Just days before recently competing in the Super Bowl of amateur motocross events, Sophia Phelps discovered a Book of Mormon passage that spoke to her as both an elite racer and a Latter-day Saint youth:
“Therefore, after Alma having established the church at Sidom, seeing a great check, yea, seeing that the people were checked as to the pride of their hearts…. that they might be delivered from Satan, and from death, and from destruction.” (Alma 15:17)
The word check, used twice in the verse, snagged the teen’s attention. From her Book of Mormon studies, Sophia understood that the people of Sidom had listened to Alma, humbled themselves and “checked” their pride.
“But in motocross, we also use the term checking up,” she told the Church News. “It means to slow down, correct what you are doing and then keep moving.”
For Sophia, “checking up” is a habit she enlists on the race track and in her decidedly slower-paced Young Women duties and as a seminary council member at Utah’s Dixie High School.
Folks who know Sophia as both an athlete and a Latter-day Saint say she is wise beyond her 17 years.
“Sophia is full of energy, full of courage and full of the Spirit” said Bishop Kyle Pasley of the Green Valley 3rd Ward, St. George Utah Green Valley Stake. “She’s not afraid to speak her mind and be able to do it in a way that makes others comfortable.”
She’s also not afraid of flying high and going full throttle up and around dusty motocross tracks.
She recently claimed second place in the Girls 11-16 Class at the Loretta Lynn Amateur National Motocross Championship Championships in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee. She also raced to a podium finish in the women’s competition, finishing fourth in the annual event considered the pinnacle of amateur motocross racing in the United States.
“The week,” said Sophia following her races, “was awesome. We didn’t expect to do so well in the women’s race.”
It’s tempting to assume the affable teen is some sort of speed-obsessed, adrenaline-fueled dirt biker. But assumptions are often wrong. While Sophia loves going fast, she also approaches her races with the maturity of the seasoned veteran — which is exactly what she is.
“I was 4-years-old when my dad taught me to ride a dirt bike, and I was racing by the time I was 6,” she said.
No surprise, the Phelps are a motocross family. Sophia said her father, Bill Phelps, “has raced most of his life.” Her siblings and mother, Shaunna, are also dirt bike enthusiasts.
Sophia knew she loved riding and racing at about the age when most kids are mastering their ABCs. “But it wasn’t until I was about 10 or 12 that I really decided motocross racing was what I really wanted to go for. I went to nationals for the first time when I was 13, and I really began putting a lot of training and effort into my riding.”
The sport’s high speeds, turns and jumps are thrilling, but Sophia’s quick to add that simply competing and trying to win races — especially against the boys in co-ed races — are what keeps her coming back to the track.
“That’s a huge motivation for me,” she said, laughing.
For every hour Sophia has spent atop a dirt bike, she’s likely labored many more in the gym building up the muscle and aerobic strength required of elite competitors.
Motocross racing is never confused with checkers. It’s a high-speed, dangerous sport. The competitors don’t wear helmets because they look cool.
“I’ve never really overcome the fear, because there is always risk,” she said. “But I tend to be a cautious rider. I don’t ride over my head, and I stay in my comfort zone.”
Experience and confidence allow Sophia to keep her fear, well, in check.
“I know that if I’m doing things correctly on the bike, and my [fitness] is where it needs to be, then I am much more likely to be safe out on the track.”
Prayer, she added, is her steadying companion before big races.
Shaunna Phelps said she no longer battles nerves watching her daughter race thanks to Sophie’s sound judgement and years of training. “Sophia is a thoughtful racer who always rides within her abilities … it’s just been fun for me to see her progress and go a little faster each time.”
The young racer and Latter-day Saint is grateful the national motocross community also allows her to live her faith in full. “Some of my best friends are at the track. They see a bit about my lifestyle, and they gain insight about what the Church is about.”
Off the track — back to school
Just days after competing in the 2020 amateur national championships, Sophia was back home for her senior year at Dixie High.
She would likely agree that racing around a noisy motocross track is far more familiar than attending high school during a pandemic. Social distancing and mask-wearing, for now, are part of her classroom routine.
But Sophia takes uncertainty in stride. As a seminary council member, she’s eager to strengthen her gospel testimony alongside her classmates and friends.
“We’re just focusing on how we can keep everyone unified and involved, even during the restrictions,” she said. “We’re also working on a good theme to help us meet this year’s goals.”
There are limited professional opportunities for female motocross racers, so the 17-year-old’s competitive career may be winding down. But she’s excited to finish high school and go to college. She thinks about serving a mission, but is still deciding.
Bishop Pasley is Sophia’s priesthood leader and a loyal Sophia fan. He’s grateful she is a “checking up” example for her fellow youth in the ward.
“Sophia’s a leader,” he said, “and not just to the young women, but also our young men.”