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Smith becomes world champion at age 9

Isabella Smith is proof that good things come in small packages.

But don’t let the soft-spoken 9-year-old fool you. When she is on the BMX track, it’s all business with a dash of fun thrown in. That competitive spirit paid off on May 12 as she was crowned world champion in her age division in Rockhill, S.C.

Even though she is just 9, she is a seasoned veteran in the sport of BMX racing, having first started at the ripe old age of 3.

“Our neighbors across the street did BMX and said we should try it out,” Isabella said as to how she got into the sport. “I thought about mountain biking but I really liked BMX. I really like being outside and meeting new people and riding on the different tracks.”

She got her start at the BMX track at Veterans’ Memorial Park. Her father Alex, a 2007 BCHS grad, was a successful motocross rider, so the apple didn’t fall far from the proverbial tree.

“She started racing locally at the age of 3 but at the national level, she started at 5 and that’s when we really started traveling,” said her mom Anabel, who graduated from BCHS in 2005. “At 6 is when she really took off. That year she was ranked No. 6 in the country and at 7 she was national champ and last year she was third in the nation.”

Isabella said a key to her success is, “For me to remember to believe in myself.”

It’s worked, as she continues to rack up the wins and trophies.

Isabella can be found training in Boulder City most weekends, where she said she’s met lots of new friends over the years.

“I like that it’s not a very long course,” the homeschooled, soon-to-be fourth grader said. “With the rhythm I can peddle and pump a lot because there’s lots of table tops.”

As her mom, Anabel said she had some mixed feelings when her daughter decided to get into BMX racing.

“It was fun,” she said. “My husband did dirt bikes and the whole family (they have two sons) rides bikes. “We tried to get her to do gymnastics and dance but her passion was bikes. All she wanted to do was be on her bike. Injuries can happen in anything you do. She broke her wrist one year. So don’t get me wrong, having her out there can be nerve-wracking. It can be a little scary but she enjoys it so much.”

The BMX race schedule lasts nearly the entire year, which has meant the Smith family is on the road a lot, traveling from one competition to another. This has included California, Tennessee, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, Texas and Florida. There’s a national race almost every week, Anabel said. While the team, Impact BMX coached by Makieva Hopson, does have some sponsorship, Anabel said they would always welcome more, adding, “It’s a very expensive sport.”

Next year will be the ultimate road trip, or air trip, as the case may be. In order to defend her world title, Isabella will have to compete in Denmark. As defending champ, she receives an automatic invitation to the world championships.

Speaking of the world championships, Anabel proudly showed a video of the race along with the excitement of the announcer. The finals consist of one lap around the track. Isabella was in the preferred inside lane (or gate) and next to her was the defending world champion, Remy Sessa. Each of the eight girls in the finals had to qualify in order to get there based on their finishes in three opening rounds and the semifinals.

“I was just ready to go,” Isabella said of that final race. “But we started freaking out because it started to rain.”

Once the championship race started, Isabella quickly found herself in seventh place but regained her composure, took the lead and never looked back.

“Around the second corner, she (Sessa) tried to go inside of me but I shut the door on her,” she said with a big grin. “I went and I went and I went and when I crossed the finish line, I was just so happy.”

“She started crying,” Anabel said. “She worked so hard for this. For us (she and her husband) it was a rollercoaster of emotions. While Isabella’s gate (start) was the best one she had, Remi’s was much better so we were nervous. When she finished, we just started screaming. She definitely pedaled her heart out because she made it to that first turn in first place. That’s the thing about BMX, if you can get to that first turn in first, your chances of winning are about 99%.”

Even though she’s just 9, the five-time defending state champ and now world champion has her sights set on something even bigger.

“I want to be in the Olympics,” she said, noting that her idol is Olympic champion Elise Willoughby. “That’s my goal.”

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