LAYTON — Ann Aitken knew her son had athletic ability when he was young as she watched him lead his Junior Jazz basketball team to win after win as a point guard.
But because her son was born with a birth defect that prevented him from playing most traditional sports, she never suspected Mike Aitken might someday make a living as an athlete. That's because she never considered, never even knew about the world of extreme sports.
Actually, neither did Mike until he was 11 years old and a friend gave him his first dirt bike.
"He showed me where the track was, and I started racing," he said. "It just kind of happened."
In the seven years since that first bike, Aitken has made a name for himself as one of the world's top dirt jumpers. What Aitken does on a bike is inconceivable to most people on any apparatus, let alone one with wheels. And according to judges and fans alike, he does it better than most.
Most recently, Aitken took sixth place in the X Games in Philadelphia and sixth place in the Gravity Games in Rhode Island.
In a photo spread in the most recent issue of Ride Magazine, Mike Aitken is featured doing a stunt that has his body to the side of his horizontal bike. The caption reads, "A new dirt style emerged a few years back. Some call it 'trail-style,' but it was more like everyone trying to ride like Mike Aitken. Mikey is so fluid it's like he has no bones in his body."
About the time Aitken got into dirt bike riding and racing, he also got a handle on the birth defect that had made him a frequent hospital patient. The Taylorsville native was born without a tube from his kidneys to his bladder.
"I was in and out of hospitals until I was 12 years old," Aitken said from his house in Layton, where he and his roommates are building a stunt ramp that covers almost the entire back yard. "Everything is finally working now. If I have problems, I'll have to go back (to the hospital), but so far I've been fine."
Mikey, as he's referred to in the stunt bike community, said he always wanted to play football but was told his body couldn't take a hard hit in the abdomen. So he does flips and twists on a bike?
"When he first started doing it, it really frightened me," Ann Aitken said. "But I talked to the doctor about it, and he said it's probably safer than football. I was happy with that."
Mom was also happy with the structure and opportunity it brought to her son's life.
He's been able to make a living and see places like Japan, England, Scotland and most of the East Coast.
"It's given him direction," she said. "He doesn't use alcohol or drugs."
While he may not have known about professional extreme sports as a boy, Mike said he's always been interested in trick riding.
Watching "PeeWee's Big Top," offered him a glimpse into what a person could do with a light-weight bike and a little imagination.
"I've just always been into bikes," he said. "It's pretty much all I ever wanted to do."
He raced dirt bikes until the track in Murray was razed in 1996.
He and his friends created new trails near the Jordan River and 3900 South, but after a few years there, they were told by city officials it was a bird sanctuary, and those trails were also destroyed. All along, Aitken and his friends had been jumping, but without proper trails, they began to focus on learning tricks instead of just speeding around tracks.
"As soon as I was comfortable riding, I started doing tricks," Mike Aitken said.
He said he incorporated his racing background into his stunts.
"There are people who do crazier tricks than me. I like to ride with style, be smooth. I'm used to going faster to beat the other guy."
Those who saw him were immediately impressed. Friends forwarded video tapes to biking, clothing and shoe companies.
He quickly gained financial rewards to go with the attention and success he was attaining in the sport.
At 15, he earned his first bike sponsorship as he became the youngest MOSH Bike team member. At 16, he was billed as the leader of the next generation and was named the Best Rider of The East Coast Tour by SNAP Magazine.
He now rides Fitbikes and has clothing and shoe sponsors that pay his way to the dozens of Extreme Sporting events each year.
He also has a BXS figurine made in his likeness for sale to fans on stunt bike Web sites.
As aggressive as he is on a bike, Aitken is introverted and self-effacing when being interviewed about himself. He's modest about his success and could live without the publicity.
"Then everyone would be doing it," he said when asked if he wanted more attention from mainstream media.
"Right now it's kind of small. It's like a big family, especially in Utah. But it is growing bigger."