For a Bicycle Motorcross (BMX) racer, having a sponsor means free food, cheap gear and a built-in support system.
Nikolas Geerken, an East Lincoln Middle School student and rookie BMX racer, is pleased with these new perks.
â€œItâ€™s more fun now, because when I go to races I have friends and Iâ€™m not as alone as before,â€ he said.
Ever since Geerken began racing over a year ago, his goal was to get a sponsor. At a recent race held at Sims park in Gastonia, that dream came true.
Nikolas and his best friend, Sisto Fea, decided to enter an open race, which put them up against older racers.
They entered for the potential prize money, but after beating a 15-year-old racer, Nikolas walked away with a lot more.
John Schanewolf of Schanewolf Cycle Sports in Shelby offered Geerken a sponsorship.
â€œI was speechless,â€ said Nikolas. â€œHe said â€˜Howâ€™d you like to join the team?â€™ I just shook my head â€˜Yeah.â€™â€
With the new sponsorship, Nikolas is now on the same team as his best friend.
Because Nikolas is a rookie and Fea is an expert, the two donâ€™t compete much on the track. At home, however, itâ€™s a different story.
â€œWeâ€™re very competitive,â€ said Fea. â€œWhen Iâ€™m at his house, I give him a hard time. I push him all the way.â€
Fea was the first person to introduce Nikolas to BMX racing. Nikolas picked it up quick, but his family didnâ€™t expect the eight-hour practice sessions that followed.
â€œI thought it was just going to be a hobby,â€ said Kathryn Geerken, Nikolasâ€™ older sister.
Intead, Nikolas went to out-of-state races, pursued a sponsorship and now has dreams of competing in the Olympics.
â€œIf he continues to have that zest and he really wants to accomplish it and we support him, Iâ€™m sure heâ€™ll get there,â€ said Annie Geerken, Nikolasâ€™ mother.
The sponsorship should help. Nikolas now has a new bike instead of the second-hand one he used to race.
He also has a team of experienced racers willing to share their experience.
â€œIf theyâ€™re better than you, then they give you pointers,â€ said Nikolas. â€œThey make you better. They push you.â€
That camaraderie, however, disappears on the race track.
â€œWhen you get there youâ€™re all friends, but when youâ€™re in the gate ready to go, you canâ€™t be friends anymore,â€ said Sisto.
The races are also an intense time for family members watching. The tracks have 30-foot jumps and racers have been known to get injured.
â€œYouâ€™re holding your breath making sure he can get around the next turn,â€ said Kathryn.
Both Nikolas and Sisto arenâ€™t sure their peers understand the danger.
â€œMost people at my school think itâ€™s going around a paved track in all these Speedo clothes,â€ said Sisto.
Nikolasâ€™ mother, however, is all too aware of the rough and tumble nature of the sport. Even so, she and her husband back him 100 percent.
â€œWe just want him to be careful, if thatâ€™s possible,â€ she said.
by Sarah Grano