Lilah Long

Lilah Long, a six-year-old motocross competitor from Napoleon, poses with her motocross bikes and competition trophies.

Motocross is a sport that has been dominated by men like Ricky Carmichael and Stefan Everts. Motorsports legend Travis Pastrana also rides bikes.

The success of the sport spurred a second professional league dedicated to women, which was popularized by Ashley Fiolek and X Games star Tarah Gieger.

Henry County is home to another successful motocross competitor.

Lilah Long competed in more than 60 races this past year while racking up 57 trophies, about half of which were first-place awards.

Long isn’t the typical rider. Lined up against boys from all over Ohio and Michigan, Long is a six-year-old kindergartener at Liberty Center. She has done gymnastics for three years and has also played soccer and softball.

Her siblings ride dirt bikes and four-wheelers, and when the pandemic began, Long and her parents — Jason and Natalie — decided to turn her backyard hobby into competition.

Long’s first motocross race was at the end of last year’s indoor season. The first-time rider was petrified inside of the raucous Ram Jam Sportsplex in Lorain, Ohio.

But after the initial practice run, Long was set for her first race — which included two runs with the standings decided by the riders’ average.

Long finished third in her first run, but followed with a first-place finish in her second heat. The two placings were enough to give Long the overall first-place trophy in what was the start to a dominating first season.

So why has Lilah enjoyed motocross competition so much?

“Because I get trophies,” she said.

Across the next several months she competed in the outdoor season, which typically stretches from April to November. Her trophy case felt the brunt of her success.

But she was timid at first. Long was concerned about the first turn of each race, as up to eight riders could be ripping through the initial change of direction.

“Her fear was them running into her on the first turn,” Jason Long said. “I told her, ‘If you’re the last one off the gas, you’re going to be the first one into the corner.’ She started getting the hang of that in that if I go a little bit faster, a little bit farther on my gas, then I don’t have to worry about these other kids.

“Literally it was just like a light switch. She picks up on things very quickly. There’s a little bit of fear in doing new things, but once she understands it, she accomplishes it and she’s on to the next thing.”

Since, Long hasn’t just been the first rider into the first turn, but also the first to cross the finish line. To earn her awards, Long has tackled many different events, often against boys that range from ages 4 to 8.

Her first bike was an electric-powered 16-inch Stacyc, which she has ridden since three or four years old. She started competition with that bike, but after her early success, she added a PW50 — which is a gas-powered, air-cooled 50cc dirt bike — to her arsenal.

Since, Long has added two other bikes to her repertoire, but she has focused on competitions that permit her Stacyc and PW50.

One track that Long frequented in her first season was the Delta Motorsport Park, which hosts a championship series. An end-of-the-season banquet is also held for riders who finished top five in at least eight races within one class.

Long qualified with her two primary bikes and earned first- and second-place awards with her Stacyc and PW50, respectively.

As Long ages, school athletics will become available, with an array of team sports that she is excited for. But for now, Lilah will continue to make a name for herself in a male-dominant motorsport.

“You don’t see many girls succeed in a male-dominant sport,” Jason Long said. “… I guess until she shows different interests we’ll keep kind of playing it by ear and letting her take control of the situation.”

Her favorite part of motocross has been, “When I win and when I pass people.” She has done that plenty.

And don’t expect her to stop anytime soon. Long and her bikes will continue traveling for races both in and out of state this indoor season, but she will likely return home with extra gear.

More trophies to add to her rapid-growing collection.

E-mail comments to sports@northwestsignal.net.

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