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Young Utah BMX racer is on a fast track to success

Published May 20, 2013 1:23 pm

South Jordan • The 13-year-old is first girl from Utah to claim national titles.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sophia Foresta set an ambitious goal for herself last year: The 13-year-old South Jordan resident aimed to be the best BMX rider in her age group in the country.

She did it — and more. Sophia also claimed the national overall top amateur girl's title for 2012, accumulating more points for wins against more competitors than any other female BMX racer in the nation. Sophia is the first female BMXer in Utah to claim both titles.

"You can't do anything to win it, you can just try to win every national, and that is all you can do," says Sophia.

In other words, be the best against all comers. Simple, right?

Yeah, if you're Sophia Foresta.

"It's racing," said Mike Kelly of Riverton, who has helped coach Sophia for the past three years. "There is nothing easy. What she did was a heck of an accomplishment."

Kelly and others who have watched Sophia train and race at local BMX tracks say they aren't surprised by Sophia's accomplishment. As a BMX racer, Sophia is fast and furious, with the focus and determination of a true competitor.

"It would have surprised me if she hadn't got it, she's that good," said Kelly. "She has a natural talent that I haven't seen even in boys. ... She is super gifted, and she works very hard."

And the best may be yet to come, they say.

Sophia hopped on her first BMX bike when she was 6-years-old, after watching her younger brother Joey race at Rad Canyon BMX, a Salt Lake County facility located in South Jordan.

"I remember watching how everybody was going so fast and everybody was having so much fun, and I loved riding my bike around the neighborhood, so I thought I would try it," Sophia says.

Yep, it was as fun as it looked.

BMX racers compete on a serpentine dirt track that includes banks, hills and jumps. There are up to eight racers on a track at a time; from start to finish, a race takes just 35 to 45 seconds.

"It's an all-out effort, a combination of strength, agility and skills," says Steve Spencer, sports marketing manager for GT Bicycles.

Sophia started out racing in the novice age group, which at younger ages includes girls and boys — mostly boys.

"They gave me quite a run for my money for quite a while, and then I began to catch up to them," she says.

Within a couple years, she had claimed eight wins and moved up to an all-girls expert class, which included Utah girls who were then the fastest in the country.

"When I started, there were probably more girls than there are now," Sophia says. "Now, everybody has gone to other sports, but we still have a good amount of girls."

There are currently about 50 Utah girls at all age levels competing in BMX.

Sophia tried other sports, too — track and gymnastics — before settling squarely on BMX racing.

"I just enjoyed BMX so much," she says. "It was so much fun to do something unique rather than something everybody hears about all the time."

When BMX was added as an Olympic sport, debuting in 2008 at the Beijing Games, that clinched it for Sophia.

"I've always wanted to be in the Olympics, [but] I didn't know what sport I wanted to go for," she says. "When BMX became a sport in the Olympics, that was one of the happiest times and it was super cool to know that would be my opportunity to go."

If she achieves that dream, Sophia won't be the first Olympic caliber BMX racer from Utah. Arielle Martin of Cedar Hills just missed a spot on Team USA in 2008 after crashing in the quarter finals of the World Championships in Taiwan. Martin, 28, made the team four years later; she was set to compete in London last summer, but she was severely injured in her final practice session at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif. The good news? Martin is back training, competing and placing in races.

Sophia won't be eligible to train as a junior development rider until she is 15; BMXers can turn pro at age 19 — the same age they are eligible to qualify for the Olympics.

"Everything is in place for her, and she is definitely good enough," said Kelly, who spent 12 years as a BMX racer before switching to downhill. "It is a few years away before she starts getting ready, but she's on the right track."

Meantime, Sophia continues to train with Kelly and his son Cody, a downhill mountain bike racer, on their backyard BMX track. She and her brother, who now races downhill and has won multiple national championships in his age group, workout four days a week; her routine includes lifting weights to build leg and upper body strength and aerobic fitness, in addition to practice sessions at Rad Canyon and on Kelly's track.

Sophia is "definitely the most committed racer we know as far as training, diet and preparedness," said Will Ridd, owner of Lake Town Bicycles in West Jordan and her first sponsor.

Spencer describes Sophia as a role model for younger girls — a dedicated racer and an amazing personality, the combination of traits GT looks for in team riders.

"It's not just [about] fast racers, but great kids, great families," he said. "She can go out, win a race, and all her competitors want to hang out with her."

Sophia is one of four Utahns on GT Bicycles' BMX Factory Team roster, which includes 10 other racers from around the world.

Sophia competes on a speed series 20-inch bike and is the first GT team rider to claim an amateur national title since 1999, according to the company.

"I love my bike because it's fast, it's super light and I have all the best parts on the market," Sophia says. "It is so comfortable, you don't feel like it is overpowering you. It is very smooth to ride."

The BMX season typically runs from May to the end of September. Sophia competes in about 20 races a year, including at least six nationally sanctioned races in order to qualify for title consideration. This year, she's already competed — and won — races in Nevada and Arizona. She'll compete at home June 7-9 when Rad Canyon BMX hosts the Great Salt Lake Nationals Pro Series.

What makes her so good?

"She has things you can't really learn," Spencer said. "It's instilled in her. She has a work ethic and determination you can't really teach."

Sophia doesn't hesitate when asked that same question.

"My gates," she says. "I practiced gates for two years straight and I perfected it. ... I have one of the best starts in the country, so that is one of my strong points, definitely."

brooke@sltrib.com