Hey Ryan, most of us know you from your 'pro' time riding for Premium. Can you take us back to when BMX started for you and how you got good enough at some point to get sponsored?
Ryan Mills: I started riding when I was twelve years old probably, with a couple a friends in school in a small town. It was always for fun, getting sponsored wasn't ever our focus, but obviously was cool when it started happening because bikes aren't cheap at it gives you motivation to keep progressing. Doing a lot of road trips and the occasional contest and networking along with the Interbike convention in Las Vegas gave me exposure to a lot of important people in the industry. I was never the best contest rider, but I was able to get a little bit of coverage in magazines and videos by trying to be creative. BMX is an art form to me. Style and control were always more important than how many tricks I could check off on the trick list.
Who did you ride with most of the time and where did you like to ride most?
Ryan Mills: Vegas had a very large close knit group of riders, which has recently been reborn. We all are slowly but surely getting back into riding every weekend. We all work and/or have families now, but we are taking our weekends back. Every time we go ride we convince another person from the past to come out. It's been great to see everyone again and I'm grateful to have them all back in my life. We try to mix it up with where we ride, since Vegas has a lot of cement parks we usually end up riding them like we did a decade ago.
Seems like you rode pretty much anything, from Park to street to concrete to dirt jumps. Any reason for that? Was all that around where you lived back then?
Ryan Mills: I just love riding. Anything that was challenging I'd try to master it. I like to mix it up to keep from getting complacent and burning out, which ultimately ended up happening like it happens with anything one does every hour of every waking moment. Eventually you start to lose sight of how it felt in the beginning that made you love what you grow passionate about, at least for me anyway.
You've been through some rough times that's why the BMX community didn't hear from you for a while. What happened?
Ryan Mills: Rough times is an understatement. I've been through the ringer. I kept getting little injuries on top of lasting injuries which ended me up in a pain management clinic. Basically a doctor became my first drug dealer. He got me on a regiment of some pretty heavy pain killers. Like most people that have a script for a long period of time I became dependent on them. Then once you show signs of being an addict, I.e. running out of pills halfway through the prescribed month and asking for more and to up the dose, the doctor cuts you off. This happens over a year or two of being under their "care" and you don't realize this is happening to you until you are in too deep.
So I had to find pills on the street which is costly. Something not many can afford. So I had to find something cheaper and more readily available. Unfortunately that was heroin. Times got worse and I began shooting it up. At this point I didn't even realize my riding had completely ceased. I lost everything, became consumed in the drugs and the life style, living in squat houses and alley ways, spending a half a year at a time in jail getting out and doing it all over again.
Life became hell, living for the next high, forgetting I was even in pain. It's a brutal cycle and it happens so fast and so easy. I urge anyone going through this to turn back now, deal with the pain because you don't know the real pain this causes yourself, family and friends. This is the only life we get, don't spend it running from your problems because all it causes is a plethora of more problems that you will have to face when you decide to come back to reality.
At what point did you know it was time to seek some help?
Ryan Mills: This last time I was in jail I was so tired of the routine of withdrawing from this awful drug, I weighed a hundred and thirty pounds, I was worthless. I was ready to hang it up but didn't know how. I had made the decision in my head to get right, which was the first step, and a scary one cause I had lost who I was and didn't know where to begin again.
I was fortunate enough to be offered something called drug court and probation. I took the offer. The other option was prison for up to three years. I knew I didn't want to go to prison, and I had heard of people doing drug court. Most people say it's impossible to complete, but what choice did I have? I was finished running, and I knew that it would help me beat this addiction if I just followed the rules and actually put in some work to recover from this disease.
It has become the best decision I've ever made in my life to enter drug court with an eager mind to heal. I am so grateful this program exists as an option to me and other addicts that can't afford rehab. It's a second chance, I am still one bad decision away from going to prison, so I have to play by the rules of society, but it is something I need to relearn because I had become accustomed to living by my own rules that street life taught me.
How hard was it going through that period and how has your perception changed on the things you did?
Ryan Mills: It's hard when you realize you have let down the people that love you and you are totally alone in a room full of drug addicts. When the people you surround yourself with are there to use you for anything they can get from you. When your own life becomes less important than the next high you need to come up with money to buy. I don't regret anything I did because you learn from your mistakes. Nothing shocks me anymore because I've seen it all. Rated R movies are Rated G in my mind, comparatively. There is nothing I can't overcome after being through some of the shit I've been through which is one positive thing I can ring out of the past ten years of my life.
What piece of advice can you give to riders out there now?
Ryan Mills: Please stop romanticizing drug use. It's not a fucking cool thing to do. What starts out as something you might think is fun, becomes something you cannot control. There are no exceptions to this. BMX is fun and cool and something to be proud of. It has become my recovery tool. Just going to the park alone for ten minutes and just flowing around is my therapy. It clears my head and keeps me away from my demons.
Did you think a lot about riding BMX all this time?
Ryan Mills: From time to time I thought about it. I talked about it as something I used to be. I didn't think I would ever ride again, but as I got more time being sober I was able to get some confidence back in myself and started to crave riding again.
What made you realize you needed to get yourself another bike and hit up the parks again?
Ryan Mills: I needed a positive outlet, do that was an obvious answer for me. That's the beauty of BMX, it's like riding a bike. It was only a matter of time before I started getting that feeling I missed so much back.
Did your old sponsor Premium help you out?
Ryan Mills: I was completely broke and materialistically I had nothing to my name, and any money I did get help with from my parents was being put into my counseling and restitution from my crimes. So I reached out to Scott Papiro, and told him the scoop and I was ready and desperate. For those of you that don't know who Scott is, he is one of the best action sports and portrait photographers out there, he has also been one of my best friends in the industry so that's why I turned to him for help. He urged me to contact Pete Demos at Haro who was my team manager for Premium Products back when I was a young stunna, lol. Pete had a complete bike at his house that he graciously gave me. Scott even paid for the fifty dollar shipping fee. So it was a joint effort for them to get the bike to me and I can't believe how perfect it was for me. It was as if it was built for me. I instantly felt comfortable on it and I couldn't wait to get riding on it. Much love to you guys. I appreciate you both more than you can imagine and once probation lets me off its leash I'll come down to Cali and take you out to eat.
How often do you go for a session nowadays?
Ryan Mills: With the boys, we go out every weekend, rain or shine, wind or dark. We are all pushing each other to progress again. It's amazing what age can do to the healing process after you get hurt, but we push through together and have a lot of fun. Vegas sessions follow each park and restaurant, which means we shit and bullshit for hours together, so nothing has changed there, and I wouldn't trade that for anything. It's what makes such a tight group of guys. Brown grips boys shout out!
How did it feel riding in front of your parents and more family members that one time?
Ryan Mills: Surreal. My parents live in Texas now so I don't get to see them as often as I'd like and they were in town for my brother Travis' daughter's birthday, with my other brother Brandon's daughter and my aunt and uncle came into town for it as well. They showed up to the park to watch me ride for about an hour. Even after all I've put my family through they still show up and support me like nothing happened. I am extremely fortunate to have been blessed with my family and I love them so much. Thank you for always having my back!
Sober for 9 months already, congrats on that. Keep it up Ryan and don't stop riding. Any last words to wrap this up?
Ryan Mills: Thank you Bart for this opportunity to explain my disappearance. It's the short version of course, but it felt good to talk about and hopefully inspire some of you younger kids not to follow in my path. Stay on that bike. Stay on the positive road. Don't ever forget where you come from. I'm nine months sober from all drugs and alcohol and it feels like nine years. If you are suffering from an addiction seek help, it doesn't make you weak, it shows intelligence. If the cool kids are getting high, then they aren't the cool kids. Love your friends. Love your families, love whatever you believe in because they are the most important things in this life. Most importantly love yourself.
Pics by George Bugbee