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Oldsmar resident aims for 2020 Olympics ... as a Peruvian

OLDSMAR

Andre LaCroix has had a busy summer. He graduated from East Lake High, has a girlfriend and social life to manage, and, oh yeah, went to Peru in July and won that country's national open BMX championship.

And if LaCroix has his way, he'll be even busier four years from now. As a citizen of both countries, he hopes to be competing for the Peruvian team in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

LaCroix, who trains at the Oldsmar BMX track in Canal Park, has consistently placed in the top 100 riders for USA BMX in his age group for the past five years. With the victory last month in the Peruvian National Championships, he hopes to be positioned to represent his mother's birth country in four years.

Not only is his mother, Patti, "incredibly proud that he is representing Peru,'' but it is also a feather in the cap for Oldsmar, his hometown whose affinity with BMX has grown right along with Andre. Last year, the city reopened the venue, first created in 2003, with a supercross track that includes a 24-foot high hill for elite riders. The redesigned track is one of only a handful of official USA BMX training tracks in the U.S.

Rick Hayes, a BMX rider and longtime Oldsmar volunteer, has watched LaCroix, 18, grow up at the track.

"We are proud of him,'' Hayes said. "I think the fact that he's been able to train here, where some of the fastest people race, has also served him well.''

While in Peru, the LaCroix family — Andre, Patti, Ken and Andre's sister, 16-year-old Iliana — was busy, touring different landmarks, including Machu Picchu as well as visiting family Patti hasn't seen since moving to the U.S. more than 30 years ago. However, the biggest thrill was seeing Andre race, Patti said.

"We were all so proud,'' Patti said. "As a mother, of course I get nervous for him, but this is his dream.''

According to his father, the first time LaCroix rode a two-wheeler without training wheels, he was 3.

"Andre started pedaling and didn't stop,'' Ken said. Later Ken took him to watch races at the Oldsmar track.

"The first time I saw guys flying in the air, I thought it was so cool, and I remember wanting to do it,'' Andre said.

Through elementary school, Patti and Ken encouraged Andre to sample different sports.

"Actually, I always rode the bike, but I also liked playing soccer too, but then around 10 or 11, I chose BMX,'' Andre said. "I knew it was my passion.''

Once in high school, La- Croix successfully found support through equipment sponsors, including Ssquared Bicycles of Palm Harbor.

"Not money sponsors but they really have helped with parts,'' said Ken, who holds the role of primary bike assembler at Andre's races.

And last year, through his family's urging, Andre began wearing the logo of the Oldsmar charity Second Basemen, a nonprofit designed to support breast cancer survivors, on his uniform.

"Racing has been a great way to teach Andre how to give back to the community,'' Ken said.

The idea to race for Peru began forming in Andre's mind as Oldsmar BMX's new supercross track drew more international riders. He began taking advantage of opportunities to race with athletes from places like Holland, Latvia and Germany when they were training at his home track.

"Being around them has taught me a lot and made me realize it was possible for me to do this,'' he said.

Last fall, he told his parents of his plan. Patti, a naturalized citizen, agreed to work on the required paperwork as Ken contacted the organizations affiliated with international racing.

"It took a lot of calls to different places, consulates, USA BMX and the UCI (International Cycling Union),'' Ken said.

"Peru definitely was interested,'' he said. "The country is kind of new to BMX as far as international racing goes, and they need good racers.''

Andre will officially begin competing as a Peruvian at the beginning of the year, competing throughout South America in the 2017 Latino Americana BMX, held in Argentina, Peru, Bolivia and Chile.

Until then, he plans to complete the USA BMX season, with his next event this month at the Kansas City Mid-America Nationals.

Before that, he hopes to catch as much of the Olympic BMX competition with his friends at BMX Oldsmar.

"Whenever it's possible, we'll set up big screens so everybody can watch it,'' said Hayes, who helps manage the track. "It'll be fun.''

And when LaCroix is facing a race, whether in Oldsmar or on the world's biggest stage?

"Right before I start, I pray, then I picture the perfect lap. I let it all go through my head, where I'm pedaling and every single jump,'' he said. "Honestly, it seems like it's 90 percent mental and 10 percent hard work. You really need to know you're the best.''

Contact Piper Castillo at pcastillo@tampabay.com. Follow @Florida_PBJC.

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