Whatever season, whatever weather, Simon Lewis straps on his helmet and whizzes through mountain bike trails all over Middle Tennessee.
There are no days off. This discipline has propelled the 16-year-old from struggling at local races to qualifying for nationals.
Three years ago, Lewis was watching mountain bike videos on YouTube. Now he’s a sponsored biker and headed for his first national mountain bike competition beginning Wednesday at Mammoth Mountain in California.
Lewis has come a long way from his earliest races. At the first race, his mother ran about a mile into the woods to check on his progress after failing to see Lewis after many others finished.
He now has his sights on competing at the international level.
“He’s actually kind of a different athlete in terms of elite level. A lot of elite athletes are more serious. Simon’s kind of a goofy kid and having a good time,” said David Carpenter, Lewis’ trainer.
When he finishes a race, Lewis said he uses an air horn and screams encouragement at the remaining competitors.
“You need a little goofiness for the race. You gotta have some fun,” Lewis said.
But Lewis is serious when it comes to training, said Jack Major, a 15-year-old mountain biker in Brentwood.
The two ride together for fun and for training. They bike Percy Warner Park in Nashville, Chickasaw Trace Park in Columbia or Hamilton Creek Park at Percy Priest Lake. Other days, they’ll just hit the road. Lewis rides three to five hours a day.
“I’ll ask him to hang out, but instead he’ll say, ‘No, I have this workout I have to do.’ Everyone misses workouts, but he rarely misses workouts. He rides no matter what,” Major said.
Lewis said he even rode during an ice storm earlier this year. He takes only one week off per year from training, a schedule he models after professional riders.
When Lewis is not riding, he’s power washing houses or landscaping to help fund his sport’s expenses. He started Simon’s Power Washing and manages a handful of his mountain bike friends who work for him.
The costs of his multiple bikes, helmet, gloves, tires and tubes, bike components and travel add up. Lewis’ mother said his mountain bike and road bike retail for about $4,000 to $6,000 each. The family has sold items and sacrificed vacation time to help sustain Lewis’ sport.
“It’s all about motivation. You gotta really want it. No one’s really pushing me for it. … I don’t know, some people are born with it,” Lewis said.
Mountain biking is a growing sport in Williamson County.
This fall there will be a composite team open to competitive and noncompetitive high school and middle school students for the first time, said Katherine Williams, director of the Tennessee High School Cycling League, a local chapter of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association.
“Before this team started, all of them were just racing as independent riders. They were just out there with their parents and racing on their own,” Williams said. “The biggest thing is they’ll have friends they can ride with. It’ll create a network for them to meet fellow peers interested in bicycling.”
Williams said high schools could eventually have their own mountain bike teams if the sport becomes more popular.
“It’ll be really cool to see who shows up. There’s only so many people who are mountain biking in Williamson County,” said Lewis, a rising junior at Franklin High School.
Reach Melanie Balakit at 615-926-1638 and on Twitter @MelanieBalakit.