EAST COUNTY — Jesse Ansley can turn virtually anything into a competition, from seeing who can run the fastest or do the most push-ups, or even carry in the most groceries.
His competitor mentality, combined with his natural abilities, has landed the 12-year-old a chance to win big on a national scale. Jesse, a member of Bayside Community Church, is a frontrunner in his age group for the Grand National Cross Country Series’ 65 Class.
With just three races to go, Jesse’s point total places him so far ahead of his competitors that there’s virtually no way he can end the season without a championship title. His last two national races of the season are Oct. 21, in Indiana, and Nov. 3, in Tennessee.
He’s also competing in the Florida Trail Riders state cross country, or hare scrambles, series, for which he took home a top finish in the Mini A Class race Sept. 22, in Bartow. On Sept. 16, during national competition, he beat out the second-place finisher by three minutes, 45 seconds.
“I just want to see how many wins I can get — that’s my Florida goal,” Jesse said. “In the national series, I just do my best.”
Jesse sped off on his first bicycle at 3 years old, leaving his training wheels behind just a few months later.
Jesse wanted nothing to do with them after he learned he couldn’t compete in BMX races with them on and because they slowed him down, he said.
“He has older cousins who were riding bicycles,” his mother, Cristyrae Ansley, said. “He had seen (them) racing at the BMX track. He said, ‘I want to do that.’ That was in November. By January, he had a bike and he was racing.”
At 6 years old, Jesse began riding motorcycles but continued competing in his off-road bicycle races. He won so many of his bicycle races that he was no longer having fun. He transitioned completely to motorcycles by age 7.
“I saw it one day and I wanted to do it,” Jesse said of the sport. “I felt like I was a superstar. All the people I admired rode. I didn’t get a chance (to do it before then).”
At his first race, hosted by Sarasota Dirt Riders Association, Jesse placed 13th.
“A bunch of people were standing on the sidelines and cheering me on,” he said.
The next season, he won two races and got bumped up to the intermediate level for racers. The following year, he progressed to the advanced level, in which he will remain until he’s 16, as per regulations.
“You have to work,” Jesse said. “You can’t just go out there and ride. If you want to be at the top level, you have to train. You have to work on what you’re eating and drinking. I work on my bike. It takes a lot of time.”
Jesse’s performance at his first national race in March in River Ranch has set the tone for his whole season.
“That first race, he beat the whole class by 10 minutes,” his mom said. “When he won by that much, we knew there was no way around it. We had to get him to the rest of (the national races).”
Now, Jesse attends Florida Virtual School, so he can better adjust his class time and school work to fit his rigorous racing schedule, while his siblings — Jimmy and Maryellen — attend Gene Witt Elementary School.
Jesse gets up each morning between 6 and 8 a.m. and runs a minimum of three miles, before turning his focus to academics.
In the late afternoon, he heads to his grandfather, Tom Fleming’s, shop to work on motorcycles and learn more about racing.
“Life has been pretty hard,” he said. “I’m busy trying to get school work done and good grades. And I’m busy at the shop working.”
The two usually load up their equipment each Wednesday to head off to weekend competitions and then return home the following Monday.
Jesse said he doesn’t mind the travel, because he knows it’s all for a chance to compete.
Professional, academic aim
Although Jesse lives and breathes racing each day, he saids his No. 1 priority and life goal remains getting a good education. Although he’d love to ride professionally one day, he knows it’s not guaranteed — only a handful of riders advance to that level.
“If I get a good education, I feel like I would learn to communicate with people and how to invest my money,” he said. “(Then), if I’m not racing, I can still enjoy my lifestyle.”
In college, Jesse said he plans to study engineering or business — maybe both. Engineering, he said, will help him to better be able to work on engines and other sport-related interests, while a business degree could be helpful in accomplishing another goal — eventually taking over his grandfather’s shop, TF Racing, which celebrates its 40th anniversary in January.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].
Jesse Ansley said he isn’t afraid of crashes or other potential impacts of the sport. He simply is having fun.
“I was young and I didn’t care,” he said. “Now, I’m so used to it, it doesn’t bother me. I’ve witnessed a bunch of crashes. It doesn’t scare me. I know someone’s protecting me. When you’re worried, that’s when you get hurt. You have to know when to go fast and when (not to). You can’t just twist the throttle and hope for the best.”