By DEVIN WEEKS
Racing from the highest peak into the valley below with nothing but her trusty Commencal Supreme V4.2 mountain bike to carry her is just where Ella Erickson likes to be.
"I like the speed," the Hayden teen said. "I like the adrenaline rush and I like how you can just be one with the bike."
The 14-year-old downhill mountain bike racer has been on two wheels as long as she's been on two feet. By age 3, she was easily riding a bicycle and had her own gas-powered motorcycle with training wheels.
"She was pretty natural. As natural as any kid would be," said dad Todd Erickson.
So natural an athlete, one might say it's in her genes.
"My wife (Jen) and I started riding downhill bikes when Ella was a baby," Todd said. "Ella would be in a car seat and we would drive each other to the top of the mountain and take turns riding down."
From baby motorcycles to BMX bikes and now downhill racing, Ella has honed this adrenaline love into a competitive pursuit. The Coeur d'Alene Charter Academy freshman boasts more than 100 medals, trophies, plaques and other awards recognizing her talent on two wheels. She often smokes older competitors and has no problem leaving boys in a trail of dust.
"When I first did BMX, I had to race the boys, and none of the boys knew that I was a girl because I had really short hair," she said. "I’d be racing like 14-year-old boys — my first race that’s what I had to do — and then I got second place and they were all, ‘Good job!’ and then one of them was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s a girl!' and he started crying."
She's about to add another chapter to her brag book. Ella was recently selected by Commencal (pronounced "Com-en-sel"), an international powerhouse bike brand, to represent the company as part of the Commencal Junior Cartel.
Ella was chosen after answering a call Commencal sent out to recruit American racers ages 14-18 and European racers ages 8-16. She submitted a racing resume, a video of her "best trail-slaying clips" as requested by Commencal, why she enjoys the company and why she loves bikes.
Ella is one of only six youths in the U.S. to snag this honor.
"I was surprised,” she said, smiling as she described when she received the news in January. "But I was really excited."
The JR Cartel project was formed to zero in on young talents with the hope of adding them to an elite Commencal team in the future. Ella has already received a bike from the company and will be provided gear support. She'll have access to professional-grade pit support at some events and she will have opportunities to build relationships with professionals and industry employees as she races toward her dreams.
"We're proud," Todd said. "It's pretty cool."
Aside from shredding up local competitions like the Silveroxx Mountain Bike Festival race series at Silver Mountain, where Ella has been the overall winner the past few years, or the regional Northwest Cup in Port Angeles, Wash., which is coming up in April, Ella will also be participating in national mountain biking events.
As a JR Cartel athlete, she'll be expected to attend two national Pro Mountain Bike Gravity Tour races as well as the U.S. Nationals in West Virginia and the Team Camp in Winterpark, Colo.
But Ella isn’t biking it alone. Her parents and her little sister, Mica, 10, are all active bikers. Ella has even shared the winner’s stage with her mom, and her dad began downhill racing so he could coach his eldest daughter.
"Three years ago my wife was the overall women’s winner (at Silver Mountain), but now Ella’s faster than her mom,” Todd said. "There are a lot of times, when they race in the same category, they’ll be at the same podium. Usually Ella will be first and my wife will be third."
When she's not on her Commencal Supreme V4.2, Ella maintains honor student status, snowboards, plays the cello and loves science.
But that bike seat is always calling her away to her next adventure.
“I think the sport is really awesome because everybody is super chill and it’s very low drama. I feel like the most pressure you get comes from yourself," Ella said. "Nobody expects anything of you — if you want to excel, you’re going to push yourself. Nobody else is out there pushing you. It’s just a really good time."