Maxwell Dunne became an internet video legend shortly after his introduction to ice cross downhill.
It wasn’t necessarily because of something he did well, Dunne notes. In one of his first competitive trips down a sheet of ice filled with bumps and turns, he mistimed a jump and sailed through the air much farther than a rider is supposed to. But he landed on his skates – and without injury – and it wasn’t long before people started admiring the jump online.
“You’re supposed to lift your legs (just before a jump, to limit the amount of time spent in the air), and I didn’t,” Dunne recalled. “People couldn’t believe I landed that jump.”
In only about two years in the sport, Dunne, a Burnsville native, has become one of its top performers. He’s second in the Red Bull Crashed Ice overall standings after finishing seventh in the recent meet in St. Paul. He trails series leader and defending champion Cameron Naasz (a Lakeville native) with three races remaining, including one Saturday in La Sarre, Quebec.
He has yet to win a race but moved up the standings because of consistency. Earlier this season he had three consecutive second-place finishes. That doesn’t mean he races conservatively – Dunne also holds the record for fastest recorded speed, sailing down a track in Munich, Germany, at 82 kilometers an hour, or about 51 mph.
Dunne, 27, played hockey and competed in track and field at Burnsville High School. The hockey career helped him develop the skating skills necessary to thrive in ice cross downhill, but the track career helped him develop everything else. He was a two-time Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference champion in the decathlon, competing for the University of St. Thomas.
“You train different muscle groups when you train for the decathlon, and that’s helped me in (ice cross downhill),” Dunne said last week before leaving for his next meet in Canada. “In decathlon, you’re also out there by yourself without teammates to help, and that’s definitely something that transfers over.”
He wanted to try the sport when it was introduced to Minnesota in 2012 but couldn’t because he still was competing in college track and field. About two years ago he jumped in with both skates. He’s one of the sport’s busiest athletes; in 2015-16 he was one of just a few who competed in all 10 Crashed Ice and Riders Cup events.
“It’s reached the point where you have to train almost year-round to be successful,” he said, “but I think the biggest improvement I’ve made is in race strategy – where you can attack the course, where you can pass, what lines to take. Those are things you can learn only by racing.”
In addition to being one of Dunne’s rivals on the track, Naasz is one of his closest friends. They’re part of a Minnesota group of riders that train together in the off-season.
It helps to be self-reliant during competition, but the group approach helps during training. To Dunne, it makes perfect sense that the top two riders in the Crashed Ice overall standings live within a few miles of each other.
“There are a couple other guys in the top 10 in the U.S. who are from Minnesota,” he said. “And there are about five or 10 who get together to train at least once a week in addition to the training they do on their own. I think one of the hardest things to do would be training for this sport without somebody else to push you.”
When the ice cross downhill season is over, Dunne will return to his other job as a physical and health education teacher. Currently, he substitute teaches in districts 194 and 196. He also was pole vaulting coach for the Lakeville North High School track and field program last spring and runs a summer pole vaulting camp in Lakeville.
It’s still not easy to make money in the sport, and the ones who do have been successful at lining up sponsorships. Life has a way of changing priorities, too; Dunne will get married in September. But he said he doesn’t believe he’s come close to reaching his potential in ice cross downhill and still wants to see how far the sport can take him.
“Eventually the plan is to become a full-time teacher,” he said. “But we have a rider who recently retired, and he was competing at 40. If I could still do it at 30, I’d love to. If I stay healthy, I don’t see anything stopping me from doing that.”
Contact Mike Shaughnessy at [email protected]