Mia Niemi, 8, smiles from her Cobra 50 Senior dirt bike. Submitted photo.
TOWER — Mia Niemi’s favorite pastime is loud, muddy, and fast—and she loves it.
The 8-year-old from Tower has been motocross racing for three years and doesn’t plan on slowing down.
Mia explained the sport this way: “You ride a dirt bike, you hit jumps, and you race against other riders.”
Mia’s bike is a Cobra 50 Senior. That was meaningless to me until her mother, Nicole Sullivan, explained that Cobra is a manufacturer and “50” refers to the engine size.
Echo Valley Motocross Park in Brookston, located in southern St. Louis County, is Mia’s home track. She typically practices there on Saturdays and races on Sundays. At practices, Mia works on improving her speed and landing jumps. On race day, Mia aims to complete three laps as fast as she can.
Mia’s older brothers, 25 and 12 years old, have been racing since they were Mia’s age. Their father also had a dirt bike and still rides a motorcycle.
“They have a need for speed,” Nicole said. “You have to, to do this, and you have to be brave.”
Mia and her brothers have raced in Staples and Little Falls, Minnesota, and as far away as Missouri and Oklahoma.
“It was like a vacation for us, just to let them practice,” Nicole said of the trips south. “It was in the springtime, so we were able to go down there and let the kids ride before our season started.”
Before each race, Mia puts on special gear to protect her body from the bike and from falls. “We have boots so if you crash really hard you won’t twist your ankle really bad,” she explained. “We wear protective pads, so if we touch the pipe it won’t burn us.”
Riders also wear a jersey, a chest protector with a neck brace, a helmet, and goggles.
Nicole said the hole shot—the beginning of the race when the gate drops—is where Mia excels.
“One time I cleared my first jump, so I was really excited about that,” Mia recalled. She said the jumps—which are the same for 8-year-olds and adults—are her favorite part of racing.
The ruts in the track are the most challenging, though, especially those made by larger bikes. Mia has never been seriously injured, but bruises are common. At another race, the track was so muddy that Mia’s goggles were almost completely obscured.
Prizes include trophies (with a small dirt biker on top), medals, plaques, and T-shirts. Riders can choose which they’d like to take home.
Mia is not the only girl who races motocross, but her mother estimates that at least 90 percent of racers are boys. At some races, Mia is the only girl on the track.
“We love when she beats the boys,” Nicole said with a smile. “As they get older, it’s not as popular for girls to stay in it.”
Mia has made lots of friends at races, and although racing is what initially brings them together, they quickly find other common interests.
“It’s kind of like a community there,” Nicole said. “You get to be friends with people from all over.”
Mia finished 2nd grade this past spring at Parkview Elementary School in Virginia. She was the only motocross racer at school.
“She makes me very proud,” Nicole added.
Mia also enjoys playing with friends, camping, gymnastics, baseball, and softball. There are at least two other girls on Mia’s baseball team, and Mia said she simply likes both activities. She enjoys snowmobiling, but not completely. Her heart lies elsewhere.
“I play lots of sports, but dirt biking is my funnest.”
Tucker Nelson lives in Virginia with his wife, stepson, and cats. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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