SALT LAKE CITY — A Mormon teenager from Layton will compete in the biggest amateur motocross event of its kind in the country next week.
Rene Rodriguez, a 16-year-old member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, qualified to race in the 36th annual Rocky Mountain ATV/MC AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, at the Loretta Lynn Ranch, home of the country music singer. The event runs from July 31 to Aug. 5.
Qualifying for this race is a big deal, said his father, also named Rene Rodriguez.
"People come from all over the world to this race," the father said. "To be part of this race is a dream come true."
Rodriguez, the second child in a family of six, was born in Santiago, Chile, his father's native country. He started racing BMX at age 3 and got into motocross by age 5.
While this young man enjoys playing the piano and the ukulele, wrestling and being part of a Spanish immersion program, the one trait that has always set him apart is his fearlessness, his mother, Shaelyn Rodriguez said.
"Teachers and parents would often stop to tell me some crazy story of some dare-devil stunt that he had pulled," she said.
Remarkably, his only significant injury was a forearm fracture when Rodriguez was around age 14.
"He has been tremendously blessed," his father Rene said.
Just as impressive as his racing and riding skills has been his example of sportsmanship and faith.
He has often invited his non-member friends from the track to church worship services. When he was 8 years old, a few showed up in shirts and ties for his baptism, Shaelyn Rodriguez said.
Rodriquez doesn't race on Sundays, although the best prizes are awarded on that day.
He has a habit of fist-bumping opponents and wishing them good luck, right before he says a personal prayer.
"As a mom I’m a wreck every time I see the start sign turn sideways, signaling the gates are about to drop, but I feel a lot of peace knowing that even though there isn’t anything I can do to protect him during his race, Rene knows someone who can watch over him and he makes time to ask for that protection every time he goes out on the track," Shaelyn Rodriguez said. "I can’t help but notice a few other boys who see him do this have starting bowing their own heads before the gate falls."
Once when he learned that a young man was attending a race as part of his Make-A-Wish Foundation wish, the young Rodriguez climbed into the stands and gave him the trophy he had just won.
"He's not perfect, but he tries hard to do the right thing," his mother said. "Rene's faith in God has gotten him to where he is today, on his way to Loretta Lynn's."