Casey Raimondo has thrived on proving people wrong.
The 22-year-old motocross racer from Pemberton is in the infancy of her career, being set to officially embark on her second competitive season, though she has been looking to keep pace for years. For that, she thanks the pals she's known for years.
"People expect you to not be that good at it, but I grew up with the best friends. I was always one of the boys and it was either 'keep up or go home.' I was one of them. I didn't get any special treatment because I was a girl," Raimondo said over coffee earliert this month. "These girls are really tough and it's nice to be out there with people like me.
"It's really awesome being a girl kind of in a man's world."
After years of riding trails, Raimondo started riding at Pemberton's Green River MX and decided to explore racing at other tracks last fall.
She signed up for the provincial-level Future West Moto ArenaCross series, competing once in Cloverdale and twice in Chilliwack. There was a learning curve associated with racing, she explained, but she has started to see it flatten out.
"It started out rough, for sure, and then I ended up finishing pretty strong. I ended up with a podium and a trophy. I ended up finishing in third place the last weekend, so that felt awesome. I think it was a good warm-up for this year," she said. "I'm definitely excited to get into it a little harder and do some bigger races and race the women's pro nationals.
"It's going to be a busy summer."
Though the Future West series focuses primarily on B.C., with several families coming out, Raimondo explained some pro riders dropped in and the women she faced certainly gave her a challenge. She started her second season on the circuit last weekend in Victoria in the hopes of qualifying for the Walton TransCan Grand National Championship in Walton, Ont. in August.
"It would be awesome to do a road trip out to Ontario and race with some of the best amateur riders in the world," she said.
The biggest challenge Raimondo faced last year was getting a lead, as it was difficult to race from behind. With a relatively dry winter around her home, she's been riding plenty and is ready to attack from the get-go.
"My game plan now is to get good starts. At the first race, that didn't happen. I went over backwards in one round out of the gate," Raimondo said. "If you can get a good start and get to the front at the very beginning, all you have to do is keep that spot. Keep your place and you'll win it."
Though starts are the major focus, Raimondo is looking to refine all elements of her riding, as she is still a raw racer. With any improvement in skill, she reasoned, will come a change in attitude as well.
"I feel like I have the natural talent but there's a lot of stuff I have to work on. I want to hit bigger jumps. I want to get faster in my corners," she said. "I'd like to go from maybe being a possibility of winning to definitely winning. I want to go out and have it not be a question that I'm going to do good."
In addition to riding, she has also worked at getting fitter alongside trainer Matt Kusiak. Some may not view a motorsport as a particularly athletic endeavour, but Raimondo stressed being in great shape and eating well could create the difference between crossing the line first or finishing back of the pack.
"Your arms get tired and your body gets tired. That's a big factor when you're on the track, it'll slow you down and lose the race for you," she said.
When Raimondo is not riding on two wheels, she's exploring the trails on four legs. Horseback riding, she said, has helped prepare her for her motocross career both physically and mentally.
"I've always had horses," she said. "It's a nice way to wind down when I'm not on the bike and want to do something else.
"My horse-riding background gives me amazing balance, which I think benefits my motocross as well. It ties together in a lot of ways like that — patience, for an example; horses taught me so much patience and I've learned how to be patient on the track. I learned when to make my moves and ride smart."
Ultimately, Raimondo hopes to acquire her Women's Motocross pro card and race stateside in California. It's still a challenging time for women in the sport, as many competitors are still putting more money into it than they have the potential to win back, but with progress slowly coming, things are headed in the right direction.