URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) – A year ago, 12 year-old Urbana native Christian Porter could just “ride his bike,” no better than most children his age.

But when a family friend suggested that he try BMX for a night of fun at a track in Farmer City, Porter discovered that he was a natural rider.

“It was just something fun to do and eventually, I fell in love with the sport,” Porter said.

Porter began competing on a regular basis and found quick success, winning enough races to advance from a classification of novice to intermediate. He’s only a few wins away from being classified as an expert.

In July, Porter reached a new height in his short BMX career when he became a state champion for 12-year-old intermediate riders in Illinois. He is currently ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 28 in the nation among 12-year-olds.

While Porter competes almost every weekend, there is one competition he has scheduled that stands out above the rest: the Race of Champions at the USA BMX Grands, the biggest BMX event of the year in the United States. Porter will be one of several thousand riders from across the country to converge on Tulsa, Okla. for a weekend of BMX races in November, with national titles on the line.

“He accomplished in one year what it takes most kids two-to-five years to do,” said Porter’s mother, Patricia. “To say that I’m proud would be an understatement.”

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Porter played a busy regimen of sports that included football, wrestling and baseball. But with the pandemic delaying the start of youth sports or eliminating them outright, Porter found himself with little to do.

“We had to find something for him to do and keep active,” Patricia said. “We were going through the days of quarantine and once we got out of that, he was getting antsy. A family friend showed up and said ‘Hey, we’re going to go out to Farmer City. They’ve got a local track, grab your bike, let’s go out and have some fun.’ That’s all it was. One night on the track.”

That same family friend, along with Porter’s family, have become his biggest supporters. They’ve spent countless weekends getting him from one competition to the next, ensuring that his bike is ready to race and being there for him during the highs of victory and the lows of crashes.

“It really means a lot,” Porter said. “It’s really encouraging to know, even if I do end up crashing, they’ll always be there for me.”

Porter and his family come from humble beginnings. Patricia is raising him and his younger siblings on her own, and the family never had it easy as the kids grew up. They still don’t today.

“There have been weekends where we got to scrape up the money to get to races,” Patricia said. “He doesn’t have the best gear or the nicest bike. He’s riding on a bike from the ‘90s that was sitting in the shed.”

But an old bike isn’t hindering Porter in the slightest. He’s beating other kids who are riding new bikes that cost thousands of dollars.

“To see the way he’s come out on top from humble beginnings, I couldn’t be more proud.” Patricia said. “His humbleness and his attitude is just remarkable. I’ve watched him grow into a young man.”

Before that one night of fun at the Farmer City track, Patricia and her son knew virtually nothing about the sport. Patricia, who has lived in the area her entire life, didn’t even know the track existed.

She hopes that her son’s story – from novice to near-expert in just one year – can help bring attention and interest to what she believes is an undervalued and underappreciated sport.

“It’s a sport that goes to the Olympics but outside of the Olympics, it’s a sport that doesn’t get talked about or seen,” Patricia said. “It’s something that should be discussed more and really needs to be put out there for the public eye, especially since it’s so close to Champaign. Farmer City is a hop, skip and a jump away. It’s a family sport for all ages and it’s a good time. If you enjoy riding your bike, why not put on a helmet, hit a couple of hills and see if you like it?”