DADE CITY — Motocross is a sport that requires a lot of personal and physical sacrifice to attain success. R.J. Hampshire has given plenty of both.
The former Fivay High School third baseman has been taking this extreme sport as seriously as a full-time job for the past year. He enrolled in virtual school as he prepares to graduate, gave up his baseball career and took on a four-day-a-week training regiment that has him riding his bike more than any other time in his life.
"I rode a lot when I was younger, but I took baseball pretty seriously too," Hampshire said. "Over the last year, though, I've quit baseball and I'm focusing on riding. I ride from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. almost every day and race on the weekends. I've had a lot of great support from my family, my mechanics and friends. That's been the key to my success this year."
The 17-year old has already suffered an extensive list of injuries, from broken wrists to a lacerated liver and punctured kidney. But despite all the pain, Hampshire continuously returns to the seat of his bike stronger than before.
"From ages 10-15, it seemed like he was hurt every year," R.J.'s father, Ricky Hampshire said. "After one crash at Dade City, he spent 17 days in the ICU. He's broken his femur and his collarbone, too. Most young guys in this sport slow down after they get hurt like that, but not R.J., he comes back faster each time. He's a tough kid."
Now the sacrifices are paying off. After winning the Amateur Championship at the Monster Cup in Las Vegas on Oct. 18, Hampshire is now a recognized name on the motocross circuit. That recognition can lead to dream sponsorships, professional status and the responsibility to train at the highest level, something that Hampshire relishes.
"I didn't expect to win at Monster Cup, but to go out there and do it front of 60,000 people was a great feeling," he said. "I'm flying out to California to do some testing and then I get my pro bikes from my new sponsor Amsoil Factory Connection Geico Honda.
"I've got the amateur nationals next year and after that I could make my pro debut, but right now I'm just happy to be making the most of this opportunity."
If he doesn't make his pro debut, Hampshire will prepare for the Loretta Lynn Amateur Motocross Championships in August and attempt to make the transition after that.
He is traveling to race with his new team at Geico Honda in the coming weeks and will keep busy in between trips with his usual regiment of races at Dade City Motocross. He's also working with a new coach, Timmy Ferry, which is helping the fundamentals of his riding immensely.
"I think the sky is the limit for this kid," Ferry said. "He really wants to learn and he wants to go fast. What's different about him is that when you ask him to do something new, he picks up on it really fast. With his work ethic and natural athletic ability, it's up to him how far he goes."
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For now, the Hudson native is just happy to be doing what he loves.
"It's been an unbelievable thing to have in my life," Hampshire said. "Every day I wake up with a smile on my face and I'm pumped to get on my dirt bike. I'm putting a lot of time in, I've got a good coach and my fitness is good, so there is no reason I shouldn't be winning championships."