You Have to Get Up: Dreams from National Champion to Air Force Pilot

We always talk about overcoming adversity in sports. The ability to persevere and move forward regardless of the obstacles ahead and the challenges at hand. Young athletes learn that overcoming adversity is a lesson far beyond sports. It can range from pursuing dreams of becoming a national champion, to the dreams of serving their country in the United States Air Force.

This is the unfinished story of Mark Dawson, a young athlete who overcame various broken bones to achieve his dream of becoming a national champion, now facing adversity again on his road to pursuing the goal of serving his country.


Mark Dawson started racing dirt bikes at four years old and by the age of ten began competing in national events. The goal of all amateur motocross riders is to qualify for the amateur championships at the Loretta Lynn ranch. While Dawson competed in many national qualifiers across the southwest region, there is only one Loretta Lynn qualifier in the state of Arizona, the Arizona Open at Arizona Cycle Park.

(A young Mark Dawson sits atop his number 77 early in his motocross career)

As Dawson moved up to bigger and bigger bikes, he got closer and closer to reaching a qualifying spot in his bike classification. While battling near a qualifying spot in a 2016 national race, Dawson crashed and broke his leg. Nonetheless, a few months later, Dawson recovered and got back on the bike. While training for the 2017 Arizona Open to qualify for the Loretta Lynn’s, Dawson once again went down, this time breaking his arm.

Once the bone was healed, Dawson immediately got back on the bike, and immediately went down once more, breaking the same arm in the same place. After weeks of more intense rehab, Dawson went full throttle again, only having a few weeks to prepare to battle against the western United States’ best amateur motocross riders in the Arizona Open.

Even with only weeks of conditioning, Dawson didn’t just go out and compete for a qualifying spot, he won the 2017 Arizona Open, earning a national championship No. 1 Plate. He earned his spot in the Loretta Lynn’s amateur national championship and finished in the top ten of the best motocross riders in the nation in his classification.

The biggest race in the nation would end up being the final race of his amateur career, hanging up the helmet for good in 2018. While motocross is Dawson’s love, he wanted to go to college and pursue a career, something he couldn’t do while racing cross-country for motocross championships.

His decision was to go into the United States Air Force and the Air Force Academy in Colorado with dreams of being a fighter pilot to serve his country. He was nominated to the academy by two Arizona senators and sent in his application. Months went by, past the expected date to get accepted. Then in April, the news finally arrived. Dawson was not accepted into the academy.

(Mark Dawson gets his itch to fly planes after co-piloting Michael Mohn’s Wild Hair Aerobatics plane)

Much like when he broke his arm twice before his national qualifier, he got back up and hit the gas. Instead of giving up and losing time, he chose to keep fighting by taking the long way around to achieve his goals. Dawson has entered Arizona State University’s Air Force ROTC program to continue pursuing his dream of serving his country as a pilot for the USAF.


Thank you to Mark and Glenn Dawson, Bobby White, and the Arizona Cycle Park crew for helping us tell Mark’s story and enjoy, ‘Mark Dawson: Brake Checks.’