By Joanne C. Gerstner | Aug. 14, 2015, 12:35 p.m. (ET)
Felicia Stancil competes in the BMX time trial during the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games at Centennial Park on July 10, 2015 in Toronto.



Felicia Stancil celebrates on the podium after winning the women's BMX final during the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games at Centennial Park on July 11, 2015 in Toronto.

The path BMX rider Felicia Stancil is navigating is not new. She’s been a talented, hard-charging rider since grade school, steadily moving her way into the elite circles of the challenging sport.

She’s now aiming her career toward big milestones, such as winning world titles and reaching the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games. Stancil, 20, is riding against the best professionals in the world these days, and she’s measuring her progress with every competition.

Her big breakthrough came during last month’s Pan American Games in Toronto, when Stancil took gold in a star-packed field. She hopes her bolstered confidence will continue into this weekend’s UCI Supercross World Cup in Engelholm, Sweden.

“Yeah, it (winning Pan Am gold) has given me a lot of confidence with the direction I’m heading towards in the sport.” Stancil said via email from Sweden. “I’ve only had to race girls my age until 2014. The past two years have been a big change racing pro, but I have been learning a lot.

“This weekend’s world cup track has a long first straight, which I’m excited about. Anything can happen in BMX, but I hope to go out there and put together the best laps I can. I will always think it’s weird that people look up to me, because I was that exact same person five to 10 years ago.”

Stancil is one of the rising American stars in BMX Supercross, with her Pan Am win confirming her ascendance. She also won a silver medal at a supercross world cup in the Netherlands in May.

She admits she has a ways to go to consistently be the best in the world, but she’s working hard to get there.

She moved from her native Illinois to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California, after high school to fully dedicate herself to her sport. Moving across the country, away from friends and family, was a big change — like going away for college.

“I lived in the Midwest my entire life, so I was only able to ride my bike consistently during the summer,” Stancil said. “I’ve now been able to ride all year long living in San Diego, and I’ve noticed a huge difference in my riding and how comfortable I am on the tracks now.”

Stancil added, “The Center definitely has a college feeling to it! Instead of talking about our majors to other students, we talk about our individual sports. Instead of going to a three-hour class at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., we go to practice.

“I definitely try to make it home when I can to see my family, but I absolutely love San Diego's weather.”

Stancil is continuing her education online, taking college courses toward her goal of becoming a physical therapist. But that career is for the future.

The business of the present is solely supercross, and hopefully being part of her first Olympic Games in a year.

“I hope to continue gaining experience with the races leading up to the Games,” Stancil said. “They have already decided the races that will qualify us to the Games, so I am solely focusing on those races for now. Other than that, I am planning to have a solid off-season training at the center in Sam Diego this winter as well.”

Joanne C. Gerstner has covered two Olympic Games and writes regularly for the New York Times and other outlets about sports. She has written for TeamUSA.org since 2009 as a freelance contributor on behalf of  Red Line Editorial, Inc.