Owen Hicks cascaded down a hill, caught the rear wheel of his mountain bike on a log and hurtled over his handle bars.
He landed nearly 30 feet away — on his head — and spent the next two years in and out of a haze.
When his mind finally cleared, he had a beard.
An epic one.
Unlike any facial hair he had sprouted before, the rebellious growth cascaded from his chin in corkscrew-shaped puffs and propelled him into an unexpected life stage — competitive beard champion.
"It's like a lifestyle," he says.
People like Hicks are often called "beardos," the collective who grow out their whiskers for sport. They travel the country sculpting their beards into wacky designs like bicycles and beer can holders. They attract randoms in bars who want to touch their face. And they field silly questions about how they navigate a burger past the massive 'stache or how often they shampoo the hair on their chin.
Recently, hundreds of them walked through downtown Nashville to compete in the National Beard and Mustache Championships at the Ryman Auditorium. In the beard world, this is a big deal. And Hicks, who represented Nashville's beard club, won 2nd place in the Full Beard Garibaldi category (in 2015, he won the National Champion title in that category). Garibaldi, in case you are wondering, means a beard that is broad, full and round.)
Bearding is weird and wild, but for Hicks there's more to it.
It means breaking down stereotypes, dispelling assumptions about the type of person behind the beard. It's also about giving back. Most beard competitions raise money for charity.
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