Lake Norman & Mooresville

Teens head to mountain biking nationals

Jay Fesperman and Eric Vest race their bikes down the side of a mountain, swerving to avoid trees and stumps, careful to pick up speed over rocks.

Their nerves had kicked in before the race as they rode the ski lift to the mountain top, but that's over now. Now they're focused on the trail in front of them, controlling their ride, all the while racing against a clock.

Sound harrowing?

Think about this: Jay and Eric are rising ninth-graders. And they're so good at what they do that they've secured spots in the USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships this week in Granby, Colorado.

The Bailey Middle School students - sons of Karen and Chip Fesperman, who live on Ashby Drive in McConnell, and Sandy and Kenn Vest, who live on River Falls in the River Run neighborhood - are friends who share a love of riding. They met as pupils at Davidson Elementary School and noticed that both would ride to school each day.

They forged a friendship while tackling jumps in friends' backyards and hitting the trails at nearby Fisher Farm.

Jay, 13, got competitive a few years ago. He visited some online forums and signed up for some races.

He remembers his first downhill race in Wilkesboro, where he placed second.

"I realized then that this as what I needed to be doing," he said.

Until last year, Eric, 14, had only raced BMX bikes. But he has loved his switch to mountain biking.

"With BMX, there's a lot more pedaling, and with mountain, you're just looking at the trail ahead, not thinking about anything else but that," he said.

The two compete on the Grom Racing Team, which has eight members who range from ages 13-17, and are coached by Christopher Herndon of Brevard. Herndon signed the boys to the team last year.

"We'd been racing a lot, and learned that he (Herndon) had kind of been admiring us," said Eric. Both boys think it has been a great fit.

They race several weekends a month, and have traveled up and down the East Coast. They qualified for Nationals in April, at a race at East Tennessee State University. Knowing they had to finish in the top 15 was nerve-racking for both boys, but qualifying was a huge weight off their shoulders. Now they'll head to Colorado for the race, which takes place July 17-18.

The goal of becoming professional bikers keeps them focused. "You just have to learn from the times that you don't win," said Jay, who also often rides with his father. "And when you do win, and you're on that podium, it's such a great feeling," .

Despite the competitive nature of the sport, the boys do it because they love to ride.

"I've just always loved being on my bike. I never get tired of it," said Jay.

After competing in Colorado, the boys will head to Hough High School in the fall, where they hope to start a mountain biking club.