What seems to be chaos barreling down a BMX track is in reality carefully calculated moves, as two little racers jockey for position in a fierce fight for first place. Kick-slides and even a little air time make this race just as exciting as watching the pros — on a much smaller scale, of course.
“JoJo got a bike from his Swiss godfather before he could even walk,” says his dad, John Zolikoff. “He has been riding since he was 14 months. At 3 1/2, he learned how to ride an electric motorcycle.”
Now both 4 years old, JoJo Zolikoff and Devin Miller are among the youngest professional athletes in the country. They both ride Strider bikes, which are made without a chain, pedals and hand brakes. By using their legs and feet to propel the bike forward, riders as young as 18 months can learn balance, motor skills and coordination, completely eliminating the need for training wheels.
This weekend, they’ll compete in a race specially designed for children ages 2 to 5 — the 2011 Strider World Championship. But it won’t be their first, because these kids are used to frequent competition. And so are their families.
“I came out of the motorcycle industry, figuring that everything I was doing for Harley-Davidson I could do with little kids,” says Zolikoff, who is now director of business development with Strider. “JoJo has traveled 30,000 miles with my wife and me, and in his short four years, has been to Europe seven times and Brazil four times.”
Devin’s grandparents, Erma and Dave Miller, became involved with the construction of Sarasota BMX, built in 1974, when it was nothing but a track and a manually operated gate.
“In 1977, Devin’s father, Doug, brought home a flyer for a Sarasota County Parks and Recreation event at this facility,” Erma Miller says. “We loved it, and he loved it. We were track operators here from 1980 to 1995, and we’ve always stayed involved. I don’t know what we’d do if we weren’t doing this.”
The Millers’ love for BMX led them to buy Devin his first Fisher Price bike.
“It’s a baby bike,” Devin says. “I used to do tricks on it and ride it in grandma’s house. When I got my big boy (Strider) bike, I asked Grandpa, ‘Where are the pedals?’”
But even when JoJo and Devin are wheel-to-wheel and determination has surfaced on their faces, the cadence of driving each leg forward powering them down the track, their friendship is still stronger than a trophy.
“At the National Bicycle League Grand National in Kentucky, Devin came around the corner, got into the muck and fell,” Erma Miller says. “JoJo came around, saw his friend on the ground and stopped. Neither one made the podium — a big deal because you get to stand up and hold up your trophy for picture time — but they did a knuckle punch and fist pump and were hugging each other.”
IF YOU GO
The 2011 Strider World Championship for children ages 2 to 5 takes place Friday, Oct. 14 and Saturday, Oct. 15, at the Sarasota BMX Track, 1590 N. Tuttle Ave. A clinic with BMX legends Greg Hill and John Purse takes place from 10 a.m. to noon Friday, followed by a barbecue, practice round and opening ceremony from 4 to 8 p.m. From 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday there will be practice, a best trick contest, family fun festival and world championship service. Proceeds from the event benefit the Suncoast Children’s Charities.
Five things you didn’t know about Jojo Zolikoff and Devin Miller
1. He owns five racing outfits and has his own custom line of shirts and You Tube channel.
2. His favorite breakfast is Mickey Mouse pancakes.
3. He speaks Portuguese.
4. He won the Munich Bike Expo Children’s Cup in Germany.
5. He wants to be an angry orange monster for Halloween.
1. He took his Bobcat tractor toy to his preschool’s “Show and Share” last week.
2. His favorite food is Mickey Mouse pancakes.
3. He loves to play with his big toy bulldozer.
4. He dressed like a policeman with Jojo at National Night Out.
5. He likes to play in the rain.