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Depending on when you read this, pour yourself a coffee, or a stiff drink, we’re goin’ deep today.
Have you ever worked so hard for something, for the better part of your entire life, and then got it? How’d you feel after you got it?
I’m pulling this topic from a portion of the Gypsy Tales podcast I listened to earlier this week. The guest was Jason Anderson and in the few minutes I heard, he discussed how winning the 2018 450 Supercross title affected him. If you haven’t, I urge you to have a listen. He was disgustingly open, honest, and forthcoming about his struggles and what took place after he finally got something, he worked almost his entire life for.
Let’s back it up a bit here for a minute. Professional athletes are simply different human beings. I’m not talking about lifestyles, money, etc., I mean their mental capacities. Their entire thought process is so far removed from your average everyday person. I believe that professional motocross riders go even further into that division simply based on the extreme level of danger involved with our sport and what they need to do to overcome that. I’ve touched on this before, but the mindset a rider must be in to do what they do is just something you will not, and cannot understand, if you don’t have the ability to do what they’re doing. Follow me?
The mind is such a fascinating thing. There are stories of people healing from physical ailments simply by just believing or convincing themselves that they can heal. The mind can send people to a great place, or a dark place, it’s a matter of being able to control the thoughts and beliefs and completely committing and submitting to them. Motocross riders have many things they need to control with their mind. There are obvious things that we can see such as their ability on the bike, their actions on the track, and how they are as a person off the bike. But, what about the things on the inside that we can’t see? Like belief in themselves and their abilities, trusting their equipment, and then, the main topic at hand here, simply wanting it. Want it! What the hell does even mean?! Want? Want what? What’s it? Yeah, I want it! I think?
When I first moved out to the left coast, I worked with a veteran rider nearing the end of his career. This guy had done it all in our sport, came up through the ranks, won a few things, rode for an abundance of great teams and organizations, and made a very healthy living racing his dirtbike. One of the things he always said, sometimes in a joking manner, and sometimes in a serious manner, “You gotta want it!” It seems simple. Yeah! Want it! Try hard! But, at the highest level of our sport, it’s just not that simple.
First – Want – A quick search on the google machine tells us that it means to have a desire to possess or do something. So, we want to ride. We want to win. Sounds easy enough, but like a 9th-grade relationship, it can be quite complicated. Second – It – What exactly is IT? Well, for some, IT is riding, racing, or winning. But, when all of that is your actual job and you get paid to do it and are expected to do it, it can become very daunting and monotonous.
In that podcast, Jason mentioned he completely resented winning his supercross championship. Wait, what!? This is the pinnacle of dirtbike racing, the absolute single thing that you’ve worked your entire life towards. All the years, all the hard work and effort. The money and the sacrifices for and from not only you but your family and all the people in your circle – and you resent it? How? He said when he woke up the next day, he felt nothing, no difference, just another day. When you actually think about it, what do you expect to feel? I mean, yeah, it’s cool when it’s all happening, you’re obviously happy, and feeling accomplished, maybe even perhaps, relieved. The way the mind can portray something and build it up as some holy grail of the be-all and end-all of things is incredible. But, after you achieve or obtain it, or in this case, win it, what’s next? How do you maintain the burning desire, or want, to keep working hard enough to win again? I’ve written “WANT IT” on the pitboard many times, and like a past rider of mine says, you gotta want it! You can tell someone that until you’re blue in the face, but at the end of the day, if the person doesn’t really want it, you’re wasting your time.
In my years, I’ve seen guys that want it so damn bad, they will literally do whatever it takes to achieve the goal. Racing injured, moving to a different country, or monetarily investing in themselves are just a few examples. Then, there are also the guys that say they want it and just go through the motions. They look like they’re working hard, but there’s that little last few percent of desire that just doesn’t exist. The problem there is that you either have it, or you don’t. You can’t buy it, you can’t teach it, you just have to figure out what lights the fire. In most cases, that fire is lit by “the chase” of a goal, and those goals vary for each rider. For some riders, it’s qualifying for a certain race, and for some, like Jason, it’s winning the supercross championship. The AMA Supercross Championship is considered by some as the most prestigious championship in all of professional dirtbike racing. So, when you win it, there’s nowhere else to go, but down.
At the level these guys are at, to win races and championships, one single percent matters. Whether that be on the bike, where we can easily see that some days rider X is dominating vs somedays battling for 6th. Perhaps something simple like catching a cold or dealing with allergies on race day knocks a couple of percents off. Or, deeper into the spectrum – maximum effort. If you’re mentally unable to work harder to gain those percentages, either in the gym or on the track, it will show.
If you paid attention to Anderson after he won the title, a few decent finishes followed in the MX Series, and then he got hurt and was unable to finish that series. Going into the 2019 supercross series there was a lot of unwanted attention on Jason, he admitted, he’s just not that kind of person. He gets the holeshot at Anaheim 1 and fades to the back of the pack. As he mentioned in the interview, he just didn’t care and to him, that was the best way to get people to stop focusing on him. He finishes second in Round 2, and then got hurt at round 3 back in Anaheim. That injury may have been what saved his career. He got healthy and came into the 2019 outdoor series and put up some of the best results he’s ever had in motocross. When it came time to go back to the stadiums, the fire was out. He was going through the motions but lacked that few percent to be a championship contender. He had good finishes, and flashes of the Jason of old, but was mentally unable to get to the place he once was to win. Or, you could say, he didn’t want it bad enough to allow himself to get there.
Back to the mind – Controlling an unwanted thought or having an inability to have the thoughts you think you should have, is something we all have to deal with from time to time. For most of us, it’s manageable and we can live our lives without much issue. But, when you’re a famous person in your sport, you have a spotlight on you at all times. Pretty much everything you do is scrutinized and everyone has an opinion on you and how you choose to live your life. It’s almost impossible to ignore the things that are associated with yourself, positive, or negative. The pressure or unwanted thoughts from those two things alone is enough to push a person to the edge. Then add in the fact that you have to be a complete savage to ride the motorcycle the way you’re paid to do and are expected to constantly progress and become better with no ceiling. The pressure is immense, and in no way can be understood by someone who is not and has not gone through it. It comes as no surprise to see guys like Jason struggle to re-ignite the fire or regain the desire, or want (ok you get it) to push and put themselves in a championship conversation. I believe another rider who fought this demon and evidently won, has a red background on his bike right now, but that’s a conversation for another day.
One guy that had a similar vibe around him was Kevin Windham. I can’t count on both my hands how many times I’ve heard the saying, “It just depends on which Kevin Windham shows up today” Aka, what mental state he is in. Our sport is dominated by guys that show and prove their mental toughness. It’s almost shunned or looked down upon to admit that you’re struggling mentally with anything, let alone doing your job to the very best of your physical abilities. It’s a delicate topic to discuss, but I think as a society, and the moto community, we are doing a better job at acknowledging the mental struggles we all face, whether it be day-to-day living, or dealing with the pressure of winning being expected to continue.
I think it would be rude of me to end this jibber jab without giving recognition to the handful of guys who were able to successfully conquer the championship hangover and maintain the desire to keep winning. I am sure to miss a few, but the obvious notables are Jeremy McGrath, Stefan Everts, Antonio Cairoli, Ryan Villopoto, Ryan Dungey, as we speak, Eli Tomac, our very own Jean-Sebastien Roy, and Mr. 6 time himself, Colton Facciotti. What Ricky Carmichael did was simply phenomenal. The more I understand this sport, the bikes, the athletes, the past and the evolution of all three, the appreciation level for what that man did is astronomical. It truly was an extraordinary and unprecedented time in our sport, and I don’t believe we will ever see another “RC”.
The majority of people that ride dirtbikes are unable to comprehend the mental aspect of professionally racing a dirtbike and all that comes with it. We can very mildly relate to the physical side, well, because we do three laps and can’t feel our fingers. Where we lose touch with that, is the fact that these guys are the most physically fit athletes on the planet and they show us almost weekly, that the human body is capable of some pretty remarkable things. What we’re learning more and more about, is that the mind is the most fascinating part and the importance of mental fitness.
Keep your minds sharp and go for a run. It’s just as good physically, as it is mentally. But, you gotta want it!