Maren Fuqua Blazing Off-Road Motorcycle Trails
Accomplished Teenager Now Races In Men’s Division
By Mara Soloway
Maren Fuqua initially might seem like a typical 16-year-old girl. She likes to get manicures and wear cute clothes, and she loves to hang out with family and friends. However, she only gets the chance to do these things after her daily 2-3 mile run or the 1-2 hours of Crossfit training per day that keep this 125-pound junior at George Ranch High School in shape to race her 225-pound (fully fueled) KTM 150cc in off-road motorcycle races across Texas. On the motorcyle, she is passionate and fierce and quite accomplished – this year she moved out of the women’s division into the men’s and placed third in her first race.
A few years ago, John Fuqua was looking for an activity to do with his daughters, Alden and Maren, that went beyond traditional father-daughter pursuits. Off-road motorcycle racing fulfilled that concept. Little did he know that Maren would get hooked on this physically and mentally demanding sport, would excel at it and would become a mentor for other young girls. (Alden, now 21, rode for a year before she left for school and other interests.)
Despite fracturing her ankle on that first outing, Maren knew she had found something that excited her like no other sport she had participated in. At the clinic afterward to have the ankle examined, Maren’s mother, Sherri, asked her daughter if she wanted to ever ride again, no doubt hoping the answer was “no.” Maren replied, “Heck yeah. That was fun!”
John, who also actively competes, and Maren are members of Trail Riders of Houston (TRH), one of the oldest organizations for off-road motorcycle riding enthusiasts in Texas. TRH hosts races and events for what are called series – a group of races throughout the year at which racers score points based on their place in the standings. At end of the series, overall scores are tallied. As of April, Maren has ridden two races and is ranked fourth by Texas Off-road Championship Series (TORCS), another organization that holds events.
Maren participates in hare scramble races. A typical hare scramble might have participants continuously ride a 5-8 mile off-road loop for a set time frame such as 90 minutes. Riders are rated solely on speed of riding the most laps in the least time. The terrain on the various courses is different.
Races are divided into men’s and women’s classes. Women start at class C and work up to A, the highest; men start at class D and work up to A and can go pro. After reaching women’s class A, Maren moved to the men’s C class to be more competitive and placed third in her first race this February.
How do the men feel about Maren on the awards podium? John and Maren both find that the off-road riding community has a high level of good sportsmanship. “We are all friends out there. If someone has a flat tire, you give them your spare tube without thinking,” Maren said. “We all get along because we all do what we love.”
“She gets a lot of respect from the guys she races, and they understand that to make it to the podium is a pretty big deal. They know how hard she has worked,” John said.
For many years, men dominated off-road motorcycle racing because of the sport’s physical demands. Today only 17 females (women and teenagers) race in TORCS, roughly less than 10 percent of the riders. With an average heart rate during a race of 180-190 beats per minute (more than any other sport), riders maneuver heavy bikes as fast as they can for 90 minutes, going up and down hills, around water, between trees and through ravines, all with other racers on the circuit. Speeds on straightaways can be 45-60 mph, depending on what’s ahead.
Toby Landry, one of TRH’s board members, explains, “It’s not ‘if’ I’m going to hit a tree, but ‘when.’ ”
Toby has known Maren since she started racing. “Maren continues getting better and better through continuous practice. She’s really holding her own. I’m pretty proud of her – the whole club is,” he said.
Having seen her daughter subsequently fracture a thumb, break a pinkie and possibly have a lateral meniscus tear, what does Mom think of Maren’s high-risk passion?
“I think it is very important for kids, especially teens, to be involved in an extracurricular activity so they feel they are a part of something,” says Sherri Fuqua. “As parents we need to encourage them to try many new things. But don’t push them into something. It needs to be their choice. It needs to inspire their passion.”
Maren placed fourth in the race in which she broke her pinkie. The break occurred because someone clipped her handlebar and knocked her into a tree. Facing possible knee surgery doesn’t faze her: “A little time on crutches and I’ll be fine.”
How does she push herself knowing that each race has some element of danger to it?
“I know that I might get hurt. But by now that I’ve done so many races, I react so quickly to what’s happening. I know what to watch out for,” she said. “If I do make mistakes, I know not to do it next time.”
To support Maren in achieving something for herself, the Fuquas moved a few years ago from the family home of 15 years so she could attend a new school.
“High school has become the most challenging phase in our children’s lives these days. We saw that with our older daughter. Then Maren struggled her first year. We switched schools, and she soared like an eagle in school and outside school,” says John.
At George Ranch, Maren has become a National Honor student, is in FFA leadership development and is studying sign language, among other pursuits.
“Off-road dirt bike racing is teaching Maren patience and how to stay calm. It’s teaching her how to be competitive but also how to be a good sport,” John said.
Besides her father, one of Maren’s mentors is Ashley Fiolek, a deaf X Games rider. “Her deafness isn’t stopping her. She’s having a lot harder time, and she succeeds,” Maren said. “She pushes me to think anything is possible as long as you have a positive mindset and you practice.”
This philosophy also helps Maren keep from stressing out over grades and test results. If she doesn’t get the grade she wanted, she knows she can try harder on the next one.
From her initial reaction to off-road biking of “That was fun!,” Maren’s philosophy on racing is more focused. “It is something people don’t expect you to do so you want to prove them wrong. You want to show off a little. It makes me determined that I’m going to win.”
“I think her accomplishments in off-road dirt bike racing is a great story for other girls about finding their place in a complicated world,” her dad said.
Maren plans to race during college and sees off-road riding as part of her whole life. “I might someday stop racing, but I’m not going to stop riding. It’s so much fun I don’t want to,” she said.
In addition her parents’ help, Maren’s racing is supported by Cotton Logistics, Dr. Matthew Mays and Richmond Bone and Joint Clinic, Fly Racing, Decal Works, Wild West Motoplex, Steve Hatch Racing, Trail Riders of Houston and Texas Off-Road Championship Series.
To keep track of Maren’s overall scoring, go to torcsracing.com