When KC Tittlemier was 2, he had weightier problems to deal with than breaking in a new tooth or keeping his diapers fresh.
Tittlemier was learning how to pedal his BMX racing bike at full speed down a 100-yard dirt straightaway without crashing into the opponent less than two inches from his front wheel.
Tittlemier, now 5, mastered the basics of BMX racing at an age when most kids have just learned to walk. Now he is ranked fifth nationally in his age group and he is coming off a second-place finish at the Grand Nationals in Oklahoma City last November.
And though Tittlemier got into BMX racing at a young age, he already had a role model--his older brother, B. J.
B. J. did not start BMX racing when he was 2. He waited until the ripe old age of 4 before climbing on his racing bike. But now, at age 7, B. J. is also nationally ranked.
The Tittlemiers of Oxnard are typical of the top BMX racers, who start young, learn quickly and achieve success before they leave elementary school.
"Our kids got started in this at an age when there was really nothing else they could do," Micki Tittlemier said. "As long as they could ride a bike, they could do this."
The Tittlemiers' parents, Micki and Brent, spend their weekends shuttling their sons throughout California--from Saticoy to Bakersfield to Fort Ord--to compete in races. The family's devotion to the sport has paid off with a roomful of trophies.
But for mom and dad, the rewards have been more intangible.
"It's so exciting to watch, especially when your son comes across the finish line and he has a big smile on his face," Micki said. "That makes you feel so good."
Started in the mid-1970s as a safer, less expensive alternative to motorcycle motocross, BMX racing's popularity has grown rapidly.
Today, the National Bicycle League has more than 41,000 competitors, aged 3 to 60, who race throughout the United States.
While the ranks are filled mostly with boys, the sport is also popular with girls.
"Skill and experience will help a girl to beat somebody who has a strength advantage," said Daniel Redburn, of Oxnard, whose daughter, Marisa, 10, has been racing for three years.
Marisa is ranked No. 1 in California in the NBL rankings for racers aged 10-11. Her motivation may be wavering, however.
"She has been real serious about this from the start, but now she is talking about cheerleading and doing other things, so who knows how long she will race," Daniel Redburn said. "This is not a team sport, so you have to make it on your own and that's what she has done."
Anna Baer, 13, of Simi Valley, is another girl who has become a successful racer.
"The boys get a little mad when I win, but they're usually pretty nice," Baer said.
Baer and Redburn spend their weekends racing, either in Simi Valley or at the Farnum Raceway in Saticoy, which opened two weeks ago after being closed for a year to relocate to a new site. Edna Farnum, owner of the Saticoy raceway, stages races on Sunday afternoons and awards trophies to the top finishers in each age division.
Farnum has owned and operated three BMX courses in Ventura County the past five years. She got involved in the sport because she wanted to help keep kids off the street.
"I strongly believe in this sport and I believe it provides real healthy competition for the kids," Farnum said. "No kids sit on the bench in BMX. Everybody competes.
"If a kid is the worst bike rider on his block, he will still be able to compete according to his age and ability level."
Farnum opened her newest raceway on June 18 after working for months to construct a quarter-mile racecourse and to clear away the debris and weeds that had overtaken the abandoned Little League field.
After just two weeks of operation, the Farnum Raceway is already luring BMX competitors who have few other places to compete in Ventura County.
"This is a real family sport," Farnum said. "We have a lot of single parents and divorced mothers who bring their sons out here. That's why I'm into this. I love to see that interaction."
Bleu Patino, 11, of Camarillo, and Kenneth Carmien, 16, of Simi Valley, are two of the top competitors at the Farnum Raceway.
Patino, a top-ranked racer in the NBL's California rankings, is a three-year veteran of the sport, while Carmien did not start racing until he was 14.
On a typical Sunday, Carmien will race in the morning at the BMX course in Simi Valley and compete in Saticoy in the afternoon. He enjoys the challenge of BMX racing.
"You have to really be in shape to compete in this sport, that's what I like," Carmien said.
The fact that Carmien is well-conditioned is evident to anyone who watches him pedal his 20-inch Mongoose BMX racing bike over six-foot jumps and banked turns at the Saticoy course.
Also evident is the fact that racing BMX bikes is a lot of fun. And, it appears, one cannot be too young for BMX fun.