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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."
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