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Latinx Heritage Month

On this day in Latinx history: BMX racer Mariana Pajón is born

She is the first Colombian to win two Olympic gold medals

Mariana Pajón lifted her BMX bike above her head and broke out a huge smile after gliding to an easy gold-medal finish at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

While the remainder of the field quickly showed it wasn’t in the same league as the “Queen of the BMX,” Pajón gracefully made her way over every bump, hill and curve on the course. The Colombian BMX star’s celebrity helped fill X Park with masses of Colombians who turned out in yellow, blue and red attire to support their countrywoman as she defended her 2012 Olympic gold medal.

Then 24 years old, Pajón is the only Colombian to win two Olympic gold medals, and she was born on this day in 1991. So beloved is Pajón that a racetrack in Medellin, Colombia, is named after her.

“Sacrifice and hard work,” she said of how she achieved this level of success at such a young age at the news conference after the Rio race. “And smiles. I think smiling and happiness is the best doping you can have.”

The daughter and sister of two BMX riders, Pajón began racing at 4 and won her first world championship five years later. In 2007 and 2008, she won the Colombian Junior Sports Woman of the Year award. That same year, she was invited to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Youth Camp so she could prepare for the next Olympics. Colombia selected her to be the flag-bearer for the country during the opening ceremony at the 2012 Summer Games in London.

“The first medal was incredible, but the second medal was more emotional,” she said. “Because it was in Brazil. This feels like a medal for all South Americans. I’m so proud.”

Rhiannon Walker is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a drinker of Sassy Cow Creamery chocolate milk, an owner of an extensive Disney VHS collection, and she might have a heart attack if Frank Ocean doesn't drop his second album.