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This is part of The Daily Times' “In their element” series. On the last Thursday of every month in 2015, we'll publish a profile of a Four Corners resident who embraces fitness or the outdoors.

FLORA VISTA — When Josh Snow was a kid growing up in Flora Vista, he'd often ask his mom to stop the car at the beginning of the dirt road to their home so he could run the rest of the way.

Then he began riding motorcycles with his dad.

Then BMX.

And then one day, two summers ago, Snow's neighbor pedaled up to his home on a new mountain bike. It was toward the end of the cross-country mountain bike racing season, Snow remembered, but he still had time to pick up the sport.

That same season, he raced a 23-mile, two-loop, cross-country course and placed fifth in the expert category on the first loop. On the second loop, his leg cramped so badly a spectator thought he'd broken it.

Now, the 17-year-old is a professional athlete who recently picked up a sponsorship from Yeti Cycles.

The mountain bike he raced on two summer ago was worth about $400. When he spoke last week in his living room about the Yeti team he has joined, a new, shining blue bike — worth about $6,000 — that the company sent him leaned against the wood stove.

Early next month, Yeti Cycles, a mountain bike manufacturer based in Golden, Colo., will fly Snow to Australia for a week of training with one of the world's fastest mountain bikers, Jared Graves. Then, Snow will fly to New Zealand for the first race in the Enduro World Series at the end of the month. Throughout the season, he'll compete in races scheduled in Ireland, Scotland, France, Canada, Spain, Italy and the U.S.

"I've asked him several times, 'Are you sure this is what you want to do?'" said his mom, Katherine Snow. And, every time, the teenager says, "Yes." This, he says, is the beginning of his career.

Enduro racing, the category Snow competes in, is a combination of two mountain biking extremes. Like cross-country, it often involves long hill climbs, and, like downhill — where chairlifts shuttle riders to the top of a mountain and they tear down on big-suspension bikes — it involves fast descents. The rider with the quickest time wins.

Among the 75 to 80 professionals at most enduro races, Snow, a high school junior, often places in the top 20. Last year, he won six enduro races and one cross-country race. He also placed third in juniors in last year's Enduro World Series round in Winter Park, Colo.

"I thought I was cool back in the day getting sponsored by some sunglasses (company). I was sponsored by Ray-Ban," said Josh Snow's uncle, Mattie Snow, who competed in trials mountain biking. "That's nothing compared to this."

Josh Snow has a future in racing, said his uncle, a mountain bike coach who mentors his nephew. The teen won't make millions, Mattie Snow said, but he can travel and learn from bike mechanics, company representatives, sport ambassadors and elite athletes.

"To have this opportunity coming from Flora Vista is just really unheard of," he said.

When he heard Yeti had accepted Josh Snow onto its team, Mattie Snow said he repeatedly called the family's house, stressing, "Do you realize what a big deal this is?" He's flying to New Zealand to support his nephew when he races in his first world series.

But Josh Snow's mother, when she was alone in the living room last week, teared up when talking about her son's future. To her, he's still the boy she remembers who loved running down the road to their house.

She taught him and his two older sisters to read, and she homeschooled the children through high school. She wears two white scars, one on her elbow and one deeply etched on her shin, from when she crashed while riding with her son.

She worries about the crashes, such as the one that cracked Snow's helmet in half, broke his handlebars and had him waking up in a puddle of blood.

But she encourages her son, too. She's been to his races. She's stood on the side of the taped courses, where she can't always spot her son but can see the big jump he'll rip over as spectators scream. She understands its appeal to him.

"This bike thing, aw, man, it's exciting," she said.

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606 and dschwartz@daily-times.com. Follow him @dtdschwartz on Twitter.

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