Appleton BMX racer, born with a congenital heart defect, is a “role model,” cardiologist says.

APPLETON – At first, it was scary, recalled Emma DeBruin.

“As a little kid, you’re going down this huge hill and racing against people,” she said. “You’re all trying to win, and it’s very competitive.”

What’s competitive, this 13-year-old Appleton girl says, is bicycle motocross, or BMX, racing, a cycle sport she’s been competing in for about five years. 

DeBruin‘s practiced and raced countless times at the 1,150-foot track at town of Oshkosh’s Winnebagoland BMX, and her family has made longer treks for these races in places as far away as Texas and South Carolina.

RELATED: Fox Cities Paper Trail, which links 11 communities, opens to rave reviews

RELATED: Wausau’s bike polo team is going to national championship tournament

Last year, she earned her 10th win and advanced to a new racing class.

The 13-year-old has found racing success despite being born with a life-threatening congenital heart defect that required surgery days after her birth.

“The older she gets, the more we’re able to talk about it,” said Jennifer, DeBruin’s mother. ” … We try and think of Emma as a normal child.” 

Emma’s father, John, said worries about his daughter’s heart are “always in the back of your mind.”

“It wasn’t an easy decision, because there really was no guidance from the doctors about whether…