Why Nikita Ducarroz credits BMX with saving her life

The bike is what got me out of the house and to go to the skate park and then to eventually get on an aeroplane. So that's always been the thing that's kept me going and given me a reason to push through all those fears

Original article from redbull.com

Imagine being a teenager going through anxiety issues so severe that you don’t even want to leave your home. Then one day, you’re scrolling on YouTube and stumble upon a video that offers you a way out. A vehicle to help you cope. This is the story of how BMX freestyler Nikita Ducarroz found her way to a BMX and ultimately overcame her anxiety issues.

Just as Ducarroz found that video helped her with the issues she had at the time, she now wants to help other action sports athletes do the same. With her social media platform Mind Tricks, an Instagram account she set up (alongside her friend Patrick Kelly) for athletes in the action sports world (and beyond) to discuss mental health.

Through posts and personal stories on this Instagram account, they hope to reach those in need, reduce the stigma around speaking out and, of course, inspire more people to speak out as a result.

Nikita Ducarroz, an athlete and a mental health advocate

BMX helped me push through my fears

Born to a Swiss father and an American mother, Ducarroz enjoyed dual nationality growing up in Northern California and spending her summers in Geneva, Switzerland, with her grandparents. At the age of thirteen, Ducarroz began suffering from severe anxiety attacks that left her feeling isolated in her own home.

It wasn’t until she found a BMX video on YouTube that she began to break free of that isolation. It started with saving up for a bike and practising in her driveway. Day after day, trick after trick, the love for the sport became stronger and stronger, leading her to do something that scared her, and that was taking the leap to ride her bike at the local public skatepark. From that decision, Ducarroz’s career in BMX began.

Ducarroz continued to work hard and develop her skills. It didn’t take her long to win competitions – first on a local level, then national, and eventually onto the world stage. She credits BMX for saving her life.

“The bike is what got me out of the house and to go to the skate park and then to eventually get on an aeroplane. So that’s always been the thing that’s kept me going and given me a reason to push through all those fears.”

Building up to Tokyo

In early 2020, Ducarroz realised she needed to hone her skills even further to be among the elite riders around the world in the run-up to the Olympics, the first time BMX freestyle would feature at the Games. A two-week training trip to the United States and the Daniel Dares Action Sports Complex in North Carolina proved to be a pivotal moment. Even with Tokyo being delayed a year due to the pandemic, her experiences at the Daniel Dares Action Sports Complex led Ducarroz to move to North Carolina full-time to train with the best riders in the world.

“We could still ride the park, it was closed to the public, but all seven of us riders basically just formed a bubble. And we were able to keep training throughout all of that. So that was really cool.”

Ducarroz training at the Daniel Dhers Action Sports Complex

Hard work brings rewards

The move to North Carolina paid off big time when Ducarroz, riding for Switzerland, grabbed the bronze medal. So how does she deal with her mental health during big events like the Games and UCI World Cup competitions?

“As for my mental health before big competitions, well, the funny thing is I definitely freak out before competitions, and I usually wish that I was at home right about the time I’m going to drop in. It doesn’t matter the size of the competition. In Tokyo, I had the same amount of nerves as I did in a much smaller competition in Pennsylvania about a month prior to the games.”

Of course, the Olympic experience was something special for her and a reward for the hard work since she first stepped onto a BMX back in 2010.

“It’s pretty insane. I don’t know if it will ever really hit me. It’s still kind of just feels like it went by really fast. It almost feels like it just wasn’t real. Like it didn’t actually happen. But it was sick, especially having so many people in different countries be able to watch the sport. And in Switzerland, people that had no idea about BMX have come up to me and said they had watched it for the first time.

“And they were super stoked about it. It’s really cool to see that we made such an impact, and it was so much bigger than just us. It really reached a whole new group of people.”

The Mind Tricks platform

Returning to the Mind Tricks platform, Ducarroz hopes the buzz around it will encourage action sports athletes and the wider public to share their mental health stories, find inspiration in others’ stories and realise they are not alone in dealing with struggles. Find out more about the Mind Tricks project, the motivations behind it and the future of the platform in the Q&A with Ducarroz below.

Ducarroz and Red Bull put on a Mind Tricks event in October last year

How did Mind Tricks come about?
Nikita Ducarroz: Mind Tricks came about from posts that I had made about my struggles with mental health. A friend came to me and asked if I knew of any pages, websites or anything in sports that highlighted that sort of thing. I didn’t really know of any at the time, so we had the idea to create this page where we could share stories from ourselves and other pro riders, and pretty much any athlete that wanted to share and just kind of get the conversation going.

So we started posting the pros’ stories to show their fans that they are also dealing with mental health issues. We just wanted to normalize the conversation around mental health. It’s geared towards athletes, and we’ve definitely focused more on the action sports side of things. But it’s sort of open-ended for now because we want it to morph into whatever it’s going to morph into.

As a co-founder of Mind Tricks, how else are you involved in the platform? Do you recruit other athletes to share stories on your platform?
I definitely try to keep an eye on the different athletes’ pages that I follow to see if they’ve spoken out about their mental health, and then I reach out and see if they want to share on our page.

Kate Courtney and Hannah Bergemann were at the Mind Tricks event also

Why are you so passionate about building this platform?
I think just because of how much it helps me to talk about mental health. And then to also see and meet other people dealing with the same thing. Because it’s a topic that we don’t want to talk about, anything I could do to make it easier for me and other people is something worth doing, and I think it’s also cool to combine that with BMX.

Do you think sharing your story online made it easier for others in the action sports world to share their stories on the Mind Tricks platform?
Yeah, definitely. I mean, I’ve had people say that before. And I think the more people that have shared on the platform, it’s reached people that are fans of them, or friends of theirs, and kind of encouraged them to share. So it’s just like a domino effect reaching more and more people.

Would you consider yourself an ambassador for mental health in action sports?
Yes definitely! I think there’s not a lot of people talking about it yet. And I think anyone that follows me definitely has heard me talk about it. So I try not to do it too much to where it’s annoying, but I think people are aware and are supportive of it. Hopefully, it encourages more people to speak out.

Would you say that ‘celebrating small wins to overcome big obstacles’ describes your journey in life thus far?
Absolutely! That’s pretty much been my whole life. When I got to the point of going to big contests and stuff, if I got on the podium, that was kind of what people would see as the big victory. But what people didn’t see was the fact that I had gotten on an aeroplane to go to that contest, which was nearly impossible for me. So that’s what I was celebrating – that was the real win for me. It’s just celebrating all the little things that lead up to that big victory because there’s so much more that goes into it than that one moment that you see.

Do you have future plans or goals that you’d like to achieve with Mind Tricks?
We want to do some live events where we have conversations with other athletes, and people can tune in and ask questions. If we end up doing events, it’d be cool to combine mental health with BMX and share both of those together, like get people on bikes and then also talk about mental health and stuff, sharing both of those passions at the same time.

We also did a t-shirt collaboration with a friend, which we’ve done three different drops, and they just keep selling out. One of those drops was our Mental Health Matters shirts. People are super stoked on them, so we want to definitely do more apparel in the future. We also want to do different collaborations with other BMX companies as well.

I know we’re going to do some stuff with Red Bull, some events and maybe some clinics. So Mind Tricks doesn’t have an official title for what it is yet, but for right now, it’s a place to share stories and encourage more conversations around mental health. We want to make it even bigger in the future.

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