National Championships

Meet Payton Ridenour: Olympian & Children's Author

By: Jim Rusnak  March 21, 2023

From a small Pennsylvania town to the Olympics, 20-year-old BMX racer Payton Ridenour's positive attitude, support system, and determination is the driving force behind her success.

Olympic BMXer Payton Ridenour grew up in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, a rural area about 45 minutes northwest of Philadelphia.

It’s an unlikely place to produce a pro BMX racer. It is a secluded town, and the only track - just 15 minutes from Ridenour’s home - was small and built more for little kids and amateur racers. It’s nothing like the supercross tracks Ridenour competes at on the World Cup circuit or at the Olympics.

To stay competitive as an elite professional, Ridenour and her ultra-supportive family could only do one thing. She, her mom Karen and her dad Keith would drive nine hours one weekend a month to Rockhill, South Carolina, to practice at the supercross track closest to their home.

“We would hit up Friday night practice, Saturday morning practice, and then drive all the way back home another nine hours,” Ridenour said.

Then last year, the 20-year-old rider — now in her third year as a pro — had the opportunity to move to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to train at the new facility at the USA BMX headquarters. For the sake of her career, Ridenour and her family made the big leap and moved halfway across the country to Tulsa.

So far, she’s happy she made the move.

“I think Jamie Staff from USA Cycling kind of mentioned it to me, and my coach Arielle mentioned it to me, too,” Ridenour said. “They told me, ‘This might be a really good opportunity for you if you guys can make the move.’ In Pennsylvania, I didn’t have a lot of riding opportunities. In Tulsa, I have access to a supercross track, and it’s 10 minutes away from my house. Having that so close to me and being at the USA BMX headquarters, I have gym access, track access, and a lot of opportunities I wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else. I’m super thankful for that. And shout out to my mom and dad for making the move with me. I can’t even really put that into words. I couldn't be thankful enough for my mom and dad moving out here with me, believing in me, and supporting my BMX dream.”

Training-wise, the track offers everything she needs to compete at the elite level. It boasts a regulation 8-meter starting hill and a more technical pro section with bigger jumps. It’s also a longer track, which helps with her endurance.

“I love this track,” Ridenour said. “It is, in my opinion, the best supercross track in the United States. I’m biased because I live here now, but the first time I rode this track, it was awesome. It was everything I imagined, plus more. I’m super thankful to be here now and training. Living here has helped me greatly in the eight months since moving here. I’m looking forward to seeing how much more I can progress and take advantage of the opportunities Tulsa has for me.”

So far this season, Ridenour has seen the returns of her new training situation. She raced in Houston in February, finishing fourth on the first day of the USA BMX Series race and third on the second day. The third day in Houston was a UCI race, where she got her first win ever in the elite class.

“I’ve never won in the elite category before,” Ridenour said. “I got the big win, and that was awesome because I put in a lot of work this offseason with my mom, my dad, and my coach. It felt like everything started to click for me, finally – that this was all worth it in a sense, moving here and having access to the headquarters and the track. Everything associated with it is helping me be a better rider and perform better.”

In addition to the changes in her training and racing, Ridenour has also had to adjust to life in Tulsa. Growing up on the outskirts of Amish country, Ridenour says she’s never been a city girl. It’s been a completely different world compared to the one she grew up in, and it was a little bit of a struggle at first.

“I have neighbors who are closer to me,” Ridenour said. “I have roads with lines on them. I have traffic. I have highways. I didn’t have any of that before. Everything changed for me, and I think the first few months I moved here, it was a little hard to adjust,” Ridenour said. “But now I’ve gotten into the groove a little bit more, and it’s starting to feel a little bit more like home. Throughout this offseason, I’ve tried many new things in Tulsa and met some friends around here. It made it feel more like home to me.”

As for the rest of the season, Ridenour says she doesn’t like to think about result-oriented goals. She wants to continue what she’s doing—being positive, having a good mindset, having a good attitude toward everything, and putting in that extra one percent to give herself that extra edge.

If she does that, she knows World Cup finals and podiums will come her way.

“I have a really good team around me, and I’m really happy with my move to Tulsa and everything I have access to here,” Ridenour said. “I think it’s really going to be a huge help this year, and I’m really excited to see how that plays out.”

Keys to Success

Ridenour talked a little bit about what makes her a great rider. Here are her keys to success, which she stressed were not ranked in any particular order:

  1. My support circle. “The small circle I have - my mom, my dad, my coach Arielle Martin-Verhaaren - all of them believe in me and do everything they can to help me be a better person and a better rider. My mom and dad sacrificed everything throughout my amateur career to travel to national events and races. Now they’ve sacrificed everything to move out to Tulsa with me. My coach Arielle - this is my sixth year with her now, and it’s great to put my trust in someone who believes in my abilities. She has been a good mentor and friend to me through everything.
  2. Hard work, determination, and work ethic. “Where I grew up in Pennsylvania, I didn’t have access to all these different kinds of tracks and expert-level riders to ride with. When I think of my story, I think a little bit of the Rocky movies, where he’s on his own and has a small circle, but he has to fight for what he wants and endure the elements. During the winter months in Pennsylvania, I would go to the park, shovel snow off the stairs, and run up the stairs to work out. And I built a whole track in my backyard with my dad and a friend back home just to ride more than one track. I think a lot of that taught me that nothing will be given to me. If I want something, I have to work for it.”
  3. Myself. “I always put in 110 percent effort. It doesn’t even have to be in BMX. I’m always looking for ways to be better and push myself. I’m not looking for somebody else to nudge me on, but always looking for ways to make myself better and continue to grow.”

Children’s Book: A-Z BMX Style

If you want Ridenour to perk up, ask about her children’s book, A-Z BMX Style. She wrote the first draft when she was 10 with her mom one Christmas at her grandmother’s house. She got the idea from her Aunt Jennifer, who wrote the A-Z Hockey books.

It sat on the computer for about 10 years when she rediscovered it in 2020 during the COVID quarantine.

“We thought it would be cool to bring it to life,” Ridenour said. “I looked at it and did a bunch of rewriting. I wrote it when I was 10, and a lot of the alphabet was out of order. I basically rewrote the whole book, but the idea was there.”

From there, she created a Kickstarter campaign to help her fund illustration, printing, shipping and all the other little fees that come with publishing a book. After meeting her Kickstarter goal to fund the book, her Aunt Jennifer helped her with all the legal technicalities of publishing. The books arrived at her house in April of 2021, and since then, she’s been selling them at races and on her website.

Ridenour says she’s sold about half the books so far.

“It’s been a huge hit,” Ridenour said. “The whole BMX community – and not just the BMX Community but really anybody who is bike oriented – loves the book. I also have my dog, Rocket, a 4-year-old beagle, hidden on every page - her name, image, or likeness. The kids love that part. I still have quite a few boxes in my garage I’m looking to sell.”

Elite BMX National Championships

Ridenour will put her skills to the test at the USA Cycling Elite BMX National Championships at her home track in Tulsa on May 7, 2023. Watch the racing live at