Sunday, Jan. 11, 2009 | noon
Audrey Zuloaga has never shied away from a collision.
As a young girl, Zuloaga's father would take her to the open areas outside Las Vegas to ride her Big Wheel tricycle on the desert hills.
Sometimes she would fall, and maybe shed a tear, but she would always get back on her bike.
That toughness has paid off in Zuloaga's passion — BMX racing, a sport where sprinting cyclists often collide on obstacle-laden dirt tracks.
"Sometimes your whole class can crash you just got to get up and keep going," Zuloaga, 15, said.
Zuloaga has competed in BMX races since 2004, starting with local contests but eventually traveling as far as Canada for international competitions.
She finished 2008 as the No. 1 ranked girl in the National Bicycle League's 14 and under division (Zuloaga turned 15 in January) and her season was capped by taking first in the league's Grand National of BMX in Louisville, Ky.
In 2007, Zuloaga competed in the Union Cycliste Internationale BMX World Championships in Victoria, Canada, where she took third place in the 14 and under division.
Her success in the sport was just getting started.
After taking third in the American Bicycle Association race in Reno on Jan. 10, the coach of her race team — RacePlace BMX — passed her a letter inviting her to a BMX racing Junior Olympic development camp in Chula Vista, Calif.
"I was pretty surprised I got invited," Zuloaga said. "This is my opportunity to go somewhere with BMX racing. I'm just looking forward to riding the track and hanging out with the girls."
The invitation has fueled Zuloaga's dream to race in the Olympics, which featured BMX racing for the first time in 2008.
Boulder City BMX will fully sponsor her trip to the camp, which runs Feb. 1 to 6.
Zuloaga, a freshman at Las Vegas High, got her start at Boulder City BMX, mostly racing against boys.
"She pretty much has the whole package," said Rusty McClain, president of Boulder City BMX. "Audrey shows most of the boys here how to ride the bike and in most cases they are the same age. You hear a lot of grumbling from the guys because they don't want to lose to a girl."
As the younger sister of two hockey-playing brothers, Zuloaga, attributes her rugged nature to her upbringing.
She has survived gashes, bruises, a concussion, even a broken collar bone, at the hands of BMX racing.
The aggressive nature of the sport is sometimes difficult for her mother, Julie Zuloaga, to watch.
"It can be pretty scary, but she loves it," Julie Zuloaga said. "You can't stop them if its something they love. The girls are usually friendly with each other but when the race starts they can be even more aggressive than the guys."
Audrey Zuloaga is old enough to go professional in the American Bicycle Association, but she is waiting to see how she contents with her peers at the development camp.
"It all depends on how well I do this year," she said. "If I keep working hard and doing well I'll be able to move up."
Sean Ammerman can be reached at 990-2661 or [email protected].