Zack Frakes likes to win. A lot.
"I am a very competitive person," he said. "I just don't like to lose."
And as one of the top 12-year-old BMX riders around, losing isn't something with which Zack is very familiar. He captured the Grand Nationals in Louisville, Ky., in September, which placed him third overall in the country for the novice division in his age group.
"He thrives on the competition," the cyclist's father, Roger Frakes, said. "He lives for racing."
Zack, an eighth-grader at Randall Middle School, participated in a number of team sports as a youth, but none seemed to stick.
"I played all the normal sports," he said. "But racing was an individual sport, and I liked that right away."
Roger Frakes, who raced BMX bikes as a youth, could tell Zack wasn't taking to traditional, organized sports. He'd heard about a track called BMX USA Riverview, so Frakes brought Zack out to give it a try.
"As soon as I got on the track once, I was hooked," Zack said.
That's not to say Zack was a natural. The then-10-year-old took a few spills on his first day.
"I probably crashed like five times," he said. "It was tough, but I knew I wanted to keep doing it."
Zack kept practicing at the 54-acre facility, a complex that plans to add a BMX freestyle park and mountain bike trails. Zack practices on the main track, which is a series of bumpy straightaways with 180-degree turns at each end.
"It's a great facility for the boys to compete and practice," Roger Frakes said.
Zack quickly made a name for himself around the track, taking first in his division in the local qualifier this year. That advanced him to state competition in St. Cloud, where he again took first. Zack then moved on to the Southeast Regionals in Peachtree City, Ga., and another first-place finish landed him at Nationals in Louisville.
"It was fun to meet other people from around the country who like to race," he said.
Besides riding daily, Zack hones his starting form on his bike by practicing with a gate in his back yard and trains to improve his explosion by doing standing jumps onto picnic tables.
"I just want to keep working harder and harder and see where this takes me," he said.
Zack said the most difficult part of racing is maintaining mental focus on the track.
"You have to be committed, mentally, to each jump on the straightaways," he said. "You keep your speed and stay as low as possible, but you have to be focused to committing to the jumps."
BMX racing, which was a new addition to the Summer Olympics at the 2008 Games in Beijing, has been gaining popularity alongside the rise of other action sports throughout the past decade. Opportunities are also beginning to open up on the collegiate level for riders. Some schools, including Lindsey Wilson College in Kentucky, offer scholarships.
"I want to keep getting better and training," Zack said. "Hopefully I can keep building up my skill and one day qualify for the Olympics."
Brandon Wright can be reached at email@example.com.