FORT KNOX, Ky. - She finished 8th in the nation in the 46-50 age group for the 2023 Bicycle Motocross race year riding her 24-inch cruiser at the Grands in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The honor allows her to now sport the #8 plate with a gray background on the front of her bike.
United States BMX racer Bianka Lathan is not only an accomplished BMX racer, but also a skilled Department of the Army Civilian multi-media specialist and artist, working in the public affairs office of the 1st Theater Sustainment Command.
She has the full support of her husband, Command Sgt. Maj. Raymond Lathan, senior enlisted advisor, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team ‘Lancer Brigade’, 2nd Infantry Division. They have two daughters, Kela and Amani.
She can also add retired first sergeant, jump master, and proud Army combat veteran to her resume, as she continues to serve the Army that has given her so much.
“I’m a Soldier for life,” Lathan proclaimed.
Lathan’s creative work can be seen throughout the 1st TSC. From the screen background in the operations center in Fowler Hall, to the new 1st TSC sign at Fort Knox’s Main Chaffee Gate, to countless other designs used in manuals, flyers, on social media, and in videos throughout the command since 2018.
One of her proudest, lasting designs is the beret flash she created for the 161st Engineer Support Company, Airborne, 27th Engineer Battalion, 20th Engineer Brigade, while serving as the unit’s first sergeant at Fort Liberty, North Carolina.
Lathan was influenced by her parents in many ways – both in the arts and in service.
“I’ve always been creative because my parents are both artists,” she revealed.
With formal design training from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Lathan earned a bachelor’s degree in graphic art and design just following her active-duty retirement in 2016.
“I learned graphic design, photography, and video creation in the program, and I was trained to use art to help communicate,” she said.
Her parents’ creativity isn’t the only trait that Lathan got from her folks. Both served in the Army, which set the example for Bianka and her twin brother Zachary Gavin to enlist in 1992.
“We joined together, because I couldn’t let my twin join alone, and if he could do it; I knew I could too,” she said.
Maintaining sibling rivalry and a lifetime competing in most things, they both became airborne Soldiers, but Lathan was the only twin who made a career in the Army.
“My Mom worked in military intelligence and my dad was an Army photographer with Headquarters, U.S. Army Engineer Command in Europe. He rode in helicopters and shot pictures of what the engineers built,” she shared.
When her father completed his time serving in the Army, Lathan recalled going with him to the art school he attended in Colorado where she witnessed students producing art firsthand. She was heavily influenced by seeing them paint.
“That made me want to design and create art,” she said.
Since her dad was a photographer, they also had a darkroom in their house. Then when her mother completed her enlistment, she became a full-time fashion designer.
“She always made clothes,” Lathan recalled. “She even made outfits for a contestant in the Miss America pageant, and she won, wearing mom’s gown,” she said.
Lathan helped her mom with little creative projects and remembers always being surrounded by art. She compares her Army engineer profession to art, and thinks that she was drawn to it, because she wanted to create.
“I liked working as an engineer in the Army, because we were building and there was a finished product when we were done, much like graphic design where I create a product,” she said.
She also liked leading Soldiers and credits her development as a leader to her work in Bosnia where she was assigned as a NATO Peacekeeper during Operation Joint Endeavor.
“I was more outgoing after serving in Bosnia, because I learned from my peers and leaders, which resulted in me gaining confidence in both performing and communicating in my job,” Lathan said.
That confidence helped during her two deployments to Iraq in support of the Global War on Terrorism. Lathan and her fellow engineers mostly kept main supply routes clear.
“We did a lot of rapid crater repair- fixing roads damaged from improvised explosive device blasts,” she explained.
Lathan described her work in Iraq as horizontal building. This included fixing roads and doing repairs at forward operating bases and airfields.
According to Lathan, the selfless-service, determination, and confidence she learned as a Soldier directly transferred to the BMX track and continues to push her desire to win. As a team member on Wrenchman Racing, she travels throughout the United States racing and volunteering in the BMX community. She has had her photos published in the magazine Pull BMX and content shared on social media sites for USA BMX and Pull BMX.
Her brother Zachary created Wrenchman Racing Team which consists of Bianka and several other riders. She even volunteered her talents and created the team’s logo. Race fans can spot them under their Wrenchman Racing trackside tents.
While Zachary no longer competes, he focuses on supporting Bianka and his son Tyler racing.
Her home track is in Burlington, North Carolina. This year she competed in Louisville; Lexington, Virginia; Nashville; Powder Springs, Georgia; Rock Hill, South Carolina, Bethel Park, Pennsylvania; Woodbridge, Virginia; and Tulsa, where she solidified her #8 standing riding her cruiser. She also finished in the top 20 in her age group riding her 20-inch BMX bike.
Putting herself out there in the public with large groups of people wasn’t always easy for Lathan, and she credits her involvement in racing BMX with helping her overcome it while connecting with other women and being part of a tight-knit community.
Zachary said racing BMX helped his twin get out of the house after she retired. “It’s helped me being around a lot of people and coping with crowds; so, I’m sure it’s also helped Bianka,” he said.
The #8 cruiser in USA BMX likens her BMX family to that of her tight Army family.
“I am having the time of my life racing BMX,” the 49-year-old Lathan said.
“As a combat veteran, I avoided large crowds when I retired, and it was difficult for me to connect with new people. Loud noises really affected me. Racing BMX is what helped me adapt to these environments. Now I feel the same camaraderie and closeness with my fellow racers that I did with my Soldiers,” she said.
Look for Lathan on the track in 2024 as #8 continues racing BMX, volunteering in her community, and doing what she loves working as a multimedia specialist with the Army.