Zsófia Vera: On starting BMX at 32

Guest WriterJuly 22, 2021

You’re never too old, to start something new, and it’s never too late to get into BMX. This was a lesson learned by Zsófia Vera, a French 34-year-old BMX rider who started BMX 3 years ago. Today we’re sharing her journey, enjoy part 1.

An accidental outline of how I brought an unlikely dream into reality

I started riding BMX in September 2018 after turning 32. I’d never had any inclination to try the sport prior to that. I suppose I’d always enjoyed riding bikes and had considered the beauty of a choreographic element added to the mix, but for some reason it didn’t click until that one defining moment where it hit me like a shot in the dark that BMX was what I was seeking.

In May 2018, I attended a street culture festival in Strasbourg that celebrated all things BMX, skate, roller and scooter. I felt compelled to observe meticulously the first of those sports for three days straight and for a reason that defies any sort of rational comprehension, I got it into my head that not only should I try BMX but that I will, definitely, do it.

Looking back as to how it all came to be, I find myself having unconsciously followed a sort of mindset framework that I’ve since encountered in the world of personal development. This framework can be applied to any idea—no matter how crazy—that seems to be inexplicably born in your heart and that you feel strongly compelled to bring into your reality.

I firmly believe that these dreams that are germinated within your soul are a clear calling for you to realise them — not only for yourself but for the community of large.

Remember that you are always a part of the interaction, no matter how lonely it may feel at times. Your dreams are there to carry you forward, and it is only in taking action that you can allow the process of unravelling to begin.

Step 1 : Follow your curiosity

During those three days at the festival, I watched the BMX riders flow through the park, the dirt jumps and the mini spine, completely mesmerised by the ease and grace of their movements, and I found myself deeply yearning to experience that same sensation.

What was it like to be propelled into the air like that? What did it feel like to be carried by fantastic flow? What was it like to be ONE with the bike, dancing across the park? It felt like an absolute necessity for me to feel these sensations in my own lifetime.

I also made the prospect of trying BMX way more compelling than not trying.

For instance, I had a vivid vision of myself, ten or twenty years from now, my physical abilities dwindling, and tangibly feeling the utter despair of never having experienced the complete euphoria that this sport seemed to provide.

I coerced my brain into giving BMX a go by subliminally convincing myself than not trying would be way more painful in the long term than any short term pain. I didn’t even do this consciously, it was as if some exterior force was flowing through me, forcing me to begin.

Step one is to remain open to any inspiration that comes your way. The wilder, the better. The crazier, more insane and unique the idea, the more it is your duty to follow it.

Step 2: Take action immediately

I encountered this notion later on in the book The Five Second Rule and then also at a Tony Robbins event : never leave the scene of having an idea without taking immediate action on it. This ties you to the idea in the physical realm, making it a tad more difficult to back down from it.

After the festival, I vagabonded on YouTube watching how-to videos, I made big plans, I wrote lists of what to prepare for my Big Project, I created a freaking POSTER of all the reasons why I should do it.

Basically : I hid behind planning and concepts and inspiration. I stayed in the comfortable space of dreaming up my future.

Because, truth be said, my new dream scared the hell out of me. The idea of setting forth and practicing a sport that asks of me flexibility, power and a certain sense of style – qualities which I was completely lacking in, or at least assumed I was—paralysed me with fear.

Trying this sport would mean being exposed to failure. I didn’t even consider the possibility of physical injury or the inherent danger of the sport. I was just scared of being JUDGED.

This came at a time when I was being confronted to my massive insecurities about my career, my body, my PROSPECTS and I was battling the usual crappy feelings of low self worth that the human experience entails, so when my new, alternative self presented this idea to me, it seemed to be the complete opposite of everything that I was experiencing at the time.

Which is probably why I chose to follow it, fully trusting that it will bring something new into my life.

I am an introvert and being around people scared me more then than it does so now, so putting myself in a situation that exposed me to PEOPLE, to their judgment, my awkwardness and vulnerability being completely on show … was an insane idea. It actually made me sick just considering it.

So it made no sense at all that soon after the festival, I contacted a rider on social media whose riding style had caught my eye during the contest, and I asked him if he’d be willing to meet up to talk about BMX. He very kindly said yes and we arranged a time to meet. On that day I made my way to the skate park, my heart racing, scared shitless to enter this beautiful sacred space and taint it with my amateurness.

The rider answered all the questions I had with absolute openness and patience (massive thanks & shout out to you, Nicolas!), and as I left the skatepark that night, I realised that I now absolutely had to give BMX a go simply because I had now shared my project with at least three really good riders and under no circumstance did I want to appear out of integrity to anyone. I had talked the talk, it was time to walk the walk. Or ride the ride, so to speak.

I had effectively trapped myself into making my dream come true no matter what.

Step 3: Find a strong enough why

Outlining why a project or dream is important to you in the initial stages will help you stick to it when the going gets tough.

We all get really enthusiastic about doing that super duper thing that we’re undertaking, but enthusiasm tends to dwindle at the first sign of an obstacle.

We interpret these challenges as a sign that it’s probably not meant for us, that we are not strong enough, not smart enough, not young enough, or old enough, or whatever “enoughness” we presume to be the prerequisites for that endeavour, whereas these same challenges are simply a portal to the next level of mastery.

They are an opportunity to confirm to yourself first and foremost, and to the universe, your absolute certainty in the project. It doesn’t matter if you succeed or fail a challenge, all that matters is that you SEE IT THROUGH. From the other side of the challenge, it gets easier every time, even if it’s just a tiny bit.

For me, my main “why” was the creative aspect of the sport. I formulated this later on but what undeniably struck me in BMX was the perfect osmosis between grace and flow (a very feminine energy) and power and action (a positively masculine energy). A yin and yang of sorts. A highly meditative state of flow. The learned effortlessness with which the riders carried themselves seemed to be an almost spiritual state of surrender combined with an innate focus. It was magnificent.

I also didn’t see any women riding bikes in the contest, or at the skatepark here in France. At the time, I knew nothing about the BMX community at large and I was only vaguely aware of there being women riders somewhere in the world, but in my present context there weren’t any. I wondered how many girls in my area had had the same idea as I had — to ride bikes!—but were apprehensive about acting on it. This inspired me to get out there for some reason, possibly because had I had such an example at a younger age, I would’ve probably appreciated that.

Another “why” was the certainty that doing something ostensibly dangerous in one area of my life would naturally extrapolate into taking more risks in life in general — in business, in relationships. To be more open, to take better decisions and to just stop giving a damn about things that don’t require my energy anymore.

Get your “why”’s in order, keep them close, and … get going!

Step 4: Commit to your project

You’ve got your project, you’ve trapped yourself into bringing it into your reality, you’ve found a strong enough why (or three), now it’s time to fully commit to your project.

You will need to take a good look at your life and to actively carve out space, time, energy and money to welcome it. You can’t perfect a hobby that you spend only a few hours a month on. It needs to be consistent, regular and it will require the same level of commitment that a job or relationship requires, or whatever qualifies as important in your own life.

If you want your dream to come into your reality, you must honour it first.

Repetitive action creates rituals which create habits which then create a motherflipping WAY OF LIFE. Get your new project so ingrained into your daily life that it becomes part of your DNA.

I took a summer job to accelerate my income as a freelance designer, and this allowed me to purchase my bike, helmet, shoes and protective gear for my birthday. I quickly had everything I needed to get started.

Now I’m going to be honest here, the new bike stayed in my flat UNTOUCHED for a good week. I looked at it in its pristine beautiful state and I still felt unworthy of it even though I had already taken so many steps and actions towards bringing it into my life.

That’s when I remembered my three “why”s. I visualised all the great things me and my new boo were about to do together, I saw the details of our bright future and so I thought, to heck with it, I gotta BEGIN.

It’s worth noting that very often we may end up sabotaging ourselves and killing the same dreams we chose to attract with such passion and energy because we did not take time to prepare to receive them even though we wanted them so bad. So take that time, hold on to your “why”s and just keep moving forward.

After tergiversating for a few days, I felt like my new bike was scolding me, befuddled by my complete inaction, and reluctantly I went out for my first ride in the neighbourhood. I got the feel of the bike, and I got extensively acquainted with it in empty skateparks.

It was as messy and awkward a first date as that dodgy description seems to entail.

Nonetheless, I quickly got addicted to the rush the BMX provided. I created myself a high vibe playlist filled with uplifting guilty pleasure tunes. I bought myself a perfume called Girls Can Do Anything and I created a pavlovian conditioning ritual : whenever I put the perfume and the music on, come hell or high water : it was time to RIDE.

Step 5: Resort to past experiences for insight & guidance

Chances are if you’re reading this, you’ve lived a little and you’ve have had your fair share of reaching the stars and eating the dust in equal measure.

We all have and if you haven’t yet, know that it is to come and it is something to look forward to rather than fear. And if you have been sheltering yourself from the marvellous intensity of LIFE, stop that shit right now and get the hell out there and live. Or at least read some Russian literature and get acquainted with the beautiful complex experience that this freaking FINITE human existence is.

Thing is, your past is a treasure trove of lessons learnt and assimilated, for better or for worse. We speak about resilience as if it is a superhuman quality but we are all resilient creatures simply by choosing to live each day, by going forward in our jobs, our businesses, our thoughts, our relationships — by keeping on keeping on and by creating a new reality every single time we open our eyes.

We lose, we win, we grieve, we celebrate, we shit our pants when we fall in love and feel like we will never overcome the punches that life knocks our way but somehow, in the midst of it all, as if by miracle, we persevere.

So, if your new project scares the living daylights out of you, GOOD. This means you’re on the right track and about to step into a whole new version of yourself. BRILLIANT. Acknowledge the fear, and use it.

Was there a time in your life where you felt something similar to this fear? When you stepped into the complete unknown? If you can’t think of anything specific, just envision the fact that there once was a time when you crawled on the floor and then one day you FREAKING WALKED. You BADASS.

So, at the conception stage of my BMX journey, I resorted to another adventure I had traversed in the past, that of boxing.

I had taken up boxing while living in London. In the gym I was training at, I was doing weights one time and got talking to a boxing trainer. He said to me with a knowing smile : “I’d be curious to see you in the ring sometime.”

It was like he’d seen a quality in me that I was completely unaware of — a potential. For no other reason than my intuition telling me that this was right, I started training and within six months I was having my first “white collar” boxing fight.

The entire adventure that boxing entailed will be a story for another time but what it left me with were the following precepts that rang truer than ever to me when considering BMX:

– If it feels right, then you must do it
Your heart knows a better way than your head supposes. What I learnt in boxing far surpasses the sport itself. I learnt so much about respecting my opponent but also about standing my ground in all areas of my life. I learnt to embrace failure, fear and fatigue in a whole new way. I learnt to be accountable to my coach and to myself. I became a stronger person in my mind, body and spirit and I am so grateful that I did, indeed, step into that ring.

– Practice makes progress
Show up consistently and you will see results. New habits take time and repetition. Every single day of my first six months of boxing training was a frustrating, embarrassing and painful experience. I bled, I sweated, I cried my freaking eyes out. But one day I got so damn sick of receiving punches in the face that I instinctively learnt to block them.

– Pain is temporary
The sparring and fighting rounds lasted about two minutes. When the bell rang, when I stepped out of the ring, it was back to reality. So, in those few minutes in the ring, I had no choice but to give it my absolute best. No matter how excruciating it felt, I knew it’d be over soon. In essence, everything is fleeting, even testing times. Remember that.

Using my experience in boxing motivated me hugely to give BMX a go. I could strongly rely on these three precepts to guide me through the initial months of practice, when I could hardly hold my bike straight and had the crappiest, most ridiculous falls.

Find something meaningful that you overcame and use it as fuel for your project. Go back to time when you ate dust in every possibly sense but you found it in yourself to pick your sweet self back up.

Remember : you are stronger than you allow yourself to think.

Step 6: Just begin

After one month of getting acquainted with my bike on cycle lanes and empty parking lots, I knew I had to “graduate” to having my first skatepark session.

To go back to that temple of style where everyone seemed to have their shit together and was riding like they were born with innate grace and coordination. I was, once again, absolutely dreading it.

I kept postponing the date, pushing it back to the eternal “tomorrow”.

Finally, on 23 October 2018 (yes, the date is very much anchored within my sense memory), I committed to going to the skatepark, no matter what.

I spent the morning trying to talk myself out of it. I later discovered that this was my ego trying to keep me safe.

The ego tends to get a bad rep but ultimately it is that part of you that keeps your heart beating and keeps you out of danger. The ego is a wonderful thing. Bless the ego. However, the ego will always strive to keep you safe, warm and ultimately in a state of complete “risklessness” and stasis.

It is therefore entirely understandable that the plan of going to jump off high things with a tiny bike made the ego lose its shit and desperately want to hold me back. Once again : BLESS the ego.

I was not going to let it have its way however, not that time, so I opened up the meditation app on my phone and I ended up doing breathing exercises to serene music for nearly two hours.

When I opened my eyes, I checked my bag one last time and I got moving. The whole trip to the skatepark was spent attempting to return to the present moment instead of focussing on what may or may not happen once there, which is what my dear brain was trying to impart to me.

Staying present, it turns out, is actually a pretty difficult and somewhat exhausting exercise that goes something like this :

BRAIN: “but what if there are people there and they see you in all your imperfection?”
ME: “oh hey, check this out, this tramway is moving at such a pleasant pace”
BRAIN: “this is a silly idea, you might get hurt and you will definitely be looked at because you’re weird”
ME: “there are people in this tramway and I am one of those people and I am here and this moment is here and now this moment is here …”
BRAIN: “we should just go back home and have a cup of tea and read”
ME: “ooooh, what ABOUT that bag this lady is holding, it’s ever so green and check out those details on the pattern, I’m observing it intently now”

You get the gist. Let that ego babble on and don’t give it power in that moment!

When I finally made it to the skatepark, I told my dear brain : “I will stay here at least one hour and once it’s all done I will be back home and we can have a cup of tea and you can tell me all the things.”

To my surprise, it went quiet, probably sulking a bit but at least it wasn’t trying to talk me out of anything in that moment. My alternative self had succeeded!

It was a crappy first session. I felt very self conscious and awkward but I also felt motherflipping AMAZING because I was doing the thing I said I was gonna do all that time and two BMX guys even came over and said hello and I was introduced there and then to the absolute beauty of the BMX community and from that moment forward … I just wanted to:

Step 7: Keep going

That first initial step into the unknown will be the hardest.

But once you’re past it, suddenly all of the planning, the dreaming, the visualising, the meditating, the pondering, the wishing, the wanting, will coalesce into that one magnificent moment of ALIGNMENT where you are being and doing all that you had up until that point merely conceptualised to be and do.
And that, my friend, is the most exquisite feeling there is. Because from that moment, moving forward becomes way easier.

I went back to the skatepark as soon and as often as I could. Because I wanted to learn so badly and to grow fast, I suddenly found myself having the confidence to say hello to other riders and to ask for advice on how to ride. I fell many times and each time I felt like a tiny bit of fear had transmuted into courage and determination.

I met amazing people who coached me with patience and generosity. I hung out with people and made proper friends who are for the most part just as weird as I am. Amazingly, I met the women that I thought I’d never see in such a sphere and I built beautiful support systems with them.

Step 8: Review your goals regularly

Once you get started, you get progressing and it’s easy to fall into a gentle routine which may lead to stagnation. Remember that sweet ego of yours : it will always keep you safe and it will ever so subtly make its reappearance when you don’t pay attention, to remind you of all the numerous possible dangers you are facing. When you notice it, remember to give it love, thank it for its input and guarantee it that you‘ve got this 100% on your own.
Your ego is basically a loving parent. Treat it with kindness but ultimately … don’t listen to it! It may have your best interest at heart but never your HIGHEST PURPOSE which is where your best life resides.

It came to almost a year after that massive inspiration hit that had happened at the festival in 2018 and I started to see advertising for the new edition of that same festival where I had discovered BMX. They were open for rider registration.

I got the mad idea, barely six months into my riding practice, to compete at that same event. The thought of completing the circle of “moving inspiration into action” was way too sweet to pass up on.

So I did my best. Once I had completed my two runs, I felt absolutely amazing. It didn’t matter that they were beginner runs with no tricks, they were still good runs for my level at the time and I knew without a doubt that I had worked for them. It was important to me and that was enough.

Emerging from that contest, I felt my new identity as a BMX rider positively anchored into my being. I had become who I wanted to become and from that perspective I had not only acquired new knowledge but also new ambitions.

Over this past summer, I observed the FISE and Vans Pro Cup events with complete awe and inspiration, especially towards the amazing cohort of international female riders. And, just as it had occurred to me at the original festival in 2018, the most improbable, mad, craziest idea hit me like an evidence : that one day, very soon, I will be there, riding next to them.

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