by Dennis Dalman
It takes heaps of rough grit and hell-bent determination to be a motocross racer. Just ask Shawna Merdan of St. Stephen and her three boys.
Motocross is a sport in which racers ride their motor bikes over rough terrain. The courses can vary from one mile to three miles long, and no two courses are ever alike. There are sudden obstacles on every course, dubbed “whoops!” The uncertainty of the routes pose risky challenges to all participants who have to be tuned in with ferocious concentration to every variability on the courses.
Shawna Merdan and Tom Paggen, her significant other for 22 years, have three boys: Tayton Paggen, 16; Gavin Paggen 12; and Evan Paggen, 8. They all love to race, having started on dirt bikes when they were wee kids. Tayton, however, stopped motocross racing to participate in unstudded four-wheeler racing on ice. He’s had to go all the way to Lake Superior (Superior, Wis.) because last winter the ice was not thick enough for other racing areas, such as on Gull Lake and lakes by Rockville and Eden Valley. This year, Tayton raced with a 450 cc quad.
Motocross racer Gavin rides mostly on an 845 cc Kawasaki and Evan, a four-wheel racer, uses a 110 cc Polaris Outlaw.
All told, the boys collectively have won, so far, a dozen trophies.
Their true grit might have rubbed off from their mama. Raised in Rice, Shawna Merdan started racing four-wheelers when she was just 6 years old. Her father, Marv, is a long-time topnotch four-wheel racer with lots of awards.
“Back then,” Shawna said, “I tried to beat all the boys. Not many girls raced at that time. But my oldest sister, Nikki, raced too. It took me awhile to get the hang of racing, but I caught on from riding a lot on two acres where I lived.”
She raced in competitions held at the Little Falls fairgrounds, the same place her boys now race. The Merdan-Paggen boys participate in about 16 races per season.
Racing can be dangerous. This season, Gavin broke his foot at the edge of an obstacle jump during a race. Despite the pain, he persisted and kept going, determined to finish the race come hell or high water. This season, his injury kept him out of only one race. To guard against injuries, motocross racers do wear helmets, goggles, chest protectors, racing pants, a jersey and racing boots.
People often ask Shawna if she worries about her boys’ safety.
She always replies, “My kids are safer racing on the track than riding around at home.” By which she means, her sons are super-aware of the challenges and dangers of a race track whereas riding on home territory, many bike enthusiasts forget the dangers.
Racing can be dirty. Even on rainy days, race officials try not to cancel competitions. Sometimes, the race courses are a muddy mess.
Merdan recalls a recent race after which her boys had to wash up, leaving behind a big bucket of dirt and muddy water.
Racing can be expensive. Merdan and Paggen purchased an enclosed trailer to transport the boys to their races. They purchase decals and T-shirts. Then there is the price of admission to the races, not to mention the cost of gasoline to get there.
Maintenance of racing equipment can be costly. Gavin, for instance, went through several clutch handles, with a replacement cost of $30 each time.
Oh, what fun!
Despite the drawbacks (danger, dirt, expense), racing is practically the lifeblood of the Paggen boys.
“I like that it’s so competitive,” Gavin said. “And I like to keep improving for every race.”
Merdan said ever since her boys were little, they would eagerly ask, “What day is it today? Is it racing day?!”
Tayton attends Holdingford High School; Gavin and Evan go to Holdingford Elementary School.