Earlier this month, Sofia Arrieta won the gold medal in her category (nine years old, female) in the Colombian BMX championships held at the Peñamonte Supercross track in Ubaté, Cundinamarca. With this victory, the Barranquilla native qualified for the world championships to be disputed this year in Medellin (May).
Sofia, who last year got the second place in this tournament, managed to defeat the current world champion of that category, Nicolle Foronda, marking the greatest victory thus far in her young career. Sofia started BMX as a hobby three years ago, when she was only 6. Her parents quickly noticed not only that she loved to race but also that she had the talent for it and they made the decision to enrol her in a cycling club to ensure she could have the proper training.
At first, Sofia participated in local (Barranquilla area) and Santa Marta races, and in each case, she performed very well. The big jump in her career was when she joined Team Caribe (local BMX club). Wilmer Arrieta, Sofia’s dad said: “We’ve being working along with them and without all the process of preparation and the advice of the coach; none of this would have been possible”.
Two years ago Sofia started racing the National BMX Cup which is a year-long tourney with races set in a new city each month. The results of each race combine to define the rankings. Her performance in the event has been very surprising, of course, her first year in the national competitions was a learning year; she needed to adapt not only to the tracks, rivals and races but also to hours of travel combined with school. Fast forward two years and she has the title of Cup sub-champion and the gold medal in the national championship. She’s clearly a performer.
Sofia goes to school every day until two pm and afterwards, she has to finish all her homework before leaving at four for the two hour-long training sessions she does. Her next challenge is the 4th race of the year at BMX Cup to be held in Pereira in April, but both her parents clarified that none of this will be possible if she doesn’t show an equally superior performance in her school classes. Luckily, they say, even though she’s still a kid, she is very responsible.
Even though BMX is an Olympic sport, the department doesn’t yet have a proper track for the athletes to train on. The best space normally available is Parque Muvdi however it’s under renovations. It was supposed to be ready by December, but the repairs aren’t finished yet, and the cyclists won’t be able to use it to prepare for the upcoming World Cup in May. If they want to practice on a professional circuit, they’ll need to head all the way to Medellin. Inpressively, even without a place to train, Atlántico was the fifth best delegation out of sixteen in the past national championship.
BMX biking as you can imagine, is not the cheapest sport; the bicycles and components are expensive and uniforms and protective gear don’t last very long and are also not cheap. However, the most expensive thing in this professional discipline are the trips themselves to attend each of the events. All the contenders must travel, at least once a month, to a different spot in Colombia to participate in all the BMX Cup races. Of course, they also need to take their equipment, and at least one parent, doubling the cost on food, accomodations and tickets. Unfortunately, missing even just one race is enough to jeopardize all the resources and work expended across the year and will very likely lead to a team loss.
In Sofia’s case, her friends, her family and her family’s friends foot the bill. Very few people and companies are willing to sponsor a youth BMX champion. Mr. Arrieta says that even with Mariana Pajon’s Olympics medals and her world championships, the average enterprise just isn’t interested in giving any money to a young athlete.
Government sports institutions will only give economic support to those that prove that they have the ability to win and that they truly need the help. “Indeportes has given my daughter some bonuses, but not enough to even think of traveling somewhere out of Barranquilla to compete” Arrieta said. That said, the government has told the family that they’ve been placed in a special program where, in the event extra money becomes available, they will receive some support. Unfortunately, nothing has so far materialized and it has been more than a year. Nevertheless, Sofia’s parents have faith in the government: “While we wait for the money to come, we will keep working on the track to obtain results that bring the support that much faster,” Arrieta said.
The downside of the story is that because of the lack of economic aid, Sofia hasn’t been able to represent Colombia in any of the international tournaments in which she has qualified. Her parents can afford the monthly trips inside the country to maintain her rank, but are wholly unable to cover international travel costs. So far, she has missed the BMX championships in the USA, Chile, and Belgium and she will miss the upcoming Pan-American Games in Argentina, causing Colombia to lose all those possible medals.
Luckily, the 2016 BMX World Cup is in Medellin, and so the preparations and travelling costs are more reasonable. Sofia will be able to compete for the world title, and if she wins, it might just mean they’ll have reached the minimum requirements to get that financial support from the government. and if that happens, we’ll be cultivating another gold for Colombia.
That would be a great public relations opportunity for Barranquilla and the nation.