Shortly before the Loretta Lynn’s Amateur National Motocross Championship regional qualifier in the spring, 16-year-old competitor Ivan Aldama Jr. crashed his bike and suffered a groin injury. The injury was severe enough that a typical teen probably would have taken the summer off on the couch to play video games, and the average adult would have rushed to fill out medical disability papers to stay home from work and recover. Instead, Ivan Jr. got himself stitched up and six days later hopped on his bike to win the qualifier.
Meet The Cuban Missile. Aggressive. Fast. Focused. And at times, a little erratic.
Ivan Jr.’s trainer, Matt Walker, is a retired professional motocross racer who owns Moto X Compound in Georgia, where Aldama currently practices his sport, a form of off-road racing held on enclosed dirt courses.
Walker gave Ivan Jr. the nickname when he was younger, to boost his morale. “He was Cuban and fast,” he recalled with a laugh. “And then the name took off. Now he’s grown into it. We’re going to get Ivan to be a national champion. He hasn’t even scratched the surface of his true ability. We’re going to work on his patience, reading the track and slowing things down.”
Ivan Jr. has so many trophies that his family has built a separate house on their Marathon property with a special man cave to display his collection — at last count, he had about 1,000 trophies, awards and medals from all the races he’s competed in since he was 8 years old.
His father, Ivan Aldama Sr., showed Keys Weekly some awards stored in plastic bins that they no longer have room for in the man cave.
“He signs the awards now and gives them away at the races,” Ivan Sr. says.
Ivan Sr. was a champion motocross racer in Cuba in the early ’80s, then stopped competing once he had a family and established a life in America. He rarely spoke of his former sport to his children. Then one day, out of the blue, Ivan Jr. said, “I want a dirt bike.”
“My friend Alex Perez got a dirt bike, and he used to beat me,” Ivan Jr. explained. “I used to get so mad. That made me want to work harder to beat him.”
His father was only too happy to help train his son. But where to train with dirt bikes in the Keys? That was the problem.
Ivan Sr. said they used to find vacant lots of dirt on the side of the road in Grassy Key to train. He winced at the memory of trespassing on a property, but he stands by his decision to do what he could to support his son’s interest in his sport. While today Ivan Jr. has sponsors like Monster Energy, Answer Racing and Ethika underwear, which makes bearing the cost of the sport easier, his father speaks of the days when they were just starting, when they made do with used equipment.
“The cost for this sport is $200,000 a year, easy,” Ivan Sr. said. Today, the father drives his son’s bikes and gear to the competitions in an RV.
In order to train, Ivan Jr. will use facilities with professional-grade courses in Orlando and, most recently, in Georgia at Moto X Compound. He rides a KTM bike, and competes in the age 12 to 17 division in two classes: Schoolboy 1 and 125cc. The goal is to win races to get points, and once competitors get enough points, they turn pro. Ivan Jr. would like to be pro within two to three years.
“Motocross is the most physically demanding sport — it’s real tough,” he said. “I can barely ride 20 minutes. It’s so mental. I have to work out and think about nutrition. It’s also lonely.”
He explained he’s rarely home in Marathon, as he spends most of his time at the training facilities in Georgia or Orlando, or at the competitions. He only has time to relax at night.
When asked how he relaxes, his face turns blank. “Oh, I listen to Michael Jackson a lot,” he answered with a smile.
His sport is definitely a family preoccupation, as evidenced by all the members’ contributions: Ivan Sr. takes time off from his tile shop to accompany his son to the races; his sister Chavely designed the trophy room; and mom Daymis described the days when she would pressure-wash his bikes.
Daymis confessed that she worries about “the big crash” one day. Ivan Sr. jumps up and shows a photo collage of all of his son’s injuries, “It’s part of the sport,” he says.
For now, the Cuban Missile has the Loretta Lynn National Championship to train for, to be held in Tennessee in August. Forty-two riders will be competing. He takes inspiration from his hero, James Stewart Jr., the first African-American to achieve a high level of success in motocross. Ivan Jr. pointed that to his knowledge, he’s the only Cuban currently competing in motocross in the United States.
“I’m proud to be Cuban, and I am proud to be from Marathon,” he said.