The beginning of 2020 was going to be the year Briella Barrett would leave her mark on the BMX world.
Briella, a 13-year old from Redding, was making final preparations to compete at the BMX World Championships in Houston, but then COVID-19 happened.
Everything she had worked for went up in smoke. There wouldn't be any long distance road trips with her mother Alycia Barrett or a van full of friends and other riders.
For some, the disappointment of having lost so many opportunities could stunt the growth or hinder the motivation of an athlete. Briella has a different mindset.
"I gained more confidence because when all this stuff up happened, other people started to not work as hard," Briella said. If anything, I'm taking this as my advantage to work even harder then I did before."
Briella hasn't allowed herself to dwell on the past or on what could've been. Alycia Barrett manages the track at Boomtown BMX and runs a nail salon in Redding. She has been the foundation keeping her daughter moving. She is there to film Briella's races on her iPhone, take pictures for social media and also be the medic who tends to her wounds during the occasional fall on the red dirt.
"My mom helps me a lot," Briella said. "She pushes me to do more than I can."
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She has kept moving forward in her pursuit she says to become the best BMX rider in the world. As good as Barrett is now, she is first and foremost a student.
Last week, the teenager received lessons from her idol "Mad" Madi Gomes, 20. Gomes, like Briella, started to gain attention at a young age. When Gomes was 16 years old, she was invited to train at the U.S. Olympic Training Academy of Chula Vista in San Diego.
Now Gomes who lives in Ripon is beginning to train and tutor the next generation of riders. She traveled three hours to meet with Briella.
Briella became a huge fan of Gomes a year ago after watching her compete in races on YouTube.
Briella watched Gomes with intensity last week at the Boomtown BMX Course at Shasta Lake. Her blue eyes were fixated on Gomes as she watched the experienced rider go into great detail about how she could learn to jump more consistently.
Gomes rode with Briella but also coached her from the side on how to angle her hips and thrust her body forward to generate more speed.
As the two wheels and chain spring into the air, Briella is able to generate more speed during her races.
"I think (Briella) has a drive that not many of the girls in her class have," Gomes said. "It takes a lot of drive, motivation and hard work to get to where she's at."
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The two had never met prior to last week, but Barrett and Gomes bonded like two sisters. Gomes instructed, and Barrett matched her technique. The two were having fun, sipping water and cracking jokes.
"I love to help girls that love to jump, love to manual, have fun and ride similar to how I do," Gomes said.
Briella is hoping that her world of trophies and long road trips with her mom will return in 2021. For now she remains focused on making herself a better rider. She wants to become a professional racer and one day represent the U.S. in the summer Olympics.
As the race gate reels back, Briella takes her mark. Her feet and hips balanced on the pedals. She closes her eyes for a split second and hears the sharp snap of the gate to begin her run. Briella is at home at Boomtown and is happy with having a track to practice on which she uses on Thursdays and Sundays.
"I really like the freedom," Briella said. "When you're riding, you don't really think about anything. You just think about winning."
Ethan Hanson started working for the Redding Record Searchlight after four years with the Los Angeles Daily News as a freelancer. His coverage includes working the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament in South Bend, Indiana, and writing about the St. Louis Rams' move to Los Angeles with the Ventura County Star. He began his career as a play-by-play broadcaster for LA Pierce College from 2011-2017. Follow him on Twitter at @EthanAHanson_RS.
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