Next generation of competitors: Many local kids excel in their sport of choice
Special to the Daily
See super kids in action
The Kids Adventure Games, an adventure challenge course for ages 6 to 14, comes to Vail Mountain from Wednesday, Aug. 10, through Sunday, Aug. 14. The course is run in teams of two and involves a range of obstacles and challenges in an outdoor environment. Athlete check-in begins at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, with optional skills clinics for racers on Wednesday and Thursday and races on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The race is sold out, but spectators are welcome. Visit www.kidsadventuregames.com to learn more.
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Vail Health magazine. Read about more of Eagle County’s young athletes in the Aug. 16 Vail Daily High Life Health section.
it comes as no surprise that Eagle County is home to many up-and-coming athletes. Soccer, skiing, snowboarding, football, golf — the list goes on. But what about the fringe athletes whose sports might be gaining in popularity but aren’t as mainstream as the traditional ones?
When kids compete at regional or national levels, they need support, not just from their coaches, but also their families, which includes chauffeuring to events, packing lunches, booking hotels, playing psychologist and basically being there — win, lose or crash.
While each sport requires a different skill set, there is one common denominator amongst the athletes: They are all incredibly determined to excel in their sport.
Just one look was all it took for Davis Hermes to determine his future: slacklining. For those not familiar with the sport, think tightrope walking on loose webbing. Add a few backflips, knee drops and chest and butt bounces, and you’ll begin to imagine the incredible balancing act of this young athlete. The 16-year-old witnessed the sport at the GoPro Mountain Games in Vail four years ago.
He convinced his mom, Amy, to buy a slackline and then proceeded to spend hours a day, every day, teaching himself how to walk across the line. From there, he progressed to doing tricks.
Starting out, Davis said, is “really hard because the slackline is an unpredictable surface. Your body is used to a predictable surface where your muscles know how to react. Your muscles have no idea of what is going on, and your legs are going to shake back and forth.”
It’s impossible to master slacklining, but after falling in love with the sport, he progressed to highlining — basically slacklining at an elevation above the ground or water. Sometimes that’s way above ground — 400 feet or so, which was the height of Davis’s first highline in Moab, Utah.
Amy admits to being terrified watching her then-12-year-old son walk a highline for the first time.
“I was thinking, ‘Is this neglectful parenting?’” she said, laughing. “But it is safe: You are harnessed in so if you fall you don’t go plummeting to the ground, and it brings me joy to see him do this. Highlining is really where he shines and it is a testimony to his talent.
“I chose to nurture it rather than fight it,” she said.
Amy, a former mountain bike racer, also inspires her son.
“I can see she was always very determined and I can tell she was passionate about mountain biking so she inspires me in general,” he said.
At the GoPro Mountain Games there are no age brackets, so Davis has competed against slackliners in their 20s, but that is not a hindrance.
“I’ll compete against whoever they put me up against,” he said.
Davis currently competes four to five times a year, and in the future, he’d like to compete internationally. In the interim, he is determined to start a slacklining club in the valley to introduce others to the sport. And while that is in the works, Davis has found other ways to give back. He went on a church mission to Argentina and helped build playgrounds.
Taken in context with his determined nature, his high hopes for the future seem very down to earth.
“Starting out is really hard because the slackline is an unpredictable surface,” he said. “Your body is used to a predictable surface where your muscles know how to react.”
Growing up on a ranch, it was natural for Bailee Boles, 15, to learn to ride before she could walk. Horses always have been — and if this adventurous teen has her way, always will be — part of her life.
In the summer of 2014, after giving a speech and performing a riding pattern for judges, Bailee was crowned the Eagle County Rodeo Princess. During her yearlong reign, she represented the county, assisted with 4H events and had countless media appearances.
“Kids would always run up to me and their faces would light up,” Bailee said.
Even without her sash and crown, she was recognizable and children would squeal with delight, “I’ve seen you before! You are the rodeo princess!”
Bailee is a keen barrel racer who has been competing since she was 10. Her quarter horse, Rango, was not bred to be a barrel horse, but with skill and patience, Bailee has turned Rango into a top competitor.
Her parents offer support in multiple ways, from making sure Rango is sound to driving her throughout the region to compete in rodeos.
“It’s amazing what she’s done and to see how far she’s come,” said Shelly McCoy, one of her coaches.
McCoy, Kendra Scott and Kris Whittaker founded Eagle County’s Freedom Riders, a mounted drill team organization, 14 years ago. Bailee is not only an active participant, but also a role model for the younger children.
“Bailee is a great kid,” McCoy said. “She is always helpful and wants to be a leader and is willing to go wherever we need her. She is very good with all the kids and has good communications skills.”
“The Freedom Riders help give kids experience and confidence on horses and I’m proud to be a part of it,” Bailee said.
A member of the Soroco High School volleyball team, Bailee divides her time between schoolwork, volleyball, rodeos and training.
“I try to train every day on my horse, but when the weather is bad, I’ll stay inside and practice tying a rope around my feet,” she said.
And what purpose does that serve? Goat tying, of course. And that is Bailee’s next goal: to compete in the timed sport in which she must run her horse to a tethered goat, flip the goat and tie a specific knot around the goat’s feet. In the future, Bailee would like to compete at the national level and then study equine science or agricultural management to help her family with their ranch.
As a toddler, Benjamin “Benji” Dantas would scare his mother, Kelly, a Vail Valley Medical Center employee, on a daily basis. She’d come down to the kitchen in the mornings only to find Benji on top of the counter having climbed his way up using cupboard handles as hoists or stopping points on his ascent.
Fast-forward to one summer when Kelly toted her two toddlers with her to work at Beaver Creek, giving them the opportunity to play on the climbing wall and bungee trampoline.
“Benji had no interest in anything except spending hours on the climbing wall,” Kelly said. By the end of that summer, though he was only 5, Benji’s dad, Dave, thought he would be well-served on a climbing team. After watching him maneuver on the wall at the Vail Athletic Club, the climbing coach made an age exception and let the upward-bound Benji join the team.
Since then, Benji has won his age division in the GoPro Mountain Games for the past two summers and excels in both bouldering and sport climbing.
Travel throughout the state and region is necessary, as are biweekly practices. Now that Benji’s younger sister participates, as well as mom and dad, climbing has become a way to enjoy an afternoon together after a morning on the slopes or other activities.
Now 11, Benji has made the national team. If he re-qualifies each year, he will be able to compete in North America and eventually around the world.
“I like that it is an individual sport and you can reach your full potential,” he said. “I hope that climbing can get into the Olympics and I can do this as a living.”
He also participates in middle school sports: basketball, football and track. It’s a full schedule, but Benji said he enjoys it all — especially the time he gets to spend with his teammates.
“When I play football, I’m a lineman so I can’t always get the person I’m supposed to and I want to show how good you can be at the sport so it’s tough,” he said. “But in climbing, you can show how good you are up the route, and if you fall or something goes wrong, you don’t give up, you just keep on going.”