Sofia Semon wasn’t so sure about signing up to take dance lessons like her older sister, but racing BMX bikes like her cousin in Las Vegas did look like fun.
“We were out there, and she said she wanted to ride his bike,” her stepfather, Shawn Cates, said.
One year later, Sofia spends her weekends racing. A few weeks ago, she competed in the state finals a few weeks ago in Wichita and will race at Nationals in Raytown, Mo. where she will be the fourth-highest qualifier for her age group.
“Racing is my favorite subject out of the whole world,” Sofia said. “I like it because you get to race against people. You get to wear a certain suit and a certain helmet and you get trophies. And sometimes it’s not good if you crash, but it’s still fun.”
Sofia said she sometimes crashed when she first began racing.
“When I first started I think I fell because I hit somebody’s tire and my foot slipped,” the seven-year-old said.
The danger of falling remains. Although Sofia has some time under her biking belt, she concentrates on staying on her bike during races.
“I’m thinking I might fall down, but I never do,” she said. “And I’m thinking I’m going to win. I’m think no one’s going to pass me, and I’m going to be pedaling, pedaling, pedaling and I’m never stopping. That’s pretty much all I’m thinking about when I’m racing.”
It takes practice to qualify for big racing events, Sofia said. She and her family spend weekends at three different tracks in the area – in Topeka, Raytown, and in Independence, Mo. The tracks are sanctioned by the ABA.
“They open the tracks and the kids have an hour or two of practice time,” Cates said.
Then the track officials will run motives – or heats – where the racers earn points.
“Your points are what helps you qualify for things like state and nationals,” Cates said. “It sounds complex, but once you get into it, it’s not that complex.”
The sport is gaining in popularity. BMX racing is a staple of the X Games and is one of the newest sports in the Olympic Games, but Cates said the family has yet to meet another Gardner resident on the track.
Sofia said a lot of her friends ride bikes, but don’t race.
“A friend at school wants to do it, but I don’t know how to explain it to him,” she said.
BMX racers speed around a dirt track with hills, curves and jumps on non-motorized bikes. Their bikes are not motorized, but they are expensive, Cates said.
When Sofia started in competition, the family purchased a $400 bike used. She currently rides an $800 bike, but Cates estimates the family has spent more than $1,300 including riding gear and things like carbon pedals.
“There are lots of weird things,” Cates explained,
There’s also a lot of travel involved.
“We get to go to Wichita, Omaha, Las Vegas,” Sofia said.
Cates said many racers seek sponsorships from corporations to help with the cost of riding equipment and travel. Sofia does have one sponsor – her mom’s employer – Davenport Service Company in Olathe. And Cates said they’re looking for additional sponsors.
“That was one of the things when we got into this we didn’t realize the financial end of it,” Cates said.
Sofia said she loves it when people watch her ride.
“Sometimes my grandma and sometimes my mom and dad’s friends come watch me,” she said.
“When I win, they always tell everybody. I like it.”