In 2004, Ryan Mills was a 19-year-old pro rider. A few years later, an injury lead to a pain pill addiction and, soon enough, BMX was only a thing of his past. After a few dark years, Ryan powered through his demons and got back on the bike a decade later. As he approaches 40-year-of age, Ryan is somehow riding as good - possibly better - than ever before. We caught up with Ryan to discuss his return to BMX...
Without getting too deep into your “downward spiral,” how many years were you out of BMX for?
I started to fade away from BMX and into full-time drug use around 2009. It was the summer of 2016 when I got arrested and became sober. In early 2017 is when I got a bike and started riding again. I guess I was out of BMX for about eight years total.
What sparked you getting back on the bike?
Searching for a purpose to live. I didn’t know who I was anymore. Reconnecting with my old friends in BMX helped me find myself again. It also served as a way to not think about the struggle I was going through. Getting sober is no easy task and to be able to clear my mind with something as physically and mentally demanding as BMX was super helpful for me.
What was the hardest part about getting back on it?
My mind quickly remembered how to do certain things, but my body had to catch up. I wasn’t able to physically do what my mind was telling me. I was so weak. I felt like I was dying after every session in the beginning because I was pushing myself so hard and having so much fun. Until I drove home after a session, I didn’t realize how exhausted I was. The next days were brutal for me for the first three-or-four months.
In the time you were away, how did bikes change?
A lot changed in eight years, especially since I wasn’t paying attention to BMX at all in that time. Geometry and setups were all foreign to me, but it felt better at the same time. I also didn’t realize that the sport had kind of gone into sections. People were riding specifically street, park, or dirt, whereas when I stopped riding, it was more of people riding in every discipline at the same time. I still like riding everything, but prefer street riding and am terrified of trails…
Is your mentality different than it was “the first time around?”
My mentality towards BMX is completely different than it used to be. I had lost track of it being fun when I was getting into drug use. Now, fun is my main concern. Smiling and being around friends is number one.
I know in your early years, you competed in a few contests. Is that something you have the desire to ever do again? The USA BMX Freestyle Series has a 31-39 class…
I’ve never really been a great contest rider. I watch the clips from the series USA BMX does and the level of riding in that is insane. My riding is never consistent enough for contests. It takes me a lot of attempts to land tricks, haha! With enough arm twisting, I might be down to enter one, though...
How are the injuries now that you’re pushing 40?
I am a bit more cautious these days. Sometimes I see something I really want to do - or know I could have done it before - but I will talk myself out of it. Getting injuries is something I try to avoid more these days. Before, I didn’t care.
You’re also now balancing riding with a full-time job. How is that?
I love it! Not riding full-time makes me appreciate when I can ride even more. Plus, it gives me an excuse to take much needed days off from riding. My job has plenty of PTO as well, so if there are trips I want to go on, I usually can get the time off pretty easily.
What advice would you give to any riders who stepped away and are looking to get back in it?
If you are looking to get back into BMX, do it! It’s the best thing I ever did for myself. The friendships, new and old, in BMX are priceless. It’s a free gym membership, free therapist, and a great escape from day-to-day worries.
What was your favorite aspect of BMX back then and what is your favorite aspect of BMX today?
Traveling the world was the best part back then. Today, I do it for the love in it.