A punishment turned into a passion for Rahsaan Bahati.
Self-described as "a bit of a troublemaker" as he approached his teenage years in Compton, Calif., Bahati was assigned to take part in an after-school athletics program at a nearby cycling track. More than 20 years later, he is one of the top criterium riders in the country and will make his first appearance at the Boise Twilight Criterium on Saturday.
"At first when I was told I was going to work with bikes, I thought it was motorcycles. When I found out it was bicycles, I wasn't excited at all," said Bahati, 32. "I think that made my dad push me a little harder, since I at first didn't like it, he wanted to drive home that punishment, and it ended up being a blessing."
Bahati took part in his first race at age 12, and soon after won four medals at junior nationals. He was "embarrassed for a little while," wearing baggy clothes over his cycling outfits in a notoriously tough place to live.
Compton, particularly in the early 1990s, was known for its proliferation of gangs and the violence associated with it.
Bahati, one of seven kids whose parents are educators, wasn't immune.
"In hindsight, I guess it was dangerous - but I didn't know any better. People being killed was a part of life," Bahati said. "I knew I shouldn't do drugs, be in a gang, all that, but I was on that path."
Instead, his competitive cycling career took him on a path across the United States and around the world. He's racked up dozens of wins along the way, including the 2008 United States National Criterium Championship, but never forgot where he came from.
A lot of Bahati's attention in recent years has gone toward the Bahati Foundation, which aims to get inner-city kids interested in fitness via cycling outreach programs and providing equipment to them.
"I think it resonates a little more if it comes from me, showing what change can do for someone like me who grew up just like them," Bahati said. "I hope that telling my story helps them realize there aren't just a few ways out or a few ways to better themselves, but hundreds of ways."
Yes, for a kid from Compton, cycling is an unusual way to improve one's life. For Bahati, that meant being "like a raisin in milk," being a black man in a predominantly white sport.
But he enjoyed being a pioneer of sorts, and has relished the rise of talented, young, black riders like Justin Williams, who edged out Bahati to take third at the Manhattan Beach (Calif.) Grand Prix on Sunday. Williams is expected to be in Saturday's field in Boise.
As he turns his sights more toward business and his charity, Bahati said this might be his last full-time competitive season. He hopes to go out with a bang, making opponents "fear the 'fro."
"I'm pretty excited about Boise," Bahati said. "I'm trying to hit some of the cool races I've never been to, so hopefully I can go out there and make it onto the podium."
Dave Southorn: 377-6420, Twitter: @IDS_southorn