Before Ryder Wren stepped into elementary school and put a pencil in his hand, the Waldo County resident had his fingers firmly clamped down and around a dirt-bike throttle.

The now 10-year-old has competed around Maine, and nationally, as one of the top riders before he started fifth grade.

"It’s super fun," said Ryder of traveling around the country. "We’ve gone to Las Vegas, Florida, Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey [to compete]. We race people from all over, and it’s a good experience."

Initial spark provides winning flame

Ryder was only ages 4 when he climbed aboard his first dirt bike, which was his brother, Cooper's.

"[Cooper] kept on crashing it, so he stopped riding it," Ryder said. "I was four when I started riding it, and I got pretty good. Our neighbors asked if we wanted to go to the track to race, and we started going."

From there Wren was hooked, and in his second full year of racing, he took home the New England Gold Cup title at 7 years old.

"I just thought it would be a phase and he would outgrow it, but turns out, [that] wasn’t meant to be and here we are," said Meagan Valles, Wren's mother.

"He was 4 when he first came to us, so I didn’t take him seriously until we started doing it," said Caleb Wren, Ryder's father. "He dragged us all into it."

Titles and skill

Success did not stop for Ryder, as he accelerated his way to racing around the country, and with it, experience to capture trophies, which now fill the house.

"We are so proud of him," said Valles. "He puts in so much work, both on the bike and off the bike. He really has natural talent, and so much heart for this sport. It’s so great to see him so focused and determined to excel."

Ryder has captured five American Motorcycle Association state titles in southern Maine, with four in 2019 between the 51cc ages 7-to-8 limited series and ages 4-to-8 limited series, as well as one title in 2020, in the 65cc limited series. The youngster also has 11 local championships, among other victories in various races.

Ryder's mom admits "we've kind of run out of room and started putting [the trophies] in drawers."

Still, one thing separates Ryder from other competitors he faces from around the nation.

"At the national level a lot of the kids are fortunate enough to go to training facilities and work with trainers, and ride year-round, but Ryder, coming from Thorndike, he’s not that fortunate," said Valles. "He doesn’t get to ride in the winter, he’s never been to a training facility or had a trainer. He’s self-taught in the backyard or gotten some pointers from older racers at the track, but he’s never had a trainer. The fact that he can go and compete with the best of them is amazing to me."

Despite the lack of a formal trainer, Ryder is self-motivated in his fitness, as he rides in 20- to 30-minute intervals at home to help train — stopping only to gas up his bike — compared to five to seven laps in a race. Ryder also uses weights, a stationary bike, elliptical and does body workouts in the winter "when I can't ride," while in the summer he peddles 10 miles a day on his mountain bike.

Country flavor

Ryder's toughest, and most prestigious, form of competition came in August, when he competed in the AMA Amateur National Motocross Championships in Hurricane Mills, Tenn., Aug. 3-8, in the "backyard" of country music legend Loretta Lynn.

"Loretta’s was definitely the biggest achievement so far," said Valles. "The place every racer dreams of is making it to Loretta’s, and Ryder made it in [the 65 seven-to-nine limited and mod], which was pretty amazing."

Competing in the AMA Amateur National Motocross Championships is no easy feet, as Ryder had to compete in an area qualifier followed by an area regional race, which narrows the field to the top six, which move on to the big stage.

Of course, a significant stage can have an affect on your nerves, especially when you are competing in two separate classes against 41 other racers in each class.

Despite the bright lights, Ryder finished 18th overall in the 65 ages 7-to-9 limited series, and 26th overall in the 65 ages 7-to-9 mod series.

"In Tennessee I got a lot of bad starts because I’d be so nervous at the line that I’d come out and second guess myself," Ryder said. "I’d also get too hard on the brakes in the corner and make a bunch of mistakes because I was so nervous."

"When he first started racing he met a family from the south that had been working in Maine, and their boys were riding," said Valles. "Before every gate drop the boys from the south would say a prayer at the gate, and Ryder picked that up, so that’s something he does at every gate drop now to help keep him safe. It’s so nerve-racking [though]. I cry at most gate drops, especially the big ones."

Ryder admits he "cartwheeled" in one of the races in Tennessee, which is something his mother never likes to see.

"My heart stops [when he crashes], and I wait for him to get up," she said. "It’s probably one of the worst feelings in the world, because you watch them fly through the air, and the bike goes one way and they go another. You just hope and pray they get back up and get back on the bike. Thankfully he has top-of-the-line gear, which helps."

Ryder's father, Caleb, who has been a dairy farmer his entire life and works on the bikes, admits he has "gotten used to him racing, but it's still nerve-racking."

"I cross my fingers and hope I did everything right with the bike," said Caleb. "I know Ryder will do his part, but my biggest concern is having everything right [on the bike]. If I can keep the bike in working order it improves his chances of getting through [the race]."

Community support

Ryder, a fifth-grader at Troy Elementary School, not only has the challenge of racing against top competition, but raising funds to get to the venue.

"The community has stepped up as well," Valles said. "We’ve done three bottle drives now, and we had a few people do a raffle for us. We are so fortunate to live in a community that is willing to help. There’s no way we could have gotten him there without the help of the community."

"It’s pretty impressive, honestly," said Caleb. "We do what we can for him. His first big race in Las Vegas we had a new bike, but I had no way of getting him there. I told [Valles] if you could raise the money I would take him, and that started us down this path and we’ve been doing it ever since."

"Ryder has a lot of local sponsors, and before COVID-19 we would make up a resumé, and take him around to local companies," Valles said. "Ryder would introduce himself, show the resumé, tell them what he wanted to do and ask if they wanted to sponsor him. Once Ryder started going to races out of state we needed more [money], and a couple of sponsors from the track picked him up and helped tremendously. Without them we wouldn’t have been able to buy his bike last year."

The local tracks around Maine have allowed Ryder to hone his craft before he steps into the spotlight of the national scene, as he practices at Back 40 in Norridgewock and MX207 in Lyman. Both are considered his "home" tracks, while Ryder also flings dirt and dust at other tracks close to home, as well as around the state.

With a more adult approach in his young life, Ryder also has grown as a young man.

"I think racing has helped [with his maturity]," said Valles. "He’s had to open up and talk to adults, and present himself in a mature way."

"Both of our boys impress us with motocross," said Caleb. "His brother, Cooper, doesn’t race, but still does stuff at the track. He has a snack shack, and he donates most of his proceeds. Last year he donated somewhere close to $2,000 to the Barbara Bush Hospital. It’s been really touching to see my boys mature."

Eyes to future

Like any successful competitor, one as young as Ryder has an eye to the future, seven, eight or nine years down life's trail.

"Soon I want to get better and hopefully in a few years I want to get picked up by a factory team and get to 250cc [bikes]," said Ryder. "Around 17, 18 or 19 [years old] I want to start racing pro, and then hopefully go to 450cc [bikes]. I want to be a professional racer."

"That’s definitely his goal," said Valles. "I’d love to see him be able to [become a professional], but realistically I don’t think a high percentage of racers make it to the professional ranks. He’s surprised us with every other goal he’s set though."

The future Ryder seeks is still years of hard work away, but his family sees the potential.

"Every time we come back from racing we strive for more because we know Ryder can do it," said Caleb.