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For Mills, it’s been a wild ride

In the 35 years since he got on his first BMX bike, Ryan Mills has seen his fair share of tail ships, crankflips and nac nacs.

And while those are terms from the sport he’s excelled at, in some ways they could also describe his life, one that has also seen plenty of ups and downs. But these days, he’s definitely made it to the top of the hill.

But, first things first.

“I think I was 4 or 5 when I started BMX racing when we still lived in California,” the 2003 BCHS grad said. “I put it down for a little while. We moved here when I was in fourth grade. I was into basketball but a few of my friends got into BMX, so I got back into it until I was 10.”

Then, at the age of 12, he put all his attention to his bike. In the late 90s, a new skate park was built at Veterans’ Memorial Park. Prior to that, he and his friends would create their own freestyle courses or jumps. Even though he got his start with track racing, his focus shifted quickly to freestyle competitions.

“I was probably 15 when I realized I was getting pretty good, as were many of my friends,” Mills said. “We were riding every single day. I started meeting a lot of people in the sport, especially in Vegas. That’s when I really started entering the community of BMX.”

His first big break in the sport came during his senior year when a picture of him performing a trick was featured in a magazine. By the time he had graduated, he had joined a group of fellow riders who traveled around shooting videos and still images of them performing. He was again featured in a magazine but this time it was the cover.

“That’s when I started getting offers for bigger sponsorships,” he said, noting that a rider is considered a pro once they get paid for what they’re doing. “Later on, in my college years, I was the first street rider sponsored by Monster energy drinks.”

Now 39, Mills said he realizes he’s no longer a kid and the injuries, not to mention the regular aches and pains, are being felt. Along the way he’s broken all of his ribs, wrist, foot and hip.

“You definitely need to keep at it to stay in shape,” he said.

Mills’ six-year battle with addiction, which led to 14 arrests along the way, started by taking prescription medication to deal with the pain, which came as a result of his multiple injuries. That led to stronger street drugs such as heroin.

In 2010, his contract with Monster ended, right around the same time he graduated from college. With a lot of downtime, he said he was then, “constantly searching for drugs.”

“I was still trying to do freestyle but by the time I got into heroin, I had completely stopped riding,” he said. “I also stopped contacting everyone and kind of became a ghost in the world.”

Once he got clean, and out of jail, Mills started reaching out to his old friends and former sponsors. From there he began to slowly re-enter the sport he loved. He said his mind was ready to get back on the bike but his body was not. It took about a year before he was ready and in 2018 the sponsorships returned. These days, unlike when he first started in the sport, it’s all about an Internet presence and the number of clicks his videos receive.

“By now (when at skate parks), I’m pretty well known so the others seem to be happy to see me,” he said. “For the last four years I was riding probably four to five times a week. We still do videos and what’s called ‘spot searching’ where we find different locations to shoot those videos. That’s one of other things I love about BMX, it’s kind of an art form.”

Being that his passion for the sport led to injuries and subsequent addiction, Mills said that’s been in the back of his mind since getting back into BMX.

“I do hold back a lot more than I used to,” he said. “I snapped my wrist, broke my hip and then a couple toes after I got sober and couldn’t take pain meds. What I found is that you heal faster when you’re not on drugs. When I do get hurt, I’ll take Ibuprofen and just realize that in a couple months I will be fine while I wait for the healing process to take place.

“But when I am on my bike, it’s literally everything. It’s happiness, camaraderie with friends, the rush of doing something that scares you and the satisfaction of completing a trick you’ve been trying for an hour to complete. It’s a nice creative outlet.”

Now clean for eight years, his journey has since been well chronicled on podcasts, in articles and even in television documentaries. In fact, he was featured in “Prescription for Hope” and “Road to Recovery”, which combined won six television Emmy awards. Mills has one, which he had to purchase, that sits proudly on a shelf in his home.

“It’s always a little scary telling your deepest secrets, but I’ve found freedom from just putting the truth out there and not having to hide anything,” he said. “If people want to judge me for my past, that’s for them to decide. I’ve also found that it has been helpful for others in active drug use to draw inspiration from my story and make positive life changes of their own.”

He admitted that he often has those “what could have been” moments had he not become an addict. But then he quickly realizes that there may be a reason behind it all.

“I’m so far behind where I would have been in the sport but I always say, ‘There’s a purpose for all of this,’” he said. “It may have been a blessing in disguise. But I also think about what may have happened had I not gotten off the drugs. Would I be in prison? Would I still be here today?”

While he still rides and makes videos, Mills also has a day job, that being as a Health Resource Analyst III for the state of Nevada. However, his thoughts are never far from his first love.

“As long as I’m on my bike and smiling, it’s a good day,” he said.

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