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RIDING HIGH

MHS sophomore eyes pro career after placing 5th at UCI Worlds

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RIDING HIGH

Meghan Matthews, 16, placed fifth out of 36 competitors in the Union Cycliste Internationale BMX World Championships in Australia last month.

JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin


POSTED August 16, 2009 12:30 a.m.
Meghan Matthews is the third-ranked 16-year-old amateur BMX racer in the nation and first in California.

On July 24, after four rounds of racing, she took fifth out of 36 of the globe’s best in her division at the Union Cycliste Internationale BMX World Championships in Adelaide, Australia — her greatest achievement to date.

The nine-year BMX veteran and Manteca High junior has two more races left in the American Bicycle Association season, and she is hoping they will be her last as an amateur.
Her aspiration to go pro is contingent on the completion of the BMX track in Manteca, which would give her a place in town to train every day.

Matthews, who races for SNAP/ICEE/Anderson’s 209, currently trains at Atwater PAL BMX. There are also tracks in Livermore, San Ramon and Roseville, but it’s quite the drive and commitment no matter which direction she heads.
The commitment is already there. She gave up dancing at age 7 to race, and going into her freshman year in high school she gave up the basketball hardwood for the familiar dirt tracks.

“I didn’t think I was going to be a racer that long,” she said. “At first it was just something for me to do that was fun. Once I got to high school it got pretty serious. It’s a big deal to me now.”

Matthews wants to race for cash instead of trophies, but for now she doesn’t mind adding to the hardware collection.

This past weekend, she collected two first-place finishes in the ABA Southwest Nationals in Tucson, Ariz. — a nice follow-up to the crown jewel of international BMX events for amateurs.

Matthews previously competed at the UCI Worlds in Canada in 2007, when she advanced to the finals but was knocked off her bike en route to eighth place. She earned her second bid for Worlds by taking third in the UCI World Qualifier in Texas in March.

In Australia, she made her presence felt early on, taking two seconds and a third in the opening rounds. All 36 racers raced three heats, and the top 16 point-getters advanced to the semifinals. From there, the top four of each of the two semifinal races advanced to the final round.

“I was so nervous,” Matthews said. “When the gate dropped I didn’t have a very good start and had to do some passing. Everyone just went in there and held on because they didn’t want to fall, so I was able to pass some of them.

“At the end when I finished in fifth, I was so excited that I didn’t know what to say.”

Fellow American Brooke Crain won the event. Laura Smulders (Neatherlands), Taylor Wolcott (USA) and Lacey Oliver (Australia) followed.

Qualifiers were broken up into nationally-based teams, and Matthews said she felt as if she was competing for something greater than herself with the Team USA logo on her chest.

“At first for it was just like any other race,” she said. “But while I was racing I felt like I was doing it for more than myself. I wanted to do well for my parents and everyone else who supported me and helped me get there.”

In addition to her parents, Gerritt and Robin, and brothers, Michael, 15, and Ryan, 12, Matthews attributes much of her success to Anderson’s 209 Bike Shop owner Jon Anderson, who helped kick start her career and has backed her ever since.

Matthews will next compete in the Black Jack Nationals in Reno, Nev. Sept. 4-6 before closing out the season in Tulsa, Okla. for the NAG-5 Challenge, which pits the best of the best. She took third at the event last year.

After that, a professional career may be in store for her, and she hopes to one day represent Team USA again.

“My goal is (to compete in) the 2012 Olympics,” Matthews said. “I graduate in 2011, so it’s good timing.”
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