New Canaan resident Fleming dreams of professional motocross career
Published 6:47 pm, Friday, December 30, 2016
Before Wilson Fleming could form complete sentences, he was whipping through the tall Vermont trees on a dirt bike.
At the ripe age of three, Wilson’s father, David, purchased him a 50cc dirt bike, rigged some training wheels on it, and a dream was born.
Despite being a toddler, Wilson took to the bike immediately, and the training wheels lasted all of about two weeks.
“It was kind-of game over from there,” Wilson said.
Fast-forward 17 years.
The New Canaan native, who spent countless weekends at his family’s vacation home in Vermont, growing up on a dirt bike, finds himself at the brink of his professional career.
Fleming, now a 20-year-old, spends every day perfecting his unique craft at the Millsaps Training Facility in Cairo, GA.
Most days for Fleming are the same.
He wakes up at 7 a.m., grabs some breakfast and heads to the gym for 30 minutes of cardio and stretching. From there he heads to the track until lunchtime, where he grabs a bite to eat and treks back to the gym for an hour and a half workout. Then he’s back in the garage, getting his bike prepared to the following day, followed by dinner and heading off to bed.
All to restart the same process the following day.
His system of training can seem monotonous, but for a full-time rider looking for a factory sponsorship those are the necessary steps that must be fulfilled.
Three years ago, Fleming’s dedication paid off as he qualified for the Loretta Lynn AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship.
At age 17, Fleming cared little about his finish, simply happy to be a part of the action at the national stage.
“It was crazy, because I’d been trying to qualify for Loretta’s for about six or seven years,” Fleming said. “When I finally qualified, I was the happiest kid in the world. I felt like it didn’t matter what I did when I got there, the fact that I qualified was amazing.”
In 2016, those goals would change.
No longer would Fleming settle for just being in the field, it was his time to beat it.
“My goal coming into it was to win,” Fleming said.
And he did.
This past August, in Hurricane Mills, Tenn., Fleming took home the 450B limited title at Loretta’s.
“To be able to win there, especially with how far I’ve come, is such an incredible feeling,” Fleming said. “And there’s no doubt in my mind that if you work hard and put 110% into training each-and-every day the hard work pays off; and I think it showed this season for me.”
What’s more impressive than his successful 2016 season is how he responded to a tumultuous 2015.
In April of 2015 Fleming broke his thumb.
That recovery process took only a few weeks, but was a sign of things to come for Fleming during the year.
September saw a broken collarbone, and after rebounding from that Fleming was back on his bike a month later when he heard a noise every athlete has nightmares about.
“I was just starting to train again,” Fleming said. “And I start riding for a week and hear this pop in my knee. I was able to walk off and go back to my camper and at that point I was like, ‘do I really want to do this? Is it worth it?’”
Fleming had suffered a torn ACL in his right knee and, to make matters worse, he tore his meniscus and MCL in the same knee just a week later.
The rehab time for his injuries is around six months, and after deliberating with his family Fleming decided to forego surgery, opting to fight through the pain to achieve the goals he has worked his whole life for.
“For me to try and fulfill my dream and make this a living—and get paid from a factory team—I couldn’t afford to miss six months,” Fleming said. “So the hardest part has been rehabbing it, getting all the muscles around it as strong as they can be and then there’s still some times where the knee can pop out—which is some of the worst pain I’ve ever felt—but it only lasts about 30 seconds and then it’s OK.”
Fleming battled though his injuries, and has the hardware to show for it—a testament to his mental fortitude.
“The thing about Wilson is that he has an incredible head on his shoulders,” said Wilson’s mother, Devon Fleming. “Everyone who meets him thinks he has a professional head. It takes a professional mindset to overcome injuries and keep competing at a high level; he’s won a championship with the injury, so he can do it.”
His psyche started from a young age.
At just six-years-old, Wilson and his family came across the Milford Riding Club in Milford, Conn.
Fleming and his father would go every Friday to watch the races, and the youngster had no issue with making his presence felt, even as a fan.
“Wilson would go right up to the guy who was the head of the board, and just tug on his shirt and be like, ‘I want to ride, I want to ride,’ and they finally let him in,” Devon said. “So, he started racing at seven and he was clearly very good at it. It was something me and my husband and daughters really enjoyed watching and going up to Milford.
“He likes what he likes and tells it like it is; he’s very straight-forward and he worked very hard and my husband and him spent years going to the races and working on dirt bikes, and it became clear he had a lot of talent with it.”
That wasn’t Fleming’s only athletic talent however.
Fleming comes from a ski family, and when the weather in Vermont was too rough to ride, he took to the slopes.
There, it became apparent that Fleming may be suited for a life in the snow.
His love for skiing, coupled with his parents’ dream of a college scholarship and professional career, prompted the Fleming’s to enroll Wilson in Stratton Mountain School, a boarding school in Vermont, on an invitational basis for his seventh-grade year.
While away, Fleming’s love for dirt biking shined through, and he opted to return to New Canaan in eighth grade to pursue his life in motocross.
Throughout high school, while most boys were playing football or lacrosse for the storied New Canaan programs, Fleming was winning titles on his bike; all with one goal in mind—which he made prominent in his senior yearbook.
“So, the best training facility in the country is the one he’s at, and that’s where he wanted to go,” Devon Fleming said. “He wrote in his senior yearbook, ‘I want to train at Millsaps and become a professional motocross racer,’ and that’s what he’s doing.”
Fleming’s career is already full of highs.
His win at Loretta’s prompted Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson to send a personal letter congratulating him.
He has sponsors decorating him in gear from head-to-bike-to-boot.
But he is at a crossroads.
To achieve his life-long dream of being a professional supercross racer, Fleming must be sponsored by a factory team—and he thinks his strong 2016 campaign has him at the doorstep.
“The end goal for me is to be able to make a living out of doing this,” Fleming said. “I know that I love racing dirt bikes and it’s fun, but at some point, being 20-years-old now, it’s kind of make-or-break. This season was huge for me, my name is out there and that has to be done so these teams know who you are and if I can continue with some of the success it’s very likely to get onto a factory team by, hopefully, this time next year, if not earlier.
“And that’s the end goal.”