What do you love about biking?
My favorite thing about BMX, or about cycling in general is that when you're out there and you're riding, it's a bit of a freedom, nothing else in the world matters at that moment. All the problems that you have going on in your life, and all the negative parts of your life, they just don't matter. You get to be free. You get to, it's pure bliss when you're out there riding.
Tell us your story of how you got into BMX, from the start until where you are now.
When I was seven years old and I was playing all the sports that a normal seven year old kid plays. I was doing soccer, I was playing football, baseball, basketball. I enjoyed them but I really didn't feel passion for them. My mom went to the bike shop. She's a cyclist, she would just go for fun and ride bikes on the paths around town. She saw a flyer for the local BMX track. She took me out there. We went and tried it out and I loved it at first try. The next week we were out there and I think I had my helmet on half-way to the track. I was ready to go. I've never looked back. I've been doing it ever since. When I was about 10, I quit doing other sports and I put all my focus into BMX. There's never a time when I've not wanted to go to the track. Or, there's never been a time when I didn't feel like riding my bike. It's hard not to think about it all the time.
What are you particularly passionate about when it comes to BMX as opposed to other forms of biking?
I have respect and I enjoy all forms of biking. I think mountain biking is a lot of fun and there's aspects of road cycling that I like. Velodrome, from a competitive standpoint, the track cycling is really cool. It's all about who is the strongest guy. BMX, to me, you can be the most creative with. It's almost in a sense a little bit artistic in that you have your own individual style. You get to choose your lines over the obstacles. You really get to express yourself when you're riding. There's also the element of competition. You're training really hard and you're getting ready for these races. The races, they're just so much fun because anything can happen. It's always super exciting. There's never a dull moment.
For moms out there that are afraid to get their kids into BMX because it might be dangerous, there are crashes. What do you say to them? Why is BMX good for young kids?
It bothers me a little bit when people say there are so many injuries in BMX. Do you not watch football? There's people getting hurt all the time in every sport. That's just part of signing up to play a sport, you're running the risk of getting injured. I think that BMX it really toughens kids up and people in general. It teaches them that you can push through things and that you can get knocked down and get back up. There's a lot of positive things that kids can learn from riding BMX.
One thing BMX taught me from a young age is that if you want something, you got to go out there and work for it. That translates into life as well. If you work hard, and you believe in yourself, then you're going to do well in your competitions. BMX makes you be held accountable because you're the only one out there. In a team sport, you could be having a bad game and not be focused, but the rest of your team plays well and nothing happens. You're all right. In BMXif you're being lazy or if you don't have a good race, you're the one holding yourself accountable. That's one of my favorite aspects that it is that it's all on me. If I win, it's because I earned it. If I've lost, it's because I did something wrong, and I can go and fix it myself.
It probably teaches you a lot of responsibility.
Oh, yeah. You have to take responsibility for everything, because you're the only one out there riding your bike. You got to make sure your bike, mechanically, it's running well, riding well. You've got to show up on that start line ready to go, prepared, been practicing. On the mental side, BMX is - all sports are mental to a degree - BMX is so mental. You're lined up, you're going to war, you're going to battle for 45 seconds. You've just got to be ready to go to war.
What's your favorite part of the race?
I would say that my favorite part of the race would have to be the feeling you get when you have a great start, and your nose is out in front. You see that first corner and it's almost like the skies have opened up. You're going to go into that first corner in first, and that's the best feeling. I also really enjoy stalking someone down. It's a lot of fun to be in second and to be watching the guy in front of you and thinking about where you're going to pass him. When you do make a successful pass, it's such a good feeling when you do that.
Isn't it true that getting ahead out of the gates, that's most of the race? If you get out of the gate successfully, then the race is almost over?
At a level. Everyone is so talented. Everyone is so fast that it's really difficult to get around somebody because you need to be a full length quicker than them to get around them on the track. The start becomes the most important part, and the first straightaway, which is what most of our training is designed around is getting off that start line quick and getting out in front. There is plenty of passing. Certain tracks will offer more passing more than others. If they're bigger and more wide open. That's what makes BMX so exciting, is because the guy who wins out of the start, he can win the whole thing. What if the guy in first makes a mistake? He's going to get passed by three guys. Your training focus is definitely about getting out in front.
Do you remember the time you got your first bike?
I started off on a normal, average kid's bike from Wal-Mart. It was 40 pounds and it was a piece of junk. My dad said, “If you keep racing, if you race for a few months, I'll get you a racing bike. ”A few months go by and it's time to get a racing bike. I'm like, “Dad, dad, let's go get a racing bike." We went to a few different stores and I was trying them all out and I remember when I got my first bike. As soon as I got that bike, it was over. I was so hooked because I actually had a good bike and I was excited to show all my friends. I still remember exactly what that bike looks like.It was silver and red and it was a shiny, metallic paint job. It had micro knobby on the tire, and I just remember it. It had Tektro brakes on it. I was just so excited because it had the big name brakes. That was my first bike, yeah.
A champion's process
Do you have any pre-ride rituals or superstitions?
One thing I really need, regardless of whether it's just in practice or in racing, is I put my headphones on. I need to go into another world. I have these huge big obnoxious headphones. I put them on and I go into my world and I zone out. I start closing my eyes and just visualizing how I want that day to go, how I want to feel, what I want to do. That's kind of my pre-race, pre-warm up ritual. Before I line up in the start line, I'm always just twitching. I can't sit still. I'm shaking my legs, I'm shaking my arms and rolling my neck. Whatever it is, I just don't sit still, until it's time to get ready to go.
What are you listening to?
My music is so varied, depending on mood. Sometimes I have some slower, quieter stuff when I'm really feeling like getting into the zone. If I'm tired, I need to wake myself up, I might have some heavy metal or some rap music pumping me up. Or even some techno-type, dance-type music, to wake me up. On the days that I'm really feeling good, mentally, and I'm in a really good place it's going to be slower, “get in the zone time” music.
Do you have a favorite artist or go-to song list?
I really like Jay-Z. Jay-Z and Kanye West are probably my go-tos.
Do you think listening to mellower music calms you down and allows you to just zone everything out and keep yourself focused?
Yeah, when things are going good, there's been a few times that I've done it, and I've had success with it. I pick one song and I put it on repeat. I listen to the same song all day, non-stop. It sounds like a broken record, but I'm so focused on what I'm doing that it doesn't matter to me what song is on. I think that having the more laid-back music probably does help me because I am a really anxious person. It helps calm me down a little bit. Sometimes it just feels so right to listen to some heavier stuff.
I want to ask what your bike means to you. Apart from that it's your full-time job.
It means a lot of things. My bike, what it means to me is not only it's my job but it's my passion. It's my sport. It's my childhood. It's my every day. It's my best friend. It never lets me down. I have so much enjoyment every time I go and ride my bike that I never want this to end. I never want to hang it up. I wake up in the morning on the days that I'm riding and I'm like a little kid on Christmas. I think that's part of what's gotten me to this level. It is a job and I do treat is as such, but I still have the passion for it. I still enjoy being creative and trying new things and learning new things, even as a professional. Even as one of the top guys in the world, I enjoy going out there and challenging myself and trying to learn something new. Even if I'll never use it in a race, but just seeing if I can ride on the back wheel through the whole straightaway, or jump this jump backwards, or anything along those lines. I just have so much fun out there. Even if I'm all by myself and no one else is out there with me.
Can you elaborate a little bit more on, besides for using your bike to get better at BMX racing, what else has it taught you?
My bike has done so much for me. It's allowed me to travel the world and to gain so many experiences and learn so much about life at such a young age that oftentimes I feel like I'm 40 years old in a 20-year-old's body. All sports are a microcosm of life in that they teach you the kind of lessons that life is going to teach you through sport. Working hard to achieve something, learning how to lose, learning how to share, things like that. My bike has taught me the importance of hard work. My bike has taught me that sometimes you're not going to get what you really, really want. It's taught me how to be a better person in all aspects of my life.
The 2012 Olympics – Highs and lows
What's been the highlight of your career so far?
The highlight of my career, I would have to say, would be qualifying for the London Olympics, and going to the Olympics. I was so young that I was barely age eligible to compete. Four years ago, in 2008, I watched on TV. I said, "I'm going to do everything I can to go there." Just four years, a whole lifetime of hard work, accumulating into qualifying to compete at the world's highest stage. You don't realize it until you're done but you just represented your country. You just represented everyone in the United States of America on your shirt, on your jersey when you put those three letters on. That's a pretty crazy feeling. The amount of support that I was felt was overwhelming and I just couldn't believe it. I really wanted to thank each and every one individually, but there's no way that could happen. It's a lot of work. The highlight for sure would be lining up in that gate for that first Olympic race, looking in the crowd and just taking a moment to myself really quick, thinking, "Wow, that 7 year old kid who had his helmet on in the backseat riding his bike at the local BMX track went around the world and landed here in London about to compete for Olympic glory."
Can you tell us the Olympic story, from race to race, and how it played out?
In the Olympics, I won all of my quarter finals. I went undefeated in those. Advanced easily into my semi-finals. First semi-final, a Frenchman crashed the whole pack. We all went down. I took a spill. I was injured, and I was bleeding and cut up. But, I gutted through it, and I actually won the next two semi-finals. I qualified as the first seed to the final. In the final, I had a bad start. I wasn't the only one up there to have a bad start, but the guy next to me, he got in front of me and blocked me off. There was just nothing I could do. I tried to make some moves, make some passes. I got up to 5th and at that point 4th through 32nd in the Olympics is the same exact thing, it's last. If you don't get top three, you get last. It was a disappointment and it was hard. Looking back, I don't think I was ready. I wasn't ready to win that race. If that's what it took to get me ready to win next time, then I might have to draw on that experience and move forward. You hear a lot of stories where people have a bad Olympic experience and then four years later they get back and they correct where they went wrong and they nail it and they have a great experience.
Why do you feel like you weren't ready? If you were winning all the heats before, then why do you feel like you weren't ready in the last?
I was worried about the wrong things. I was treating it as a huge deal. I was treating it as this is the Olympic final. I completely switched my mind set, and that's just a rookie mistake. You've got to treat it as, “OK this is just another lap.” I'm just going to lean forward and drive. I'm just going to ride my bike as fast as I can from the start to the finish line. I started behaving differently because it was the Olympic final. It takes a lot of discipline not to do that because, holy crap, you are in the Olympic final. But, I learned that lesson, and that was a mistake I will never make again, no matter what race it's at.
So it really is a mental sport.
Our sport is so mental. If I would have done 90% of what I was capable of, I'd be sitting here with a shiny thing around my neck. It wasn't my physical condition that let me down, it was my mental mistakes. Physically, I proved all weekend that I was one of the top three guys. I had one of the quickest lap times of the weekend, I was winning all the races; but it was the mental that let me down. I think cycling in general, all aspects of it, is so mental, because you have to be so mentally tough and so mentally strong to be successful.
Biking Sin City
What do you personally see when you go out through the city on your bike, what about this town really speaks to you?
I love Las Vegas and I lived here for years. It's one of my favorite places in the world. I traveled all around the world, and there is nowhere else I would rather live. Everything is so convenient here, and you can get pretty much everywhere you need to go in 10-15 minutes and the weather is great all year round. I mean it's a little bit warm, but you will never get snow. You will never get rain and there is five to ten days a year where I can't ride a bike. I can ride a bike the other 360 days. I really like that it's laid back outside of the strip but if you want to do something exiting or go somewhere cool, then you just drive 15 minutes and you can do anything you want to do.
Where is your favorite place to bike around the city?
I really like the area that I just moved to. It's kind of closeto the city but a little bit farther out. It's There’s a lot of nice parks and nice bike paths and it's relaxing and therapeutic to go for a fifteen, twenty minute ride. There’s four BMX tracks around Las Vegas that I alternate going to every week, and I've been going there for years riding my bike. It's almost like a second home.
So Las Vegas is known as Sin City. Would you say that there is a typically high bike theft here?
Being a young man, I've only recently been a teenager. I've seen some of the things that kids do, and I've watched people steal things. I've watched my friends have things stolen from them and how easy it would be grabbing a bike out of the bike lot at school and just leave. It astonishes me that people don't take of their property as well as they could.
Can you tell us the story about your injury. How it happened and how you recovered?
I got in a fight with my bike once, in July of 2010 and I hurt my knee. I ended up having to get knee surgery and I was out of the sport for seven months and it was really dark time. I actually enrolled in college and I was going to quit. I didn't think I could make it back and eventually I was able to get through it and move forward and compete again. Over a year later, I was in London. It's a big turnaround and it's pretty incredible to think about. All of it being in a period of a year.
It's crazy. Who kind of helped you get back up and to training?
My parents and my coach were instrumental getting me through. My parents were supportive and were making sure I felt loved, but my couch was the one telling me I’d be fine. The day that he really got me off was when he told me that I had the ability to be the best BMX racer in the world. When he told me that, I was like, OK, I got to give it a try.
Since your bike is an extension of yourself, what do you think, what kind of importance do you place on that? Why is bike art a good thing? Why is taking care of your bike so important?
Well, I mean if there was a fire in my house that I can only save a couple things, one of the first things I would grab would be one of my bikes. I put a huge value on those. Not only monetarily, but they are important for me and what I do, and I would be unhappy if I lost a bike. I would feel bored. I wouldn't know what to do. I would be upset if my bike went missing one day and I couldn't get it back.
Taking care of business
Would you say, in terms of what, putting security on one item of your property with your bike being on one thing?
My house would probably be first. But if I had to put an ADT security system on one of my possessions, I would probably put it on my bike. Because I would hate to be in a race and all of a sudden, my bike goes missing and I can't get it back. I would hate to be super exited to go out for a race or a ride and my bike is gone
Something I don't know you touched on but more of the things is like in BMX in general, like even in individual support, can you talk about the camaraderie, between you and your friends. It's a group effort but individual at the same time.
There is a little camaraderie to have common goals and we are around each other all the time. We all share the base of it all the same passion, and we all love riding our bikes and racing and competing. There is a mutual respect pretty much, between everybody out there; that we all understand that we are all here because we love what we do. I am pretty sure ten years from now, we are all retired and done, we will be much better friends than we are now.
Yeah, that's going to be funny. You are good friends with somebody that at the same time you are competing with for an Olympic medal.
It's weird. It's very hard and you see sometimes friendships getting strained because someone doesn't handle losing or someone doesn't handle winning. You just got to be able to know what's on the track is on the track and what's off the track is off the track. You can be friends with somebody and go out there and race them hard, and when the race is over, you shake their hand and you say, good job and go off to dinner.
Tell us the physical component of BMX and how that's totally different from other types of bike racing, and why you like BMX because of that?
Well, in BMX, the training and the way we want to have our body is we are sprinters. We are quick. We want to be super strong and super fast but our endurance is in a, like a road racer, if we are just racing for 45 seconds, we would smoke the road racer. But as soon that was over, the road racer would absolutely demolish us, because we have no endurance. The developer of the track cycle is those guys are so strong but they wouldn't be able to go over the jumps. So, it's really different but I like the training because everything is fast. A cat never goes for a jog, and we are just going to go] as fast as we can. Whether you are in the gym or on the track, you just go as hard as you can.
And when you get out the gate, there is a lot of pushing and shoving, right?
There is a little bit, you want to try and stay straight because as soon as you are touching people, you are going to slow down. But when you are all jockeying for a few inches and a few positions, you end up hitting someone probably about 20-30% of the time you are out there racing.
Like you are not allowed to, are there penalty in BMX?
If it is deemed as an absolutely blatant move that all you are trying to do is crash that rider and not pass him, you can get disqualified; but unless it's so obvious, there is nothing. You can take your hand off and punch someone, and you can head check someone or run into someone off the start line and that's complete legal. That's what makes BMX so much fun. It's just like in the Peloton or road racing. There is jockeying for position. It’s not like swimming where they are in their ownlane. It's what makes it so exiting is that there is that element of chance and anything can happen.
What's going through your head and what's your process as far as when you go and practice on the track by yourself?
When I am on the track, I am out there for job. My job that night is whatever my coach prescribed. My job is either 10 starts or 5 laps or 30 minutes of this or 30 minutes of that. I treat it as such. I am clocking in for work at 5:00 p.m. and I am clocking out at 7:30 p.m. and for that two and half hours, I am 100% plugged in and completely dedicated and I am trying to get the work done to the best of my abilities. That’s what is setting me up for success when we get to the next race.
As far as tracks go, what feature is your favorite? What do you hate the most? What do you find the most joy out of?
My favorite part of the track is usually the rhythm section; which is a group of smaller jumps put closer together. You have to be extremely precise and keep your rhythm. It's the most challenging part of the track but it's my favorite. My least favorite is probably the start. It's the most kind of racing where you have to be precise. It's not as much as jumping in the air or being creative on your bike. But there is no part of it that I don't enjoy. I enjoy all of it, but it's to what degree do I enjoy. If I have a day where I am going on doing the starts, I am not as exited if on a day, I am out there to do the jumps.
When you get older, are you still going to ride?
I'll never stop riding a bicycle. No matter what kind of bike it is. Weather it is a mountain bike or just a casual beach cruiser. My passion for cycling will never get old. I am planning to get my kids bikes when they are really young. I hope that I am lucky enough to ride to work when I'm 40. That would be awesome. That's the ultimate goal, to ride my bike to work when I am 40.
Do you ever ride your bike for fun, not for BMX purposes? Just go out there and ride.
Oh, I love it. I go the skate parks sometimes and just have fun and ride around. I used to get my friends into it and we would all ride around the town and mess around for hours. I love riding my bike. It's something that I enjoy that it makes me happy so if I am feeling down or I get in a fight with someone. I am feeling sad and I just go for a little ride and it clears my mind.
And when you are not riding, what are you doing?
Yeah, I love to spend time with my friends. That's my favorite thing to do, and my family. I am looking forward to start some college classes. I love playing ping pong and snowboarding other sports; and watching sports. I am just a huge sports fan no matter what it is.
Yeah, you like a competition.
I enjoy the competition part of it. I also enjoy seeing people work hard. I love watching a football game and seeing how exited they get when they do something good or how bummed they get when they do something bad because I know those exact feelings.
Right, and you can relate to any athlete regardless of...
Athletes now, no matter what sport they do. We all have a lot of things in common. We all are going through similar experiences. You can get an athlete from five different sports in a room together, and they can all talk about experiences that sound almost identical.
What's the importance of maintaining your bike and taking care of it?
It's extremely important that your bike is running at 100%, and you need to stay on top of it. The last thing you want is when you are riding and something breaks. It would be terrible if you got hurt because you were lazy and you didn't keep in touch with your bike. Every morning before I am out there riding, I am tightening all the bolts, I am lubing up the chain, I am washing it and pumping up the tires and making sure that I can control it good and it's ready to go and not going to fail me and let me down.
So what measures specifically do you take before a race to make sure that your bike is up to par and ready to go?
I have a thing with my chain. For some reason, my chain has to be perfect. I will spend twenty minutes making sure that my chain has the right amount of tightness and looseness. It’s just kind of a nervous tic and I am always sitting there checking my chain, checking my chain. To me, a lot of the other things aren't as big of a deal. A lot of people have handlebar stuff, and pedal stuff. To me, it's all about the chain.
Has your bike ever broke or malfunctioned during a race?
At the Pan American Game last year, I neglected my bike. I let the mechanic actually work on my bike, and normally I work on my own bike because I want to be held accountable. I let the mechanic do it and he put on the wrong kind of chain, and I came out of the second corner and my chain popped off and I hit the deck. I got really badly scraped up and beat up, due to the fact I had a faulty chain on my bike. That was what started my chain anxiety and after that I kind of let one or two people work on my bike other than myself and those are people that I really trust.You have to maintain your stuff no matter what it is. Whether it's your car, whether it's your bike, whether it's your home. You got to make sure it's running well and it's nice or else it's going to malfunction.
My bike is pretty much an extension of myself, to the point where I almost feel better sometimes on my bike. I feel more in control on my bike than I do on my own two feet.
Do you bike to work?
I bike at work. Normally I have to drive to work, but I bike at work.