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East County Wednesday, Jul. 1, 2009 12 years ago


by: Michael Eng Executive Editor

As a competitive motocross racer since age 4, Gage Gongas has earned plenty of awards, accolades and even a sponsorship — RRT Performance — to chronicle his success in the high-speed sport.

But none seems as impressive as the Christmas-green body cast that sits in his bedroom — a trophy displaying both Gage’s sheer toughness and his undying love for motocross.

Gage earned the cast on April 12, 2008, when he broke his femur after a nasty fall during a race. The injury confined Gage to a wheelchair for eight weeks, after which he endured another five months of grueling therapy and recovery.

Displaying a determination well beyond his age, Gage returned to the sport both stronger and faster. And now, at just 6 years old, Gage will represent the East County at the 2009 Air Nautiques/AMA National Motocross Championships Aug. 4-8 at the home of country music star Loretta Lynn in Hurricane Mills, Tenn. The race is the largest amateur motocross race in the world and the pinnacle for any aspiring racer, said Gage’s dad, Jeff Gongas.

“It’s been a dream of his,” Jeff Gongas said. “Before the accident, that’s all he talked about.”

Although the accident could have shattered that dream along with his leg, Gage remained determined to emerge from his injury and return to racing — using Loretta Lynn’s as inspiration.

“(I wanted to return to the sport) because it was fun,” he said. “And I wanted to do Loretta Lynn’s.”

After his long recovery period that included relearning how to walk, Gage returned to the motocross track last November. And finally, in the last few months, Gage and his family resumed his pursuit of Loretta Lynn’s. The Gongas family traveled to Georgia, West Virginia and Maryland to participate in several qualifier races. Only the top 42 in each age group earn spots in the national race, and finally, at the regional championship June 6-7 at Budds Creek, Md., Gage snagged the seventh and final spot in the region.

“By the skin of my teeth,” Gage said with a grin.

An avid motorcycle rider, Jeff Gongas bought Gage his first motocross bike at age 3.

“When I was younger, I was never allowed to have one, and I always wanted one,” Jeff Gongas said.

Jeff Gongas used a lawnmower to carve a track in the backyard, and soon, Gage was zooming around so fast that his parents moved him to the Sunshine Motocross in St. Petersburg, where he trains under instructor Dave Duchaine.

Gage competed in his first race at age 4 at the St. Petersburg track and later began taking on the track at Dace City Motocross. Jeff Gongas and his wife, Tracy, attribute Gage’s success to his unique ability to focus on race day.

“At home, he’s just as goofy as any other 6 year old, but when it’s time to race, he’s stone-faced,” Jeff Gongas said. “I try to make him laugh, but I can’t. He’s just so focused — it’s bizarre. (But) that’s his biggest asset.”

Gage, however, doesn’t seem as interested in extrapolating the intricacies of his success.

“I just try hard,” he said with a shrug.

Contact Michael Eng at [email protected].

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