If you don’t know, it’s time you did. There is a star among us, and his name is Daniel Dhers. Dhers is a professional BMX champion who was born in Caracas, Venezuela, and moved, three years ago, to our very own Holly Springs. Well, there were some stops in between, like Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Greenville, NC, home of ECU and known in the sports world as Pro Town because of the strong presence of professional BMX riders who have lived there, including the late Dave Mirra. We sat down and talked with Daniel about why he rides and what’s changed for him in the ten years since winning his first X Games gold medal. Also: Daniel’s thoughts on how riding can grow kids’ confidence.
How old were you when you started to ride?
I was 12, about to turn 13. I started riding because the friends around my house were riding. So I had to learn.
Wait, so you didn’t even know how to ride a bicycle until you were 12 years old?
No. I tried when I was, like, 4 or 5. I was going down the street, falling over on my side, and thought, no, this is not for me.
So it’s never too late to get started…
Obviously that was a while ago. Are you still riding competitively?
Yes, I am. I’ve been riding now for about 18 years, competing pro for maybe 12. I still enjoy it. At some point I will stop.
How often do you compete?
Between 12-20 times per year. A couple here in the States but I mainly go to Europe and Asia.
How often do you train?
I ride everyday. If I’m not on an airplane, I’m riding. I ride 2-3 hours a day. Depends on the day because I also workout every day. I workout in the mornings and ride in the afternoon. I think the most important part of training is to be on your bike, regardless of whether you’re having a full session or just a chill, cruise around session.
As long as you’re on two wheels…
You can go to the gym every day for two weeks but when you get back on the bike, it’s different. You just aren’t as quick as you are if you’re riding every day.
So the X Games started in 1995, and in 2006 you won your first medal at 21 years old. Here we are 10 years later. Are you finding it tough at 31 to hang out with other competitors who are in their early 20s?
I think the toughest part is the recovery. I feel like I’m still agile, I’m still strong, and I’m probably in the best shape of my life. At 21 I went to the gym a little bit, ate whatever I had around, I mean I had an OK, healthy eating routine but I was still thrown a curve ball here or there, you know what I mean? [laughing] So I think I do take care of myself a little better now, it’s just that the body, when you’re in your early 20s, it heals up a lot quicker. And also, at 31 now, I’ve been traveling nonstop for the last two or three years. My body is tired from being on airplanes, being in chairs. So the hardest part has been to relax the body enough.
When you’re competing, how much time do you try and give yourself to arrive at the destination beforehand?
It depends on where I’m going. I also have a better strategy now. If I go to Europe and it’s a really big contest, I will leave on Sunday or Monday so I’m there for a week. If it’s a smaller event, I’ll usually get there by Wednesday or Thursday. The most important part is to eat on time, try and drink a lot of water, sleep on time. When I go to Asia that’s probably the hardest just because it’s 12 hours difference, so I get there and sleep like a baby the first day. Then I drink a lot of caffeine in the morning, but at 5 or 6PM I need, like, an hour nap, then I wake up and have a lot of energy so I need to drink chamomile tea or something that will relax me. The thing is you cannot really battle it. It takes 2-3 days when you go to Asia.
What would 31-year-old Daniel tell 21-year-old Daniel?
Drink more water. Stretch every day. I remember when I was in my early 20s, at that point I used to ride with [Dave] Mirra a lot and he was around the age I am now, and I remember he would be stretching a lot before and after the sessions and I was like, haha, you old man, I just show up and I ride, that’s it. I don’t need to stretch. And he was like, no man, you’ll see later in life you’re gonna need to stretch your body. It compresses. And I was like, nah man, I’m gonna be young forever. Now it’s me telling that to the new kids. You guys need to stretch, it’s good for your body.
What advice would you give to any kid who is looking to be at the top of their sport? You were 12 years old when you learned how to ride a bike, and there you were, fewer than 10 years later, on the podium at the X Games…
I think if they want to be a competitor, they have to really enjoy what they’re doing and practice it every day. There will be training routines no matter what the sport is. Just like I tell you the most important thing is to ride my bike every day, the same is true for them. Practice will make perfect. You’re gonna see a friend who will learn something in two days and it’s gonna take you a year, but it doesn’t mean that you’re not that good, you just might need a little more practice. What took me years to learn, I see kids who learn it in a few days. So there’s a natural evolution. It’s more accessible for people now. And don’t think about the money, the fame, just do it because you want to do it. If you start thinking about those things, they will be distractions.
How much time do you spend in Holly Springs?
Holly Springs is my base, so anytime I have a break, I’m here. The park is here. So if I’m not traveling in some obscure country, I’m probably here at home, in Holly Springs. I live 2-3 miles from the park [the Daniel Dhers Action Sports Complex]. I’m not gonna compete forever. I think that’s one of the reasons I started a park here in Holly Springs. It’s like, what will I do after riding, after competing? Well, I can do something that still gets me involved in riding. The travel is exhausting and there’s the stress of competing and training. When all that is done I think the park is the main thing. I also have a show company here in Holly Springs called Gold Medal Shows, so maybe if I’m not competing I’m still doing shows.
So you opened a sports complex in Holly Springs. What was the idea behind that?
At first I was thinking of moving from Greenville to Florida, actually. I ended up looking at this area. I came to Raleigh but I couldn’t find the right building for all the ramps. But when I found the right building and everything was moving forward, the question was, do I do a park for me and my four or five pro friends or do I do something for everybody? And at the same time, I thought about what I would do next after competing. So it generally made sense to build a park for all the kids to enjoy bicycles as much as I have.
What’s the goal for the complex?
The main goal was to create a safe place for kids to have fun, and I feel like we have achieved that. And to encourage kids! It’s crazy to see when a kid comes for the first or second time and they’re not that confident at first. I feel like this sport is very psychological. I think, and I have seen it and parents have also told me, how their kids have built more confidence. So I think that was the first goal and I feel like we are achieving it, and I’m very happy. We wanted to create a place where scooters, bikes, everyone could get along and have fun. We don’t separate skating, or BMX, or scooters because everyone is here to have fun, so why start segregating? We have winter and summer hours. And we have track out camps and summer camps, and private lessons. To come and ride is as low as $7 an hour, or you can buy a day pass. The entire structure is wood and is built by some of the best builders in the world. We also have a foam pit which makes it a lot easier for kids to try new things. There are all sorts of different sections at the park, from one for someone who has never touched a bike or skateboard before to the highest level.
So a lot of kids come to the park, what about older riders?
Our oldest rider is 54 or 55, someone who used to ride and came back from retirement. Sometimes the old school riders come back to have fun.
One last question: if kids come to ride and check it out, and you happen to be there, what are the chances of getting an autograph?
For sure. Pictures, anything. Come out, talk a little bit, and hopefully I’m riding that day too so we can have a little demo!
Daniel will be competing in the final leg of the FISE World Series 2016 on October 28th – 30th in Chengdu, China. He is second in cumulative points, with a very good shot at taking 1st and winning the 2016 Fise World Cup. He last won in 2014. The events have been all over the world, and it has all led up to the final event in China. We wish him luck in his quest to become the World Champion once again.