Sitting under a blistering sun Saturday at Main Street Square in Rapid City, Ryan McFarland watched an international gathering of toddlers racing pedal-less bikes, smiles on their faces, as the booming voice of a PA announcer called the action.
As he surveyed the scene, he reflected on how lucky he was that his son, Bodie, enjoyed the homemade bike he had built in a garage nearly a decade ago.
McFarland founded Strider Sports in 2007, one year after he made a no-pedal balance bicycle in his garage for his then 2-year-old.
That initial bicycle has resulted in 275 participants descending on the 2015 Strider World Championships this weekend at Main Street Square. The event is the annual culmination of qualifying races from around the world. The race attracted participants from six countries — China, Japan, Canada, Ecuador, Slovakia and the United States.
McFarland still thinks it's unreal that what started as a project in his garage turned into a business with international distribution that sold its millionth bike this year.
"He loved that little bike and rode it all the time. So many people who saw it were interested, so that's why I decided to start the company," McFarland said. "But if he was uninterested in bikes, I never would have seen its potential and this wouldn't even exist."
Rapid City's Alexia Henderson is one of the youngsters who has benefited from its existence.
And she was ready to ride Saturday.
The 4-year-old was sitting atop a red Strider bicycle and was focused on the race ahead, clad in a pink racing jersey with 'Team Strider' printed on the back and a bedazzled pink skirt, sky blue sneakers, pink sunglasses and a deep blue helmet. The look of focus on her face was unmistakable.
Henderson wasn't thinking about the size of the event or the number of racers, though. She had one thought on her mind.
"I want to go fast," she said, after the heats were over.
Main Street Square was transformed into an raceway on Saturday thanks to a combination of traffic cones, caution tape and ramps. More than a 1,000 people braved the 95-degree temperatures to come out to support the racers and enjoy the event.
There were races for 2-, 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds, as well as a race for individuals with special needs.
Aside from the United States, Japan was easily the most well represented country at the event, as 13 racers made that trip across the Pacific Ocean to compete.
Yuki Yamoto, a representative from Strider Japan, said the bikes have become extremely popular in his home country for the same reason they are popular in America.
"They give young kids more opportunities to go outside and enjoy spending time with their family," he said.
The racers who did come from Japan had an outstanding showing, taking first in three out of the four age groups. Waku Kunitate came in first among 3-year-olds, Raisei Miyashita won the 4-year-old division and Ryochi Nakayama won the 5-year-old division. Rapid City's Ryan Hauf took first place in the 2-year-old race.
Five heats were run for individuals with special needs. The winners of those heats were Timothy Hathaway, Jeffrey Fuller, Blaze Johnson, Grady Leonard and David Drolc.
Drolc, an 8-year-old who was diagnosed with Down syndrome, said his favorite part about the races was "the chance to go really fast and win a trophy."
His mother, Mona Drolc, said that the Strider bicycles are great for individuals with special needs.
"Strider bikes allow special needs individuals to realize they can do something just like everyone else," she said of her son, who is now able to ride on a pedal bike, a rarity among individuals with Down syndrome. "It boosts confidence and builds social skills."