Nathan Gerondale will be a sophomore at Billings West in the fall.
In school the 16-year-old Gerondale may be an underclassmen, but in the world of motorcycle hill climbing he is a seasoned veteran.
Learning to ride motorcycles early helped prepare Gerondale. The progression was evident as he competed in three pro classifications at this year's Great American Championship Professional Motorcycle Hill Climb at the Billings Motorcycle Club.
Nathan's father, James Gerondale, never competed, but enjoyed trail riding and father and son rode together quite a bit as Nathan grew up.
"He got into it," James said. "We took him to the mountains and he learned to ride on a 50cc when he was 5 or 6.
"That's how we did it. We'd go to the Belt Mountains and ride with our friends. It's crazy."
Last year, Gerondale was able to ride professionally in the Great American for the first time. When a rider turns 15 he can compete in the 450cc pro modified class Nathan said.
In his first ride as a pro, Gerondale ripped through the course and went over the top of the hill.
"I got over and I was pumped," he said. "I didn't know I'd make it over and then somehow I ended up 13th and got into the main event for verticross (side-by-side)."
Gerondale said his fellow riders and friends, like Jordan Schmidt, Tyler Cardwell, Sean Cardwell, Chance Jarvis, Austin Teyler, Todd Teyler and Phil Geck, all offered encouragement before his first pro ride.
"I'm friends with all those guys," Gerondale said. "They said, 'Do what we do on the hill and have fun.'"
Gerondale recalled his successful ride, saying, "I hit the bottom smooth and there is a little wall before the big wall. I had enough momentum to get the big wall. I squared up to the hill and went over."
Now that he is 16, Gerondale can also compete in the 0-700cc exhibition and 701cc-open exhibition he said.
"I'm really excited I get more time on the hill," Nathan said.
James Gerondale explained that Nathan will compete in all four of the Rockwell Pro Hill Climb Series events this season. The Great American is the second stop on the Rockwell tour.
The first Rockwell hill climb was the Big Sky Challenge at the BMC in June. The two remaining Rockwell hill climbs are later this summer in Buffalo, Wyoming, and Rock Springs, Wyoming.
Also on his schedule this summer were North American Hillclimbers Association events in Columbus and Sunnyside, Washington. Nathan will also ride in an upcoming NAHA stop in New Plymouth, Idaho.
Add it all up and it's a busy summer for the teenage rider, who said he spends "hundreds" of hours practicing. While others may be tossing a football, running track, or playing baseball, Gerondale is out participating in his chosen sport of hill climbing. When his classmates are at the gym preparing for their upcoming season, Gerondale is riding in the outdoors fine-tuning his game.
"Just go out and show ride, ride the (motocross) track and hit some hills you want to hit," Nathan said, noting riders cannot ride the professional hills when they are not in use for Rockwell events.
"This is what we do," said James, motioning his arms to showcase the travel trailer, landscape and motorcycles. "I sure like it and it's something to do. He never did like playing baseball. He's 16 and been doing it quite a while."
And, like a seasoned vet, Nathan knows how to be humble. He also has the hunger for winning.
"All the history on this hill is insane," Nathan said, noting the Great American is in its 99th year. "You don't want to be cocky, but you want to win, too."