Marine's weekend hobby more than just a high-flying lifestyle
By Lance Cpl. Edward R. Guevara Jr.
| | February 27, 2004
MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO, Calif. --
A bright sun illuminates the Southern California desert tracks, clouded by dirt flinging from the tires of a new Honda CRF450R motorcycle. Sunbeams glare off the chrome of the avid rider's helmet.
After about half an hour of soaring jumps and rough landings, the sweaty rider cruises up to his truck and steps off his top-of-the-line bike, less than two weeks old.
Staff Sgt. Shawn R. Stringham, senior drill instructor, Platoon 2145, Company H, uses motocross to clear his mind from recruit training and discovers a camaraderie within the sport that is similar to that found in the Marine Corps.
"Being (on the drill field) is like a deployment times four," said Stringham. "You can get wrapped up in this. It's your life."
He spends the majority of his time at work and has minimal free-time to ride.
Stringham and the Marines he rides with usually go to race tracks where they pay a flat fee to ride all day and sometimes into the night.
"We normally ride in El Cajon or wherever there is time to ride," he said.
A few drill instructors Stringham works with took him riding a year ago, after a little persuading.
The persuasion was necessary because his father would not let him ride when he was growing up.
Stringham was involved in an accident on a three-wheeled motorcycle when he was seven years old. The accident fractured his skull because he was not wearing a helmet.
"I wasn't wearing a helmet, so the only thing that saved my life was that there was a hospital across the street," Stringham said.
The injury required 210 stitches and left him with a visible scar on the back of his head, reaching from the junction of his head and neck to the platueau of his scalp just above his right ear, like a lightning bolt.
Despite Stringham's initial hesitance, his buddies were able to talk him into riding. The bike he started on belonged to Sgt. Ryan Knauer, senior drill instructor, Platoon 2151, Co. H.
"I got most of the guys into it," Knauer said. "He's big on safety because of his accident."
Stringham started off slow, learning the ropes on a flat desert route. After a couple of months, it was time to get his own bike.
"I started with a (four-wheeled motorcycle) and then moved up to a bike," he said. "Now I only ride bikes."
Stringham's newfound stress reliever has helped him see life outside of recruit training and his job as a drill instructor.
"It is kind of hard to see the box when you are inside it," he said. "Being here and all the hours puts everything in perspective."
Graduating his last recruits today, Stringham will now have more time to clear his mind on the tracks.
In comparison to the other Marines he rides with, Stringham has caught on quick and now reaches jumps of up to 12 feet high. His ability to learn from other riders has helped him achieve his abilities.
"I like learning new stuff," said Stringham. "When I go to the tracks, there are a lot of guys who are more experienced and will take the time to teach me new skills."
Likewise, as a senior drill instructor, Stringham trains drill instructors to handle aspects of training while he supervises. The skills he teaches them reflects his experience and the more confidence he has in what he has taught them, the more he trusts they can handle things while he is away, according to Stringham.
"I can't leave work without trusting my hats," he said. "When you go riding, you have to forget about everything going on in life. Once you're airborne, there is no going back -- especially when jumping doubles. It's an escape to get away from reality - it's kind of addicting."
Riders seem to have a bond that brings them together.
"Everyone who rides has a certain lifestyle," Stringham said. "It's about relaxing and having a good time, whether they're good or bad (at it).
Stringham's work on the drill field has improved because of his hobby, according to his fellow drill instructors.
"When he started riding, his work got better and he was less stressed," said Knauer. "We have a blast riding on breaks between training cycles and on a bad day we look forward to riding."
Stringham said he plans on riding until he can't physically do it anymore.
Unlike other Marines, who wouldn't be at home in the dirt and desert of bases such as Twentynine Palms, the 29-year-old infantryman would likely reap the benefits of the dirt to ride on.
Riding through California deserts and tracks started out as a hobby for Stringham in his free-time. He now hopes to make it a lifestyle wherever he may go.