Eighteen-year-old Niels Velema is Dutch but was born in Brussels. His mother is from the Netherlands and his father is French from Martinique. Velema is currently taking his last exams at The British School of Beijing (BSB) in Shunyi.
At the end of April, Velema was the only foreigner to join a three-day motocross race held in Yunnan. He placed third on the first day and got to share the podium with professional Chinese racers. Having always been interested in high–speed sports, Velema started getting involved with motocross just a few years ago. Now sponsored by Beijing Off-Road Club, he is pursuing his dream of becoming a motocross champion. Recently, beijingkids spoke to Velema about his plans.
How long have you been in China?
I came to China in the summer of 2009 with my family, so I have been here three and a half years. Before, I lived in Trinidad and Tobago; in fact, I have been living abroad my whole life in eight different countries.
How did you become interested in motocross racing?
I became interested in motocross after a few years of riding a 110cc Chinese pit bike. I started watching motocross on TV and fell in love with the sport. I finally got a proper KTM 125cc two-stroke dirt bike after one year in Beijing and convinced my parents that it was the sport for me. But I was always interested in sports involving speed; when I was small, I started competitive mountain bike racing. I [also]loved karting, quads, and speed boat racing.
When did you first join a race?
The race in Dongchuan in Yunnan on April 25 was my very first official race. It was a three-day Enduro race totaling 300km. I never imagined I would be on the podium the first day with all those professionals. I was sponsored by the Beijing Off-Road Club; they see me racing regularly and believe in my talents.
What makes off-road motocross more exciting than other types of racing?
Off-road motocross is so much more exciting because of the jumps and variety in landscape: hills, rivers, rocks. It is much better than just [going]around a racecourse. It is full of extreme adventure, which I really love.
How did you get involved with the Beijing Off-Road Club?
I bought my very first cross bike there, a KTM. I then regularly raced with them on weekends; they organize tours in the dunes and mountains. They realized I was talented, because I always beat the other crossers. So, they invited me to join them for the Yunnan race. They wanted to sponsor me because they were sure I was going to do well.
How did you feel being the only foreigner in the Yunnan race?
This was a big challenge. My Chinese is OK, but not that good. Everybody wanted to take pictures with me and I was [the center of]attention, which made me feel like a superstar. Everybody was very nice and helpful. When I was on the podium the first day, I cried from happiness; I could not believe I was there with only Chinese people.
What advice do you have for aspiring motocross racers?
Off-road racing is really taking off in China, so there are many opportunities. I would say to aspiring racers: Join a club so that you can measure yourself against other racers, gain experience, follow your dreams, and enjoy the great moments in life.
What’s next for you?
[I plan to] start a motocross touring agency in Beijing for anyone who wants to do day tours through Chaobai and the dunes or 10-day tours through deserts and forests around China. I am currently working on a website.
Photos courtesy of Andrea Velema