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Soaring with Style

Grant Schnell making quick rise to top among best mountain bike racers


by: VERN UYETAKE - Lakeridge's Grant Schnell has his own mountain biking course in his back yard and is already one of the top competitors in his sport in the world.Grant Schnell of Lake Oswego is pulling out all the stops on his drive to become one of the best mountain bike racers in the world.

This perfectly suits his breakneck style of racing, which involves charging over rugged terrain at top speed and doing back flips while soaring through the air. To watch Schnell perform on YouTube it looks like wonderful fun. It's just that to do it you need to be a natural-born daredevil with lots of talent. Schnell's ambitions are sky high.

"I want to go pro, fully pro," said Schnell, a sophomore at Lakeridge High School. "I want to make a living doing this. I want to ride with the best by the time I'm 17."

Schnell's accomplishments are in line with his ambition. With just one full year of racing behind him, he finished second in the Freeride Mountain Bike Association amateur series for 2012.

Those standings reflect just how precocious Schnell is. The first-place finisher is age 25, and so is the third-place winner. Schnell is 15.

"All of the announcers talk about Grant's style," said Jim Schnell, his father. "They comment on his creativity, style and flow. Grant has always had that balance and technique."

Schnell is so gifted at an early age that top professional bike rider Jamie Goldman will soon start training with him.

Another big reason that Schnell's chances for success are so good is that his parents, Jim and Debbie Schnell, support him 100 percent. In fact, it seems more like 200 or 300 percent with all the couple has done to promote their son's career, from getting him the best bikes to traveling with him to competitions all over the West Coast. The Schnells have even built a practice track right on their property on Stafford Road, and it's no rinky dink little practice track. Jim and Debbie Schnell seem to love the sport as much as him.

"He enjoys it," Debbie Schnell said. "Grant is a self-motivated kind of athlete who does better in individual sports. He's a better leader than he is a follower. This sport gives him free rein to do what he wants."

The competitive streak runs deep in the Schnell family. Jim Schnell races classic racing cars, while Debbie Schnell was a world champion rider of Appaloosa horses as a girl. The competitive fever got to their son two-and-a-half years ago when he dropped by a bike shop in Bend and was told about "a really nice bike."

"On my first ride I fell in love with it," Schnell said.

Racing fever started building immediately.

"This is the first year I've taken it seriously," Schnell said. "I saw myself progressing, so I thought I could take it to competitions."

Perhaps the best measure of Schnell's potential is that Jamie Goldman of Portland, one of the world's best mountain bike racers, has taken on Grant as a training partner. Their friendship started in May 2011 when Goldman held his annual contest.

"I have the contest at my home every year," Goldman said. "Grant was just there to hang out, but then he decided to do it. He had a lot of fun and he is really passionate about it, which is the most important thing. Grant has the drive and the commitment to work with it every day. He's also a good kid in every part of his life, which is what is so cool about him.

"All of the top pros from around the world were at my contest, and Grant just came in there and stepped it up. Riding with the pros like he did was a big deal."

The Schnell family plans to go all out for Grant's bike racing career in 2013.

"We want to get to as many events as we can this year," Jim Schnell said. "Our goal is six competitions, from California and Canada to New York."

"This sport keeps us close," Debbie Schnell said. "Eight hours in a car together is a good way to really get to know somebody."

Because Schnell is so good so young, he is accumulating sponsors like Morpheus Cycles, X-Fusion Suspension and Spank Components. He is also looking for a clothing sponsor. Ultimately, his eyes are on the only two "platinum" events in mountain bike racing: the Red Bull Rampage and the Whistler Crankworx. They offer prizes of up to $50,000 for the champion.

In this daring sport it seems only an injury can stop Grant Schnell from racing to the top, and that hasn't happened yet (Mom knocks on wood).

But for a young man who flies so high, Schnell flies under the radar of public attention, even in his hometown of Lake Oswego. Not too many of his school pals know what he is up to.

Jennifer Schiele, principal of Lakeridge High School, said, "Grant really deserves some attention. People don't realize everything that goes into it. It's amazing what Grant can do."

"Sometimes training is lonely for him," said Debbie Schnell.

Still, time is very much on his side. Mountain bike racing's popularity is quickly growing, just as Schnell is making his move as a top racer. Schnell and the sport he loves just might make it all the way to the top.

YouTube has several clips that show Grant Schnell doing his stuff.