Spring Grove 7-year-old gears up for motocross season

Deegan Cooley heads from the school bus most days to a homemade dirt track hidden behind a field of trees in Johnsburg.

A quick change into safety gear and a helmet, and he's off on his motorcross bike. 

The 7-year-old Spring Grove boy ranked nationally in his age group last year and hopes to do the same this year as he prepares for the racing season, which begins this weekend in Byron.

"You have to ride fast," he said, before hopping on his motorcycle at a recent after-school practice. He's too preoccupied, too ready to go, to say much more about the sport.

"Dad, I just want to ride," he often tells his father, Thom.

Thom helped his son adjust his safety equipment and rev up the bike.

"This is the best part," he said. "He needs me for this, and it makes it special."

A kiss on the helmet, and he watched as his son sped away. Athletes themselves, he and his wife, Kimberly, have never shied away from adventure. They're raising their children, including their 4-year-old daughter, Delaney, to live life to the fullest, they say. 

"My wife and I figure as long as we give him the best protective equipment we can, it's all in God's hands," Thom said.

Originally from Johnsburg, Thom was a professional skiier for about 12 years, until 2001 or so. He became a nationally ranked ski champion, competing in the 1996/97 Winter X Games.

He left the career, which required a lot of traveling, after meeting his future wife and losing a beloved nephew, Mac Flynn-Miller. 

Mac was 10 when he died of a leukemia-related complication on the day he was set to be discharged from the hospital.

His family set up the Mac Flynn-Miller Foundation ( in his name to provide financial assistance to families who have lost children to pediatric cancer. 

Deegan and his family help with the foundation's annual toy drive, ongoing now through May 13, which provides toys to Shriners and Children's Memorial Hospital.

Through Mac's death, Thom said he learned to never take life for granted. 

"My nephew, he got cancer and he was gone," he said. "You can't live your life in a bubble."

He and Kimberly now are watching Deegan follow in their adrenaline-filled footsteps. Deegan likes all sports – baseball, wrestling, basketball – but motorcross began as a passion when he was as young as 20 months, his father said.

He had a small bike with training wheels that you could walk alongside, Thom said.

"He cried for a half-hour after he was done riding because he wanted to ride more," he said.

"Most kids would watch 'Barney' and 'Sesame Street.' Deegan always watched motorcross," he said. "He learned his colors and numbers based on the types of bikes and numbers of the guys who raced."

By age 2, Deegan was riding at an indoor motorcross track in Racine, Wis. 

"Every time he had free time, he always wanted to go up to Racine and ride his dirt bike," Thom said. "We just saw his passion. We've just been nurturing it ever since ...

"It is what it is. My wife and I are what I call lawnchair parents. We just sit back and roll with it, and that's it." 

Mainly through watching and trying to keep up with older racers as he practiced, Deegan has sharpened his racing skills.

He earned more than 30 overall wins in his age category last year, along with a coveted invitation to the Loretta Lynn Amateur Motorcross National Championships in August in Tennesee. Out of about 4,800 young motorcross racers, Deegan was one of 42 children to qualify.

While there, a rock on the track stuck in his rear wheel during practice and threw off his brakes a bit, eventually leading to a 33rd place overall finish for him.

"It was all a learning experience," Thom said.

The boy's success has earned him numerous sponsorships, including Woodstock KTM and KTM North America. 

"Right now he has the motorcross world at his fingertips," Thom said. "He's only 7, but sky's the limit."

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