Two years ago, BMX rider Krista Pomin had a bad run of luck: Her prized possession, a custom-designed bike was stolen, and just a few weeks later, a drunk driver plowed her car off the road, pushing it down a cliff, leaving her with serious head injuries and several broken ribs.
After taking a nearly two-year hiatus to recover, 19-year-old Krista began dreaming of riding again – but she was without a bike, and without the money to buy one.
Then, a free designer BMX bike and riding lessons came from a very unlikely source: the Humane Society of the Central Coast.
On recent hot weekday, Krista raced down steep cement slopes at Las Animas Skate Park in Gilroy, catching air at the top of jumps on her new blue-and-tan BMX bike.
Krista is one of 75 teens from Gilroy, Morgan Hill and San Benito County on the Humane Society’s BMX and Skating Team, a club that sponsors at-risk and low-income teens by buying them gear, leading practices and planning local competitions.
“I’m just so stoked I get to ride again,” Krista said. “This is a pretty awesome thing we get to do.”
Scott Borgioli, Humane Society of the Central Coast president, was looking for a way endorse the Humane Society’s presence in the community, while also doing something positive for local teens, when the idea of a sponsoring a skating team caught his attention.
“I came out to skate parks and noticed all these kids out here skating and biking on their own,” Borgioli said. “We saw a need for these kids to be sponsored, and we seized it.”
So in April, the Humane Society gathered the lone skaters and BMX riders and formed a bonafide team that practices twice a week with coach David Seaborne, professional BMX rider from San Martin.
If the skateboarding-and-animal connection seems odd, it’s because it is. Borgioli said the Central Coast Humane Society is the first Humane Society in the country that sponsors a skate and bike team.
The Central Coast’s Humane Society works with local animal shelters and law enforcement to advocate against animal cruelty and promote the importance of spaying and neutering. In South County, the Humane Society partners with Gilroy Police to investigate cases of animal cruelty as well as animal aggression.
About 25 sweaty teens dressed in skinny jeans, tennis shoes and green Humane Society T-shirts biked and skated together for an open skate practice, which the Humane Society hosts about twice a week. The sound of wheels grinding against the hot pavement muted the teen’s laughs and exclamations over triumphantly executed tricks.
Christopher High School student Eric Velasquez, 14, took a break from skating to rest in the shade.
“I like skating with a team,” Eric said, wiping sweat from his forehead. “And it’s pretty great to brag to my friends about being sponsored.”
Beyond the skating, Eric is excited to head to the Monterey Bay Aquarium with the rest of the team in August, a trip that is paid for by the Humane Society as an educational component to the program.
“It will be cool to do field trips I’ve never done before,” he said.
Team members are taught about the importance of spaying and neutering animals and reporting animal cruelty, and publicly endorse the Humane Society at events like the Morgan Hill Fourth of July parade.
“It’s this neat thing where these kids become role models for their friends and help promote the Humane Society cause,” Borgioli.
Because Borgioli wants to use skateboarding and biking as a means to teach character, the program runs a tight ship. Borgioli has zero-tolerance for drugs, alcohol and foul language, and the teens will be expected to maintain good grades once the school year starts.
Borgioli – who is not a skater or bike rider himself – has taken this program under his wing by donating more than $10,000 from personal funds to get the skate team started.
Borgioli encourages teens to wear helmets as written in the skate park’s rules, and during official practices, he requires it.
A pastime that once was considered the hobby of stoners, people now see at skateboarding and BMX riding as a real sport, Borgioli said.
Julian Hernandez, 13, got hooked on skateboarding just a few months ago. He’s a beginner, but at that rate he’s practicing – about five hours a day – he’ll improve quickly.
Borgioli found him skating alone one recent afternoon and recruited him to the Humane Society’s team.
“I was like, really? A team?” Julian said.
Julian said he is excited for the chance to learn from others who are more advanced.
“I just love skating,” Julian said. “It’s a real sport, like baseball, except you can’t lose. You just enjoy it.”
During the month of August, the three Humane Society teams (Gilroy, Morgan Hill, and San Benito County) will compete against each other, and against other youth recreation teams in the Bay Area – but Borgioli wasn’t sure where yet.
As one of the older teens in the group as well as one of the only girls, Krista is looked up to by the team as a type of big sister.
“We’re like a family now,” she said. “If you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us.”
Krista – who works three part-time jobs in addition to squeezing in several hours of biking per day – believes it’s important for teens in Gilroy to have a program like this to keep them out of trouble.
“Let’s be honest, there’s not much to do in Gilroy,” she said. “And they say, ‘if you’re not busy doing something good, you might be doing something bad.’ So all these kids are keeping busy with something good, thanks to this team.”