X marks the spot

  • By Mike Allende Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, August 16, 2011 12:01am
  • Sports

You know some of the names: Shaun White, Tony Hawk, Travis Pastrana. You see them in commercials, on video games, in toy stores. But they are not the norm.

Maria Forsberg is the norm. At the same time, she’s extraordinary.

Forsberg, a 24-year-old who grew up in Mountlake Terrace and li

ves in Lynnwood, is a star. You may not have heard of her, but there are plenty who have, and that list is growing, especially after Forsberg won a gold medal in MotoEnduro X at the recently completed X Games in Los Angeles. She regularly appears in magazines, including most recently Rolling Stone, and is the face of her sport.

At the same time, Forsberg works 40 hours a week as a union electrician at Boeing in Everett and fits in her sport on weekends. Which perhaps makes her accomplishments all the more impressive.

“Work is my priority,” Forsberg said. “I work all week, fly out on Friday night after work, race Sunday, get home late Sunday night and get up early the next day to go to work. The sport just isn’t big enough yet. I don’t think sponsors are going to put enough money into the women’s side for me to be able to do it full-time. At least, not in my racing lifetime.”

So Forsberg, who won the women’s class in Sunday’s EnduroCross event in Everett, will simply continue being one of the top motorcycle racers in the world while putting in the time when she can. It’s worked pretty well, so far.

Forsberg is the top-ranked woman and four-time defending champion in the Grand National Cross Country Series and is regarded as one of the top racers in the world. Cross-country racing forces riders to handle varied terrain over courses ranging from 10 to 12 miles. The best racers are able to handle the hills, dirt, rocks, logs and other obstacles, displaying speed, stamina and strength and often the most successful are the ones who are just able to stand upright.

That was the case in the X Games, where Forsberg may not have been the fastest, but she had the most complete ride, staying on her bike better than any of her competitors and dominating the event, lapping the other racers and finishing well ahead of second-place finisher Tarah Gieger.

“I was the third-fastest out of seven in the time trial,” Forsberg said. “I was discouraged after that but it’s about consistency. You can have one really fast lap but then you can get stuck somewhere and all of a sudden you’re out of the race. I went as fast as I could and at the same time I made sure I stayed up and consistent.”

ESPN called Forsberg and asked her to compete in the event in the Staples Center, which would be part of the X Games for the first time. With only a few months to train, she said she worked harder to prepare for that race than she ever has, and it paid off. In fact, she said the race itself wasn’t the hardest thing to deal with.

“It was a huge crowd and the scariest thing was being on live TV, which I’d never done before,” she said. “But it was really cool to get that kind of exposure for our sport.”

Forsberg began racing when she was 4. Both her dad John and mom Cherryl raced, as did her older brother Eric. In fact, she still races against her father and brother and her mom and aunt were in Los Angeles for her big win.

Forsberg turned pro in 2002, racing for RPM racing out of Lynden. She said it’s a step she never really imagined taking.

“I knew I loved racing and wanted to do that, but I never really thought about going pro,” she said.

She balanced her racing career by competing in track and cross country at Mountlake Terrace High School. She really began taking her career seriously about four years ago when she started to get more sponsorship support and since then has really become the face of the sport in this country.

“There’s so much more to racing than the results,” she said. “You have to represent yourself, the sport, you’ve got to be presentable. I’ve never really thought of myself as the face of the sport but I feel like I have a responsibility to do the job right and show people what we’re about.”

Between doing interviews and representing the sport, competing in the 13-race GNCC series, running in other events (like this past weekend’s race at Comcast Arena) all over the world and working full-time, Forsberg also found time to get married in April to her husband Ken.

She said that she has days when she just feels overwhelmed and would like to simply stay home, be a wife, hang out with her dogs and just relax. But then the pull that’s been there since she was a little girl takes over.

“I’m a really, really competitive person, I have a lot of drive,” she said. “There are different kinds of racers. Some are just natural, others aren’t. I think I have some natural ability but I try really hard, and I want to succeed really, really bad. That’s what drives me and that’s what keeps me competing. I love it.”

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