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Skateboarding Whiz Kid Flips and Flies Despite Size

Sport: Mitchie Brusco, age 5, is poised beyond his years and already has a board named for him. And he still rides in a car booster seat.

September 14, 2002|DANA CALVO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

KIRKLAND, Wash. — Zooming by in baggy shorts and tattoos, the skateboarders sail over ramps, railings and stairs, stopping only to chug energy drinks from wide-mouthed bottles.

Then there is Mitchie Brusco, the kid known as Little Tricky.

He quenches his thirst by drinking orange juice his mommy poured into a plastic cup with a built-in spout and a screw-on lid so he can't spill it.

Just 5 years old, Mitchie still rides in a booster seat in his family's minivan and shares a bedroom with his 3-year-old sister, Colie. His helmet is plastered with photographs of his sisters, brothers and smiling grandfather, and when he takes it off, his ears pop out like the doors on a taxicab.

But at skate parks nationwide, where loud music and teenage bravado reign, Mitchie has staked out his turf as a rising star of the rebel sport. He can turn his board 180 degrees underneath him, careen up steep ramps and shimmy down rails with a set of wheels on either side. And all without a wobble.

His poise already has caught the attention of competition organizers, corporate sponsors and an agent looking for the sport's next "it" boy to replace aging pros such as 29-year-old Andy MacDonald.

"He's 5, and he competes in the '8 and under' groups," said Mitchie's mother, Jennifer, on a recent morning at their home in this Seattle suburb. "He's the best in that group, and he's the youngest."

"No, I'm not," Mitchie piped up. "There's a 6-year-old."

"Six is older than 5," she reminded him with a smile and a rub on his back.

"Oh, yeah! But he's smaller. Mom?" he asked, jumping off the couch and planting his feet by a door frame marked with heights and ages of the family's five children. "Can you measure me?"

At 43 inches tall and 43 pounds, the boy with the big brown eyes and fine hair buzzed into an impish crew cut came across the radar of Patty Seder during a June competition. As president of the 300-member Pacific Northwest Amateur Skateboard League, Seder sees good skateboarders all day long. But Mitchie stood out.

"He's totally calm and focused, which is unusual at that age. I was mowed down. He was fearless, even though he was much younger than the kids he was skating against," she said. "It also helps that I don't see parental pushing."

In a sport whose half brother, snowboarding, was recognized as an Olympic event at the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan, the potential visibility of top-ranking skateboarders is huge.

"They're really tandem sports, and I wouldn't be surprised if skateboarding was eventually in the Olympics," Seder said.

Mitchie already has made such a name for himself that when he ventured onto a snowboard for the first time last winter, it was given to him by manufacturer World Industries.

"He's too young for the snowboarding camps," Jennifer Brusco said, "but that's definitely a sport we're going to get more into this winter." She is a former professional baseball player for the Colorado Silver Bullets who is now a stay-at-home mom, and her husband, Mick, works in sales in the lumber industry.

Last month, Mitchie's skateboarding prowess drew the family to Cleveland, where he competed in the Gravity Games, a professional and amateur contest for the daredevils of street athletics. To qualify, Mitchie beat out every skateboarder in the country younger than 8 and then got lucky enough to be selected from a raffle of other winners in the Northwest League.

He finished 13th out of 14 amateur contestants, but he was competing against kids who were 12 or older.

"He's by far the youngest person to compete," said Wade Martin, executive director of the Gravity Games, which will be broadcast on NBC this fall. The youngest skateboarder last year was almost 12.

"It's way too hard to tell what kind of future Mitchie has when he's 5 years old, but he's one of the best skaters in his age group that anyone's ever seen," Martin said.

Competitively, skateboarding is an inexact science that requires charisma as well as technical merit to impress the three judges. Each athlete performs alone for two runs of 45 seconds each, and the lower of those scores is thrown out.

"Before each competition, he prays for the safety of the other skaters," said Jennifer Brusco, adding that she and her husband do as well. The risk of broken wrists or worse doesn't preoccupy her. With five kids from 3 to 12, she said worrying about every child's athletic events is simply a time drain.

Instead, Mitchie's parents spend their time making home movies of his pursuits.

"I like this one because it shows his tenacity," Jennifer Brusco said, holding the remote control as a video shows Mitchie jumping off a flight of stairs and trying to land solidly on his board. He finally does, after falling five times. "It shows that he really loves to do this, and we're not making him."

And, by all appearances, they're not.

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