Braeden Sellinger was just 6 years old when he hopped on a mountain bike for the first time.
For him, it was a way to keep up with his father, John, an avid athlete at the time that would often go on trail runs around Ahwatukee and Arizona. John described Braeden as a dare devil as he was growing up. Not much phased him.
While Braeden doesn’t have much recollection of his first time hitting the dirt on a bike, his dad does. He said his son was a natural.
“We wanted him to get out on the mountain, get a little fresh air and expend some of his energy,” said John, who is the director of marketing for Spooner Sports Physical Therapy. “He was a natural. He had no fear.”
At one point during his childhood Braeden transitioned to BMX riding. He and John would frequent courses in Mesa where he could practice and compete in competitions.
He made his way back to mountain bikes by the time he was a freshman at Desert Vista. Up until that point, he had also dabbled with lacrosse and wrestling but started to fall out of love with those two sports.
He joined the Desert Vista Mountain Bike Club. Naturally, John became his coach for a season. He used one of his father’s old bikes and began to fall in love with the sport. But just as that was happening, the pandemic hit. All of his races were canceled, and he was forced to train on his own.
That, however, became more of a blessing than a curse.
“When all my races were getting canceled, I think it had a negative influence on my motivation,” Braeden said. “But as I realized I had a lot more free time with not having to go to school in person, I think I focused on riding a lot more. That had a positive influence on my skills and my performance.”
When Braeden and the rest of the mountain bike team were able to return to competitions, he quickly established himself as one of the top riders on the team and state. He was competing at a high level and started drawing up plans to go elsewhere for big-time races.
But last September those plans were put on hold for two months when he took a tumble and suffered a broken collarbone. The injury required surgery to fix.
He utilized stationary bikes during his down time to stay in shape. But it wasn’t the same. John said it was hard to keep him off bikes before he was cleared by a doctor. But when that day came, Braeden picked up where he left off.
“I was pretty happy,” Braeden said. “I was riding a stationary right after my surgery. I then went on the road which was pretty fun. I was a little nervous to go back on the dirt but when I finally did it clicked back together.”
Since his injury, Braeden has started to compete on a national stage.
Braeden and John competed in the Zia Rides Dawn to Dusk race held locally. The 12-hour race concluded with the father-son duo finishing in first place. That was just the beginning for Braeden.
Two weeks ago he traveled to Fayetteville, Arkansas to compete in US Pro Cup UCI at Oz Trails, the self-proclaimed mountain biking capital of the world. Against international competition, Braeden finished 23rd in the Friday short-track event and 53rd in the Saturday cross country. He wasn’t particularly happy with his results but made up for it a week later in Prescott during the Epic Rides Whiskey Off-road.
The race starts at Prescott’s history Whiskey Row and climbs 6,000-feet into the Prescott National Forest. In a race that draws both professional and amateur riders, Braeden finished in a three-way tie for eighth place and the second junior in the Men’s Open Division. He finished the 50-mile track in three hours and just over 52 minutes.
Looking back, John said he’s proud of what Braeden has accomplished.
“He wasn’t super competitive as a freshman,” John said. “So to watch him line up last weekend and put down times that were competitive with a lot of the pros, it was pretty amazing. He put his head down and put in the work to get to where he wants to go. It’s inspiring for me.”
Braeden will graduate from Desert Vista alongside his classmates on Thursday. Three days later, he will compete in the state championship in Prescott. He will then head to Winter Park, Colorado to compete in the USA Cycling Cross Country National Championship and more races from there.
He will be attending Northern Arizona University on the Lumberjack Scholarship, which allows him to continue to ride some of the trails in Flagstaff while remaining close to home to travel outside of Arizona for events.
While Mountain Biking wasn’t his first love, it’s quickly turned into a lifelong one. He aims to compete at the highest level as soon as next season when he moves up from the junior division. From there, he has no limit for how far he wants to take his career in the sport.
“If you asked my freshman self, I don’t think I would’ve seen myself now,” Braeden said. “I want to work on improving. I just want to step up my game and see what I can do.”