If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now when? Questions that I’ve been tossing around in my head for a while now and struggled to allow myself to properly take the time and process those thoughts. Those thoughts have now been processed, so if you’re ready for a novel buckle up this is my hectic ride.
Before I be totally open and honest with you all I just want to say that I was never intending to be making a massive post like this. I don’t feel as though I owe anyone an explanation however the main reason I’m doing this is to hopefully help others that may be going through similar things and to let others know that it’s okay to not be okay and that you’re not alone.
I’ve made the decision to step away from BMX after 16 incredibly rewarding years in the sport. It came to my attention that I was living a very unhappy life due to a few reasons but a big one was my ‘WHY’ had changed in BMX. After a very hard battle of trying to get back to where I used to be after my crash in late 2019 , I never gained my self belief or confidence back. It has been super draining trying to push myself through the struggles and get me out of that never ending hole when you know you’re very capable and you know what you’ve achieved yet your mind is filled with doubts and consumed by fear.
I was no longer the rider that I used to be and for a while I tried to meet those unrealistic expectations that in turn caused so much unnecessary suffering. I tried and tried to shake that whole mind, body consuming fear but I began to realise after help, that it was absolutely okay to take a step back for myself and hang up the bike for a while.
BMX became a chore and when I was asked why I do BMX? I couldn’t give an answer right away and that’s when all my questions were answered. As scary as it was to come to that realisation I think at the moment, it is the best one for myself and my well-being. BMX isn’t going anywhere anytime soon which means I can put myself and my well being first!
When things are tough and you feel you have no one to turn to, you always do. When you feel you’re alone, you can’t do it, you should quit, you suck, you’re not good enough all those thoughts that many people experience when in a professional environment but also in everyday life, those are your demons taking a hold of you. You seem to not be able to climb out of that deep hole and it’s scary because I know. I’ve been in it and I’ve tried and tried and tried to climb my way out but every time I tried I seemed to keep missing that ladder. It was almost as if I didn’t know it was even there. I kept trying and this time I was fully aware I was stuck in a hole and in order for me to get out I needed to accept that where I’m at is not good and that all I needed to do was ask for some help, because there is no shame whatsoever in asking for help.
As soon as I made the decision in my heart that I wasn’t going to make the Olympic team that’s when I started looking at my life a little differently. I know I didn’t have the motivation or commitment to keep pushing through. I felt super content that if I didn’t get selected for the Olympics I would be fine! When I’m ready to give it 100% again and willing to make those necessary sacrifices then I’ll do everything I can to give myself the best possible chance of making that team and representing myself, my whanau and my tupuna who have passed on.
For me, all I wanted was to be the best athlete I could be, who had worked hard and wanted to be there. But…I didn’t want to be there…and that was enough for me to take a hard look in the mirror.
Something that I’ve recently been struggling to deal with is talking about all this stuff. It’s something I’m not used to doing as yes there is a huge stigma around openly sharing struggles with mental health and I’ve also become really good at avoiding those hard thoughts and questions. I was lying to myself around how I was really doing and I began to lie, make unnecessary excuses to avoid my fears and avoid hard truths that I knew would trigger weird thoughts and feelings that were super confronting and really scary. I never wanted to admit or even have thoughts of hanging my bike up because that’s just not okay? Heck was I wrong.
I would often apologise for reaching out to my mates because I really did think it was a lot to be hearing and felt as though I was somewhat of a burden. However these were all just my thoughts and not what my mates were actually thinking. I felt as though what I was going through was so shameful and pathetic. I would think to myself “How can someone whose job it is to train, ride a bike and travel the world, one day hoping to bring home medals be so unhappy”? I soon realised that whatever you’re going through, whatever the struggle is, it’s your own and no one can judge you for that and to be honest no one should think less of you for having those battles.
When something so important to you starts to affect your happiness and your entire well-being then it’s time to get brave and let those confronting thoughts in (very very hard to do) and properly figure out what’s the cause of those hard thoughts and yucky feelings. I was never able to do this because I was so scared of my thoughts and emotions that I avoided them at all costs. I was afraid of what I may do, I was afraid of harming myself because at times when things were really really hard and I was super lost, I did hurt myself because it was that break in my head that I thought was the only way. I thought that the only way to stop the endless thoughts was to create pain but I was so wrong.
With professional help I was able to figure out that thoughts are just thoughts not facts. I was willing to experience the discomfort of letting my thoughts in. Once I allowed myself to sit with my thoughts, create space and relate back to my values I realized how unhappy I was and how disconnected I was with my bike and myself. Once that realization came around I needed to make sure I was making the best decision for myself. Chats with close friends, my mental skills coach, athlete life adviser and family it was very clear this will be the right decision for myself, my well-being and my progression in life.
I never understood how people could not love life. For me when something you love so much goes downhill and isn’t going the way you want or intended it to go, then that could be that push that no one wants or deserves. The push into that hole that you didn’t see coming or maybe didn’t even know you were hovering over until shit gets real bad.
Life is hard and people may think that the athlete’s life is a dream, for some it is and for others it’s really difficult because we often lose ourselves in our dreams and goals. We often forget as well as the people in power that WE ARE HUMAN BEINGS and we struggle with shit just like anyone else. I just hope that in the near future athletes find that courage to speak out and seek that help.
In order to learn, grow and gain a better understanding of how you, as a human being best works, you must go through challenges that will test your strength. But know that as soon as those struggles start to take away your happiness and overall well-being you need to think about what’s most important in life and remember you don’t need to go through those struggles alone. Reach out to whanau, friends, professionals and or myself! You’re not alone.
Life is about choices right? Well I’ve learnt that you can’t choose happiness. Happiness is an emotion created by feelings which stem from what you’re doing in life. You have the choice to seek happiness through what you choose to do. I choose me and my happiness which is the main reason why I need time away from my bike.
If I’m being honest with myself I am so afraid to leave the sport because this is all I’ve done, this is all I’ve ever 100% committed to and now I have decided to give that all up. I think I’m more scared than I was before, but I’m also proud of myself for recognising I wasn’t okay. I’m proud of myself for seeking help and ultimately putting ME first because at the end of the day, my happiness and well-being should always come first.
I’m super excited for this next chapter in my life and whatever life throws at me, I feel I will be okay thanks to everything I’ve learnt and experienced already in life from my incredible, yet crazy sport!
Although the decision to step away from my sport has been really hard, something that I’m struggling to navigate is when people ask me what I do for a living? For many athletes who step away from their sport that they’ve done for their entire lives, it’s hard to figure out what you want to do with your new life and figure out your new purpose. For me, I’ve had to hold my instincts back in saying that I’m a Professional BMXer and say at the moment I haven’t committed to any one thing. I’m figuring out what I enjoy in life and what is going to bring me the most happiness and growth, because most importantly, I want to Happy and I want to remember all the incredible places I’ve traveled too, all of the highs and lows, all of the amazing people I’ve met and created life long friendships with, the experiences, learnings, my achievements and unlimited amount of memories which will always be with me!
I am Jessie Smith, former NZ Professional BMX athlete, Youth Olympian, 8x National Champion, Oceania Champion, 5x armature World Champion and the 2019 UCI Junior World Champion! I am proud of what I have achieved in my sport and I am by no means done. I know how good I am and I know how much better I can be. But for now I need to focus on my well-being and figure out how to gain my love, commitment and passion back for BMX racing without a timeline, pressure or expectations from myself and others. I will say this so it’s on record. I will be back and I will one day have an Olympic Gold medal!
Thank you to everyone who has ever helped or supported me in my career from the very start to now. I appreciate every single Facebook and Instagram comment and/or message of support that I’ve received throughout the years. Sponsors and organisations that have backed me financially or with products, I thank you for your support.
To the many many many BMX friends I have made throughout the years and those who are now family thank you for making BMX so much more than what I ever thought it could be! Thank you to my friends that have always been there for me when things got super hard, y’all know who you all are and a massive thank you to my Family who have always loved and supported me no matter what!
Thank you to my International trade team- Team TVE Sport for the incredible opportunities you have given me whilst I was living, training, growing and becoming a stronger/more independent athlete whilst I was in Europe and for helping me get that Rainbow jersey! A big Thank you to my coach Matt Cameron who has had a rollercoaster ride with me, you’ve never left my side even when things got confusing and really hard. Thank you for your support as an athlete and a friend.
Mum and dad you both have been my rock even though I may not say it, but I appreciate all the incredible opportunities you’ve given me and the way you have raised me! I owe a lot of my success to you both. I also want to thank my Grandparents, my Tupuna for always protecting me, guiding me and giving me important life challenges to navigate with the help of my family and friends.
Thank you each and every one of you who have made this journey one to remember and one to be very grateful for!
Remember to do what you love, do it for the right reasons and most importantly, keep on smiling!