Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

The Big Read: The Kiwi sportsman who has paid $500k to crack the big time

Young Kiwi motocross rider Dylan Walsh who is trying to crack the big time in America. Photo / Supplied
Young Kiwi motocross rider Dylan Walsh who is trying to crack the big time in America. Photo / Supplied

Here's a gutsy family sports story which will give your wallet the shakes.

While taxpayer funding is a hot topic after the Rio Olympics, some sports people still do it the old fashioned way - self funding.

In the case of young Kiwi motocross rider Dylan Walsh who is trying to crack the big time in America, this involves the extraordinary family commitment of a half million dollars so far.

The 18-year-old Walsh, raised mainly in Christchurch, has been based at the renowned Millsaps Training Facility (MTF) near the Florida state capital of Tallahassee for two years. He must race as an amateur for now, desperately hoping a factory team thinks he has the right stuff.

In a major boost to his hopes, Walsh is among the amateurs invited to the prestigious Monster Energy Cup in Las Vegas, on Sunday next week. Walsh is doubly excited that his family should be able to see him in action - the event will be on Sky's ESPN 2.

The invite is an encouraging break for a young bloke with so many things stacked against him.

"I was certainly nervous about coming here at first," he told the Herald from the MTF camp at the rural town of Cairo.

"No one knew who I was and some kids have been with factory teams since they were 10. Yes it's been hard at times.

"But one of my aims is to pay back my family, to show that all the sacrifice they have made has been worth it.

"I have siblings (an older sister and two younger brothers) and the family hasn't been able to go on holidays and missed out on luxury things.

"We've talked about it a couple of times, but my parents don't like to put that extra stress on me."

Dylan's father, construction project manager Barry, was brought up in London where motocross was his passion.

"England is where motocross comes from - it's called scrambling over there," says Barry, who has been working in Auckland where the family has also lived.

Barry was a motocross nut but his father couldn't afford to back his son too far, a lingering memory which has influenced him and wife Carol to go the extra mile in supporting Dylan.

"Dylan showed an extreme sense of balance since he was two," says Barry.

"He had won eight national titles but at 15 or 16, the options in New Zealand became a stalemate.

"To be the best you've got to race the best, and they are in America."

Barry estimates Dylan's career cost about $50,000 a year in New Zealand.

"I'd hate to count the overall figures but it would be half a million. With Dylan's talent, we raced everything here.

"Yes, it was hard, year in year out. But he'd go and win another national title. You are so far in already and the kid was doing everything he could, so how do you stop it?

"We knew what we were getting into. I've downsized our house twice, re-mortgaged, used everything I've saved, his grandparents in the UK have contributed.

"Currently he has to pay before we even kick a bike over in the States - it's US$20,000 to stay at the MTF camp, $1000 for a shed to put his bikes in...

"I took him over, spent three weeks there and waved goodbye. I need to be here to generate the funds for him to survive."

Which is where Colleen Millsaps, the straight talking MTF boss, enters the picture.

There are about 45 riders at the MTF, who do a very solid eight hour day of stretching, track and gym work. School aged riders must continue their education.

Dylan can't afford to rent a cabin or motorhome so lives in a little room behind the MTF schoolhouse. His visa requirements prohibit earning money, but he works hard around the camp in return for meals and help from the mechanics when necessary.

In the main, he must fix his own Yamaha 250s. The expenses keep rolling in - he's on about his 12th bike now and they cost around $8000 a pop. The family bought him a car and trailer and he makes up to 30 hour trips to events.

He also has to leave the States for a week every six months for visa reasons. With a new visa still under review, there is some doubt if can take his place in the Monster Energy Cup. Even simple accomodation is not so simple - because he is under 21 his parents often have to make the bookings from afar.

Crucially, as a battling privateer his bikes are not up with the best. It's a tough road, but he is hanging in there. And there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Walsh will rise from the B to A amateur division in January thanks to a fourth placing at this year's national championships at the Tennessee ranch owned by country music legend Loretta Lynn.

Millsaps says: "Dylan shows flashes of brilliance but hasn't put an entire season together.
"It has been a struggle but he can make up for a lot of the obstacles he faces with his determination and grit.

"He's mischievous and can do stupid stuff. There is an inability to control his emotions at times, but that also makes people want to help him.

"I thought 'Do I want to take this on?' It's his raw aggression - there is something special about him."

And so, to next Sunday's supercross races, at the 35,000 capacity Sam Boyd stadium. There is the prize of a pickup truck for an amateur who can win both "holeshot" starts. Walsh is a great starter - "fearless" as Millsaps puts it.

"The Monster Energy Cup is a great chance to impress factory teams and to win that truck would be huge for him," she says.

"Selling the truck would pay for next season. If you make it as a pro, we're talking six figures.

"He is very close...no guarantees but he could be amazing. If he doesn't make it here, he will go to Europe and be successful. A big part about Dylan is he wants to pay back his family."

Dylan Walsh

Age: 18
Status: Amateur motocross/supercross prospect trying to turn professional in America.
Lives: At a motocross training facility near Tallahassee.
His dream...since he was 12, Walsh has dreamed of making it as a professional in America.
Rides...A Yamaha 250 in 250 and 450 races.
What is motocross/supercross? It's dirt bike racing. In a nutshell, motocross is held on large, rural outdoor tracks featuring natural and man-made challenges. Supercross involves man made tracks in stadiums - it's shorter, more technical, noisier and more extreme.
Walsh's American ranking: It is estimated to be around 5th in the amateur B-division. He joins the A-division next year.
His best result: He was 4th overall (with finishes of 12th, 13th and 3rd) in this year's American national amateurs 250 B class held at Loretta Lynn's ranch in Tennessee. He won a number of qualifiers. Second placings at Daytona Ricky Carmichael Supercross and James Stewart Spring Championship.
NZ national titles: Eight.
Immediate goal: A podium finish at the Monster Energy Cup in Las Vegas next Sunday. (The event is being covered live on Sky.)

- NZ Herald

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