The road to the top
Luc Santos’s trophies are unceremoniously clustered in the back corner of his Oakley garage workshop, partially hidden from view by a workbench and a dirt bike propped up on a stool. His mother has to remind him to go get his national championship plaque for a photo op.
Later, sitting on a car seat turned into a makeshift couch, he casually mentions that he broke his femur in a motocross accident a couple years ago.
"That was pretty bad," he said. "I was out for about three months."
His sister, Gabby, can only shake her head as she listens to the matter-of-fact tone with which her brother lists the injuries he’s suffered during his brief motocross career – multiple breaks of each arm (four left arm breaks, two right, by his count), a ruptured spleen, four concussions, a broken thumb – the list goes on.
For the 16-year-old Santos, all the trophies and all the injuries are just stepping stones – peaks and valleys in what he hopes is the road to motocross success. He doesn’t just want to win races; he wants to be an elite motocross athlete. He wants to be remembered in the same breath as motocross legends Ricky Carmichael and James Stewart.
Santos started riding at age eight. But in a sport where some kids get on their first bike when they’re only three years old, he often found himself struggling to keep up with athletes who had far more experience.
"I started a little late," he said. "But I’m trying to make up for it now."
He’s putting in extra work, both on and off the track, trying to make up for the lost time. But he tries not to dwell on the lost opportunities.
"I think it’s an advantage for me," he said. "Most kids my age are almost getting burnt out because they’ve been riding so much and have been getting pushed too hard by their parents."
Santos said he’s never felt that pressure from his parents.
"My mom has always been more chill about it," he said. "She helps me live my dream."
But he knows he’ll have to keep putting in the time if he wants to make it big.
"Most kids don’t work too hard with it," he said. "The ones who do are the ones at the top."
Luc Santos has a plan.
At age 15, most boys are worrying about getting homecoming dates, that upcoming history test, and trying to find their place in high school. Santos worries about what modifications he can make to his bike to get the most power with the least weight, whether the food he’s eating is gluten-free or not, and when he’ll get his next chance to land a big-name sponsor.
He said sometimes he wonders what it would be like to live a more normal life, but wouldn’t trade what he does for anything.
"I like what we do," he said. "It’s out of the ordinary and it’s pretty awesome. I don’t want to be a normal kid."
Santos, who is home schooled and takes most of his classes online at Utah Virtual Academy, also knows the value of a good education.
"I’m doing everything I can to make sure I do well in school now," he said. "I want to make sure I get a good education so that afterwards I’ll have something else to do."
He wants to go to college, but he’s not sure if that will happen during his motocross career or after.
That can wait, though. First, he needs to make sure he positions himself well enough to keep moving up the motocross ranks.
"I want to become something big and make something out of it so that it’s worth it," he said. "I always put as much effort into it as I can. I don’t want to look back and think, ‘I wish I could have done better.’"
Santos certainly knows how to manage his brand. After starting a photo shoot wearing a green shirt with a sponsor’s name on it, he returns to his house.
"Mom, where’s my orange KTM shirt?" he asks.
He thinks his orange shirt looks better next to his orange KTM-sponsored bike.
He can rattle off his sponsors like a seasoned veteran – KTM, FMF, Vertex Pistons, Fox Gear, Smith Goggles, and many more – and he knows how important they are in an expensive sport like motocross.
"I’ve been able to get some good sponsors and that helps me out a lot," he said. "They’ve seen me get a lot better and it kind of makes them support me more."
But he’s quick to acknowledge the help he gets from his family.
"Gabby does a lot of promoting for me and that helps get my name out there," he said. "And my mom emails sponsors and keeps them updated. It helps out a lot."
Santos recently participated in the James Stewart AMA Spring National event in Freestone, Texas, posting his best finishes in the 250 C Stock and 250 C Mod races.
In the Mod race, Santos finished second in both moto trials, behind Carson Ledford.
In the Stock race, Santos flipped the script, winning both trials and winning the event’s national championship.
"I was pretty stoked when I won the first moto," he said. "But I knew I had to win the second moto (to hold off Ledford) because it counts for more."
But after a setback in the second race, he wondered if he’d lost his chance.
"I got the hole shot, but I went off the track because the corner was blown out," he said. "I tried to get back on as fast as I could. I was in a state of urgency to get back in the lead."
He did get back in the lead, quickly making up for lost ground and crossing the finish line in first place.
"I was pretty stoked," he said. "I didn’t expect (to win the title), so that made it even better."
Living in the now
As Dawn Santos looked out across the horse pasture at the mountains in the distance, she said she thought things would go a little bit differently in the mountainous, rural town of Oakley.
"When we moved out here, I thought my daughter would ride horses and my son would become a ski racer," she said.
Gabby does ride horses – she’s a talented barrel racer. But when she’s not doing that, she accompanies her brother and mom as they travel the country, taking pictures of Luc on his bike and helping run Luc’s website – LucSantos.com.
And Luc does enjoy skiing (his father, Daryl Santos, is the president of Marker Apparel, a line of ski clothing). When he gets a chance during the winter, he likes to hit the slopes.
But he knows how cool his motocross opportunity is.
"The experience of doing it all – it’s a lot of fun and you build a lot of friendships and you see the world," he said. "It’s pretty awesome that I get to experience it with my family."
Sometimes things don’t go according to plan. And sometimes, that’s OK.
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