GREENFIELD — Sam Kessler isn’t like most kids his age.
The 12-year-old sixth-grader at Maxwell Intermediate School doesn’t necessarily care for throwing a baseball or shooting hoops in the backyard. Instead, Kessler prefers to live life on two wheels and takes the path less traveled — all on his BMX bike.
In just two years, Kessler has transformed from rookie-rider to one of the top bikers in his class, not to mention the entire state. At the BMX Indiana State race in September, Kessler finished fourth in his age group and 38th overall (all classes) out of nearly 400 riders in Indiana.
It wasn’t so easy at first
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His father, James Kessler, noticed almost two years ago that his son was different. He did not care for teams sports. He thrived performing individual tasks. So one day, Kessler, who had a friend in high school who raced BMX bikes, decided to take his son to a track.
After arriving, Sam rode for three hours straight. It was love at first sight.
“It was scary (at first),” Sam said, who currently races in the beginning novice class, said. “It was pretty hard going up the jumps. First time going down, I hit a jump and my feet came off the pedals. I ran into a hay bail.
“I fell in love with it.”
Added his father, “It was 100 degrees outside that day. He just kept riding and riding.”
Something about that bike
It’s not that Kessler despises baseball or other sports. In fact, he follows the Chicago Cubs religiously on Instagram, tracking all of the team’s recent transactions. His favorite athlete is National League Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant.
However, he would rather stick to racing.
In Indiana, according to his father, there are eight dirt tracks the family visits multiple times per year. It’s a big time family sport and actually allows James to participate, as well. Although, the younger Kessler is the reason they compete.
“They are dirt courses with multiple jumps and turns,” James Kessler said. “They have a start gate that is about 18 feet in the air. You line up eight deep, and they get their momentum from the 18-foot drop. Some of the bigger guys jump six to 12 feet.
“It’s something where you can be with your son while participating. It’s not about winning, but it’s about him becoming better as a rider.”
Kessler’s wife, Heather, and daughter, Zoe, a freshman at Greenfield-Central, also travel with the family on weekend trips to various cities around the Midwest. He said they usually travel twice per month or around 25 times a year.
riding for the future
In the last year, Kessler hasn’t just shown up. He has made at least a dozen podium finishes (top 3), according to his father. And while riding, Kessler’s made several new friends that have been key in his development.
“Riders share a lot of information, and they add that into their repertoire,” Kessler’s father said. “They become complete riders.”
The quick success has led Sam to recently join his first BMX team. Race Inc., a BMX products manufacturer, asked him to be on its Race Development Team for 2016. He will get a new frame and jersey for future races at no cost.
During the week or when home on weekends off, just to stay sharp, Sam either rides up and down his street doing “sprints” or finds a gym on days with poor weather. During the winter, the family travels to indoor tracks in Ohio and up north near Chicago.
When asked, after all his experience over the last two years, if he prefers speed or air, Kessler replied, “Both.”
BMX classes include novice, intermediate, expert and professional, but the courses are generally the same. The pros, however, have steeper jumps. Each race has a level of importance, as well, which allows riders to rack up higher amounts of points in races with more participants.
Bikers are not required to attend every race, although, more races usually equals a higher national ranking.
More than anything, though, racing, like other sports, has taught Kessler valuable life lessons.
“It’s exciting to see the growth of him as he matures (from racing),” his father said. “Behavior wise, we’ve seen a lot of change.”
BMX racing can also get students a scholarship to college. Marian University in Indianapolis won the 2014 BMX Collegiate Championship, giving hope for young riders like Kessler that biking doesn’t have to stop anytime soon — because this 12-year-old is just getting started.
“I want to ride as long as I can,” he said.
School: Maxwell Intermediate School
Race Colors: Red, Yellow and Black
Team: Race, Inc.
Inspiration: Adam LZ, Pro Freestyle Rider
Favorite Food: Hamburgers
Favorite Snack: Cosmic Brownies
Favorite Video Game and Console: Call of Duty, Xbox 360
Favorite Athlete: Kris Bryant (Cubs)
Favorite Band: Def Leppard