I attribute a lot of my recent success on the bike — including winning the Nora Cup 2020 Flatland Rider of the Year award — to working closely with Martti Kuoppa, a flatland athlete and coach from Finland who taught me how to tap into my own obsessive personality, to become the best rider I can be.
But being obsessive hasn’t always worked to my advantage.
I used to be preoccupied with thoughts about how my session would go the next day; about what was going to happen at the contest the next day, or the next week, or the next month. I would just get lost in my own thoughts, whether I was thinking of a trick or how I was going to ride in a contest, and it would be extremely difficult to quiet them and get to sleep at night.
How meditation and breathing have helped me sleep
In early 2019, I made some major changes to my lifestyle; first by becoming a father and then by hiring Kuoppa. I started bringing him with me to all the events because of how much it benefited me to have him on hand. We would game plan at night to make sure I was doing all the right things to put me on the highest possible spot during a competition. He got me thinking hard about nutrition, sleep, and the practice of being present.
Over the past three years, I’ve meditated and practiced breathing every morning for 25 minutes. It has really helped me at night, so I’m not thinking of what’s going to happen the next day, what happened earlier that day, or the week before. And, when not even five minutes have passed, I am out.
That’s just something I wasn’t able to do when I was younger. It never felt like it needed to be a top priority. But these flatland contests have gotten much larger, and the competition has gotten extreme, that you really must fine-tune everything.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, I thought to myself, “I’m going to lock myself in the garage, and just work on myself, work on my nutrition, and work on my sleep at night.” These are skills you can always improve upon. I was spending upwards of five to six hours a day in that garage just trying to progress. And in that time, I realized what I’m doing off the bike is as important as what I’m doing on the bike.
Sleep has become one of those things that I try to get better and better at every week, every month, to be sure that I am performing the best during the day.
Taking my sleep tricks and tips on the road
Flatland BMX is very big overseas in places like Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Singapore, as well as France and Switzerland. Travel for these competitions and across time zones presents a challenge to my routine. But I apply the same tips and tricks I’ve worked on at home — meditation, cutting screen time, avoiding alcohol — when I’m on the road. And they all work.
No matter where I am in the world, most nights I’m in bed by 8 p.m., and I can get up by 4 a.m., so that’s giving me a full eight hours of sleep and really giving me an edge over my competitors. I’ve already gotten one riding session in by 8 a.m., before these other guys have even woken up, and that gives me a lot of motivation.
One method that I use to help me sleep when traveling overseas is a simple body scan. When I lie down to go to sleep, instead of lying there thinking about what’s going to happen at the contest the next day, if the venue’s floor is flat enough, or who I am competing against, I just pay attention to how my legs feel on the blanket. How does my ear or face feel against the pillow? I scan all the way down to my feet and think about how they feel under the covers. If I hear birds out the window, I’m just listening to the birds.
Even if the bed is uncomfortable, I’ll focus on how hard the mattress is, or what the pillow feels like. If I’m in some different, weird hotel room, I focus on those unique sensations. They keep me extremely present and being present relaxes the body and mind. I think about that for a few minutes and boom, I’m asleep.
I’m really thankful I’ve been able to realize the benefits of being present and being able to relax and not have my mind wander too far.
Honestly, I’ve fallen in love with the process
My obsessive personality has really worked to my benefit. I’ve fallen in love with the process of trying to perfect that skill of going into a restorative sleep state so my muscles can prepare for the next day. I fell in love with the process of being lean and being strong, because I know it helps me on the bike. I fell in love with the process of learning how to eat right every day because it’s giving me the energy I need to ride all day long.
I don’t know if everyone would be working out in pitch-black darkness before sunrise, but I’m doing all of this because I am truly obsessed with knowing that I’m going to get good results from it. And that also helps me sleep at night.