If the adage “the family that plays together stays together” is true, the Gildehaus clan should never part.
The family plays often, albeit in a somewhat unusual manner. They’re BMX bicycle racers. And for them, racing is about giving back to their community.
Brenda Gildehaus, 29, wife and mother, and daughter Stevie Marie, 4, are two of the top-ranked Bicycle Motocross Racing women in the nation in their age groups. This despite the fact Brenda also works full time and misses many meets due to family responsibilities and travel costs. In fact, Stevie and Brenda are missing the BMX Grand National meet in Oklahoma this week because they don’t have a national sponsor or the financial resources to attend.
Jerred Gildehaus, husband and father, is the support crew.
Brenda is a life-long athlete, who began racing bicycles when she was 12. “When I was a kid, my father bought me a whole bunch of used bikes,” she said. “I took them apart and built one primitive BMX bike.”
Once in high school, Brenda would give up bicycle racing to concentrate on other sports, particularly softball. She played that sport at Spokane Falls Community College, where she was the state tournament MVP in 1987, and later at Pacific Lutheran University, where she helped win an NAIA national champioship in 1988. She attended Whitworth College in 1989, winning varsity letters in cross country and soccer.
Brenda returned to BMX racing three years ago, and became good enough to be the Washington state champion and rank second in the nation this year.
Stevie Marie, like her mother a state champion in her age group and ranked third nationally, got an even earlier start in BMX racing. Stevie, or “Pal,” as her parents call her, started at age 3 after she saw a girl near her age participate in a race in Seattle.
“She saw a girl race on a Sunday, and by Wednesday she was riding by herself, without training wheels,” Brenda said.
“She likes it,” Jerred said. “We never pushed her into it; it’s just something she wanted to do.”
Jerred also enjoys riding, although he does not race BMX competitively.
“I ride mountain bikes, and race sport class in cross country,” he said. “When Stevie started racing, it made it kind of hard to make sure she had everything she needed. It made more sense for me to be in a support role.”
That includes helping with what can be an extensive training program. The parents try to take Stevie riding once a day during the summer. During fall and winter months, the weather dictates a lower-key regimen. In any case, Stevie is always excited to ride her purple, custom-made BMX bike.
“She always wants to do it, and she’s always getting after me to get out and ride bikes,” Jerred said.
Brenda’s training is often more intense. During the summer, she often awakes at 5:30 a.m. to ride, followed by a weight-training workout. She then goes to work as a salesman in a bicycle shop for an 8-hour day and usually rides again after work.
“I should probably do more training than I do, but I’m not going to sacrifice my family life for my glory,” Brenda said. “I train as much as my schedule allows.”
Brenda works at Midway Cyclery and Fitness, which is one of her sponsors. She said Midway is the perfect place for her because her employers are sympathetic to the schedule demands of a BMXer and often give her time off to race.
“Really, I’ve excelled at racing after I moved to Midway,” she said. “They’re really proud of me.
“I’ve just really been able to race my heart out the past year and a half,” she said.
For Brenda, BMX racing is about more than personal achievement. She enjoys close friendships with many teenage BMX racers, giving them transportation to races and practice sites, helping them with bicycle repair and giving them advice about bicycle equipment.
“I just really like helping kids,” she said. “When I’m down and don’t feel like racing, I think about the kids I help out.
“When I was a kid, the people I looked up to were the people who helped me out and encouraged me with my sports,” Brenda continued. “It’s about giving back what was given to me.”
To that end, Brenda gives motivational speeches at area schools. She often speaks on the virtues of dedication, goal-setting and having a sense of achievement. She feels bicycle racing can be a prime tool for building self-esteem and a good alternative to temptations.
“At 13 or 14, anyone can be accepted through drugs or gangs, but when you can get out on your bike and compete, that’s something to be proud of,” she said.
Brenda sees those same virtues developing in her daughter because of her participation in BMX racing.
“I think it teaches her to explore boundaries,” Brenda said. “She goes out and grows physically, mentally and emotionally.”