In the land, through the woods and even on the water: “Special Kay” can run on everything. But “Special Kay” is not your typical off-road motorcycle racer.
Kayla O’Neill is an 18-year-old girl who recently graduated from Warwick Valley High School and dominates the world of off-road motorcycle racing.
“My dad, he started running when I was two, and I always wanted to try, so when I was six he put me on a bike and then I started riding,” O’Neill said.
What would you like to know
- Kayla O’Neill first rode an off-road motorcycle at the age of six
- She and her family travel the country participating in around 30 races each year.
- Kayla hopes to turn pro and receive sponsorships soon
As soon as she was 12, she started to compete. Now 18, she and her family travel across the country to compete in the Grand National Cross Country hair scramble series. In nine rounds, she has finished first or second in her women’s cycling rankings eight times and is at the top of her class.
âIt’s like a 12 mile loop through the woods, and it can be anything,â O’Neill said. “There are sand, mud, rocks, rootsâ¦”
She glides through the woods, which makes it all easy.
âEveryone’s trying to win so it’s very nerve-wracking,â said O’Neill. “Once you start, you just walk into the area and you don’t think about anything other than what you’re doing.”
Between school and homework, O’Neill found time to work out several times a week after school. She hopes to turn pro within the year, and every race counts. So when she found out that the GNCC Snowshoe Race in West Virginia was taking place on the same day she graduated from high school late last month, she had a dilemma.
âI really didn’t know what to do, but I knew from the start that I was definitely going to choose my race because I put a lot of time and effort into it and I had my championship on the line,â O said. ‘Neill.
So she went to racing instead of graduation and ended up winning in the women’s bike division.
âI grew up with all of my friends. I really wanted to graduate with them, but it was worth it,â O’Neill said.
O’Neill’s parents are committed to helping him make his dreams come true, spending thousands of dollars a year on his bike, gear and commute to errands. It is worth it for them, they say, to help him move closer to his goals.
“The first time I went [to a] raceâ¦ my heart was in my throat. I couldn’t even imagine my little girl doing that, and they were all boys, âsaid Krista O’Neill, Kayla’s mom.
It’s not easy being a girl in such a male dominated sport.
âWe’re going to different series and I’m going to have a boys class, and I’m going to ride and they’re going to be like ‘oh let’s give him a 10 second head start’,â Kayla said.
But she doesn’t let opponents get in her way.
âI hope that at some point in my life I have a lot of sponsors, I hope,â said O’Neill, âand I’m trying to make some money out of it and try to go somewhere and just be someone in the racing world. “