Story by Vicky Sama
Photo above by Todd Fawcett
Scott Smith will never forget one of his first bike rides. He was five years old and growing up in Agawam, Massachusetts. His dad saddled his baby sister Amanda on the back seat of a mountain bike while Scott rode his own bike with coaster breaks. His dad warned him to be careful as they approached the road's steep descent.
"I got going so fast, I couldn't hold on any longer," Smith said. "I was thrown off the bike and got road rash on the whole side of my face and arms and cut my finger. I was missing a lot of skin."
Smith went to the hospital. But as soon as he could grip the handlebars again, he was back on the bike.
Smith joined the JAM Fund in 2013 and has been racing on the JAM/NCC/Vittoria elite team since last year. He finished 5th at Nitanny in early September and won the U23 at the Trek Cx Cup in Madison, Wisconsin on October 10-- impressive finishes at both UCI races. His life plan is to be a cross pro. This is his story.
He is long, lean and has locks of golden wavy hair like a California surfer. And that's appropriate, since he was born in Ventura. But his time there was brief. Smith moved to the East Coast even before he was a year old. He grew up in Agawam and now lives in Easthampton in an apartment he shares with Stephen Hyde and Sean McCarthy.
"It's a biker's house, but we do have a couch and kitchen table," Smith said. "What else do you need?"
Before he was hopping barriers, Smith was clearing even bigger obstacles. When he was 10, he started riding BMX. He loved jumping curbs and trash cans on his heavy 20-inch chrome Redline.
"I was jumping, always jumping on the bike," he said.
Wearing a full-face helmet, he started racing on Friday nights at the track.
"I was really bad at it, but it was fun. I met a lot of friends and we all started riding together," he said.
Smith was a typical teen who liked bikes, going to the skatepark and riding dirt jumps. Then in 7th grade, things got a little more serious when he met Trevor Emond, owner of a local bike shop. The two soon became good friends.
"I would go into the shop every day after school and look at all the bikes," Smith said.
Emond took Smith on his first-ever group ride on some blown-out motocross trails. Smith showed up in a loose T-shirt and cut-offs on his old mountain bike from Walmart. He was 14 and far younger than the other guys.
"I went with him on a legitimate ride with guys in spandex," Smith said. "I had never seen that before."
Eventually, Smith got hooked on riding fast downhill in the woods, so he bought a better bike off Craigslist and started riding more with the group with one goal: don't finish last. Emond convinced him to race.
"My mom had to come with me. I entered a Cat 2, 12-18 year old mountain bike race in Ware and won it, and it just spread my ego. There you go Trevor, I did my first race and won it!" Smith said. "Smack talk aside, it was fun."
When he was in high school, Smith's friend Justin Coelho introduced him to cyclocross. Smith realized he could ride a cross bike faster than a mountain bike and still rip trails and rail berms. Coelho convinced him to skip Cat 4 and enter a Cat 3 cross race in Springfield.
"I didn't even know how to dismount because I would bunny hop everything," Smith said. "I got 7th, and everyone thought it was great. That hooked me."
Smith wanted to get better at cross. He heard about the JAM Fund development program founded by National Cyclocross Champion Jeremy Powers and Powers' two friends Al Donahue and Mukunda Feldman. Smith applied but was rejected at the time.
"I knew I didn't want to do anything else. I wanted to get paid to race cross. I wanted that to be the end result, but I got back a generic response that said, 'See you at the races.' That sucked," Smith said.
So Smith enrolled in community college, but that didn't last long. He dropped out freshman year and drove across the country to Valhalla, California to live with Emond's cousin who was a pro cyclist. At 18, Smith thought he was on the right track.
"I rode every day. I thought I was being pro," he said. "But I had no structure."
So Smith moved back home. A few days later, he gave JAM Fund another try. Then came the call.
"I showed my friends at the bike shop my phone, that Jeremy left me a message saying let's connect for a ride," Smith said. "They didn't believe me and thought it must be someone else making a prank."
"That's how it happened, true story," Powers said. "We played phone tag, and I remember his voicemail saying, 'Hey man, I really don't want to miss this opportunity with you, and I want to ride.' I'm a sucker for someone who has that kind of passion and is willing to follow up."
So Powers and Smith went for a ride on an early summer June day. Two months later at the August Grand Fundo, JAM Fund announced Smith was now part of the program.
"He was willing to do whatever it took," Powers said. "He helped at the Fundo, took riders motor pacing... he helps me with my bike."
"We train together and he's always down to help me with skills work," said teammate Ellen Noble, the reigning U23 National Cyclocross Champion. "Having a close friend as a teammate is just fantastic."
This season, Smith is off to a strong start and will be one to watch at Nationals in Asheville, North Carolina in January.
"Scott is a shoe-in for podiums in the U23 this year," Powers said. "He does better in sloppier, nastier stuff like at Nationals, so that's going to be a chance for him to shine."
As for overseas, Powers says there's a possibility that Smith will race in Europe in November. But they'll wait and see.
"It's so hard to go over, it could break a rider," Powers said. "You could get dejected and want to quit. We want to protect them until they're ready. The trajectory is do to a lot of races in New England."
"If you want to race at the next level, and you want to make it your life, that's what JAM is for," Smith said. "At the same time, it's a cool group of people who like to share their passion and we have a lot of different energy and emotions and when it combines, everybody feeds off it and loves it and takes that energy and grows."
Smith will be jumping more barriers at his next big race-- the Cycle-Smart International on Nov. 7 and 8.