him. For the first time in his life, he saw a light at the end of the tunnel.

Later, in an alternative school for troubled youths, McMurray met a counselor who helped channel his energy in a positive direction. She took him into her home, became his foster mother and taught him that it was all right to dream.

"When I was 18 I moved out and went to Davenport, Iowa, because they had a skate park there where I could ride," McMurray said.

Before long, he opened a construction business. He made ends meet, but never lost sight of his dream. Then one day he handed his partner his tools.

"I told them he could do what he wanted," McMurray said. "I was going to ride."

McMurray started competing and he started winning. Then came the sponsors. Eventually he made enough money to move to "Surf City," Huntington Beach, Calif.

"Considering where I came from, I couldn't believe it," he said. "Me, living near the beach with my dog, what a life."

It didn't take long for people to notice he had a unique style since he is the only competitor on the street course who rides on a bike that has no brakes.

"People act like I'm crazy," he said. "But I have a brake. It's just not on my bike; it is on my foot."

McMurray has his own signature bike, the War Pig model manufactured by S&M bikes. "It is named after a Black Sabbath song," he said. "I'm a fan of their music."

He admits, however, he doesn't own a compact disc. He usually listens to whatever is on. But when it is his turn to hit the street course, he often requests a Lionel Richie song. "I usually play Easy," he said. "Black Sabbath, Lionel Richie it's all music."

McMurray doesn't know how long he will be able to compete, but he figures he has plenty of time left.

"They say that an athlete doesn't hit his prime until his 30s," he said. "Look at Joe Montana and John Elway. They both played the best at the end of their careers."

But he knows he's living on borrowed time.

"One day you are high on the hog, the next you are out of luck," he said. "All it takes is one accident."

Then what do you do for a job?

"This isn't a job. If it was, I probably wouldn't be able to do it anymore. No, riding bikes this is my life."

McMurray likes the travel, the money and the celebrity that comes with being among the best. Every once in a while, however, something happens to make it all worthwhile.

"This 17-year-old kid came up to me recently and said he had a similar background as me. He said he just wanted to thank me for giving him hope."

It was the same gift his foster mother Jamie had given him a decade earlier.

So McMurray has message for the youth of America.

"Follow your dreams," he said, "Cause trouble, raise hell, live your life. You can't make everybody happy, so you might as well make yourself happy."

And if that dream seems too hard to reach: "Then make it follow you," he said.