BMX reporters and enthusiasts are closely watching the blossoming career of nine-year-old Jemma Tollefson, also known as “Lil’ JT,” who currently holds the #1 ranking for her national age group (NAG), the #1 ranking in her home state of Minnesota, and the USA BMX Gold Cup Champion title. Jemma is no doubt a formidable racer and an exceptional athlete, but she is also a role model to BMX riders of all ages. The story of her remarkable success in racing as well as her unwavering love for the sport through adversity is an inspiration to many in the BMX community and beyond. If you aren’t already, you will want to pay attention to this rising star in the BMX world. So what makes Jemma shine?
Just before turning nine this past May, Jemma secured an astonishing triple win at the Route 66 Classic Nationals in the high desert of Arizona, part of the USA BMX National Series, placing first in her class, 8 Expert Girls, all three days of competition. Very few riders can pull off that kind of consistency, especially at the national level competing against the best racers from all over the country. But, as her fans and her competitors know, for Jemma, consecutive first-place results are no surprise. Victory is the rule for Lil’ JT. Jemma has since graduated to the next age class and shows no signs of slowing down even as the competition gets fiercer, as evidenced by her #6 overall national ranking.
Lil’ JT’s smooth triple victory at the Route 66 Nationals was only a taste of what this unstoppable young contender is capable of. Not only is Jemma an immensely talented racer who radiates positivity to all those around her both on and off the track, but, because of the obstacles she has overcome in order to get to where she is today, Jemma understands the meaning of hard work and the power of positive thinking. When she does not perform as well as she had hoped, whether due to a slow start, bad weather, or somebody else crashing and cutting her off, Jemma reminds herself that she can do this and that there will always be another race. She visualizes her dreams and how she will achieve them in the long term, a skill necessary for success in anything and everything. Jemma’s mental fortitude allows her to take disappointments as opportunities to grow instead of as paralyzing setbacks. Giving up on BMX, on herself, when the ride gets tough does not even occur to Jemma.
Starting competitive racing at such a young age with the support of her father Jeff Tollefson “JT,” who is a life-long BMXer himself, has forged Jemma into a strong, confident, and determined competitor ready to meet any challenge that comes her way. Her early start and unique connection to BMX through her dad’s background in racing has also given her an edge over her rivals with regard to both experience and knowledge of the sport. While JT raced in a completely different era, back when kids were riding modified garage bikes on self-made dirt courses, he understands the sport and loves it just as much as his daughter who looks up to him as one of her BMX idols. BMX runs through Jemma’s veins.
Suffice to say, BMX followers are eager to see what the future holds for Lil’ JT as she continues to cruise past the competition and realize her full potential, but how exactly did this superstar’s career begin? Who was Jemma before she became a national champion, and how did she get here?
Jemma grew up in Woodbury, Minnesota, a small city ten miles outside of Saint Paul. She started racing BMX in 2017 at the age of five after JT took her to a local indoor race course, Rum River BMX, and she immediately fell in love with riding her balance bike around the track. Jemma loved going around the indoor dirt course so much that JT had to pull her off himself every now and then to get her to hydrate. Only a couple of months later, Jemma entered her first balance bike race and won, stunning everyone as she flew past all the older boys. Lil’ JT went on to win every single balance bike race she entered.
Jemma’s fifth race was the 2017 USA BMX Grand Nationals where she advanced all the way to the main event but was unfortunately robbed of a chance at the podium after being cut off by a crash at the first jump. The following year in June 2018, Jemma broke her arm and was in a cast for six weeks unable to ride. After her cast was removed, Jemma tied for first place at the North Central Gold Cup but just missed out on getting a plate due to crashing in the main. Things took a turn for the better after the North Central. Jemma won all of her races, jumping in the rankings from 22nd to 3rd overall. Within nine months, she moved up from Intermediate to Expert. Her first race as an Expert girl was the 2018 Grand Nationals. After taking the lead on the first straightaway, Jemma crashed, eliminating her chances of a seven foot trophy, but she did not give up.
2020 was a huge year for Jemma. She finished the season ranked #6 national girl overall, #1 eight-year-old national age group (NAG), #1 Race of Champions (ROC), #1 North Central Gold Cup, #1 Minnesota State, and #1 overall expert girl at Rum River BMX. In July 2019, Jemma became the fifth member of Box’s Factory Team, securing the official sponsorship of an industry leader. Since then, Box has supplied her with all the bike parts she needs to help her reach her BMX goals and dreams, most notably durable Oversized parts that are especially hard to find for younger riders. Over the past couple of years, Jemma has continued to hone her skills and, needless to say, dominate in races. Despite the nearest track being over an hour away, Jemma is able to constantly improve and keep up with the competition by identifying her weaknesses, dedicating her time wisely, and pushing herself to her limits.
While limited track time may be a significant disadvantage for Jemma, it also allows her to have a rich life outside of BMX. She loves hip-hop dancing, traveling, meeting new people, and, like any other young kid, just having fun. She has tons of friends who do not ride whom she enjoys hanging out with. Winning, and BMX, isn’t everything to Jemma. And she likes it just fine that way.
To her fellow Box Level Up riders striving to get to where she is today, Jemma has this advice to offer, “Never give up and always believe in your training.” The Box Team is proud to support Lil’ JT on her BMX journey and is looking forward to seeing what boundaries this brilliant young racer breaks next.
Written by: Ashley Thomas