By BRADEN LAYER Daily News
Effingham Daily News
---- — TEUTOPOLIS -- It all started with a little Honda Z50 and a large imagination.
Katie Mette, then a wide-eyed three-year-old, wanted to do everything like her older brother Sam. So when she watched her older sibling design a makeshift course in the backyard to ride his new ATV, she only figured it was natural for her to tag along.
The two spent months designing and perfecting their course, then spent years racing around the area, never growing tired of the exhilarating sport.
“We used to ride around our house when we were little,” said Mette, now a 19-year-old student at Lake Land College. “I always followed him around. We grew up riding the trails, that’s all we would do, just ride all day long.”
At first it was done in fun, as Mette enjoyed the time spent with Sam and the thrill of the machine rushing her over hills and carving around tight corners. She also reveled in the chance to spend time with her father in the garage, tuning up bikes and learning about the mechanics.
Then Sam wanted to push the envelope as the years progressed, and he started entering local ATV motocross races and competitions around the area. To no surprise, Mette was close behind.
“When we went to the track, I would always get told that I was really fast for a girl,” she said.
With a brush of confidence, Mette tried her hand at a national race at age 16, competing in her first ATV MX National Motocross event. The series, which was formed in 1985, features the best riders around the United States, and frequently attracts riders from Canada and other countries.
But Mette had gone up against tough competition right in her own backyard for years, and pushed all nerves aside for a shocking showing in her first race on a much bigger stage.
“We went and did our first national and I took third,” she said. “I kind of realized we could run with the faster racers out there.”
Many races and one national championship later, Mette is a fixture on the ATV Motocross circuit. Split into three classes from A-C, Mette won the women’s “C” class title on the tour in 2011, and followed that up with a third-place finish in the top class for women in 2012.
What started as a shared bond between two siblings has grown into a lifestyle for Mette. She said that the best part of the series, which has taken her all around the midwest and East Coast, has been those that she has met along the way.
“It’s been awesome to see all kinds of stuff, I have so many friends from different states all over the country,” she said. “We’ve traveled everywhere from New York to Alabama to Michigan, we go down to Georgia in the winter to train. I even have friends in Canada and other countries.”
It’s this extended kinship that keeps Mette coming back to the races, excited each March as a new season rolls around. Until August, almost every other weekend is spent with her competitors, who may be rivals on race day, but are companions every minute not spent on the track.
Pauline Mette, Katie’s mother, said there is a undeniable connection among not only the racers, but their parents as well.
“It’s almost like a family that you’re going home to see when you go back in March,” she said. “It’s kind of fun because you get to meet the other racers’ parents, I like it when we start again.”
That’s not saying that there isn’t a moment of hesitation each time Mette takes a nasty spill or gets a little too much air on a jump.
“When she’s out on the track it’s nerve-racking,” Pauline said. “I’m a nervous wreck.”
For the most part, Mette has managed to avoid any significant injury, at worst suffering a fractured wrist. She will look to keep this clean bill of health in 2013 as she begins another season with the ATVMX National Motocross Racing Series. To get there, Mette put in serious hours at the gym this winter to stay strong and fit in a sport that requires lengthy preparation.
“It takes a lot more endurance than what people realize,” she said. “You have to control a 300-pound machine beneath you. It’s a lot of training, running and lifting weights to get into shape.”
The hard work paid off in the past, and appears to be paying dividends yet again this season. In the first race of the year, held on March 23 at Aonia Pass Motocross in Washington, Ga., Mette breezed to an opening-round win in the women’s top class. She also entered the class “B” race, featuring mostly all males, finishing 12th.
Having spent endless hours racing against her older brother, Mette hopes to challenge for the top spot battling the opposite gender.
“Our speed is up there,” she said. “Our lap times are right up there with the leaders, so I definitely think we can.”
Currently juggling her college studies with the rigors of traveling around the country for races, Mette knows that she will one day have to retire the bike. She is enrolled in the nursing program at Lake Land with a bright future ahead, but she’s not ready to hang it up quite yet.
“We will take it one year at a time and see where it takes us, how far it goes,” she said. “I don’t know.”
For now, Mette is quite content going to classes during the day and honing her craft at night. Though her family may have grown exponentially during the past few years on the circuit, it can never top the close bond she’s enjoyed with her brother on the track and her dad in the garage.
“Her dad always asks, ‘How many 19-year-olds spend as many hours with their dad as she does with me?’” Pauline said. “It has bonded the two of them.”
Katie and the rest of the Mette family will travel to Tennessee next weekend for the second race in the series at Blountville.
Braden Layer can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or at firstname.lastname@example.org