ESM Exclusive Interview – Mike Spinner: Evolution and Revolutions
Ian Walker on July 29, 2014
Most of us can reflect on a point in our lives that had a significant effect on who we are. For some these events can be big, tumultuous, joyous or traumatic happenings, others may point to more subtle events significant in shaping their lives. However it seems that one way or another through our experiences, life has a knack of pushing us to evolve.
For professional BMX rider Mike Spinner, revolution and evolution are themes that weave a thread throughout his life. His determination to push the boundaries in BMX park has seen him revolve [himself and his bike most notably through 1080 degrees] breaking new ground along the way. He has however also experienced a number of occasions where life, has seemingly challenged him to evolve.
As a teenager, Spinner took to the Pro circuit effortlessly. With the ebullience of youth he was on a quest to go big and push tricks further than anyone had gone before. In 2006 and following his success on the free flow tour, he was handed a wild card entry into the final Dew Tour event of the year. Although by his own admission he was a wide eyed kid going into his first Pro events and competing against riders he had previously looked up to, “It was just a dream to be riding with the best pros in the world. I didn’t even believe I was there”. Spinner was undaunted though and performed impressively.
Despite a fall in the finals, he finished top in the preliminary round of his first ever Pro event and by the end of his first full season as a Pro, he was making waves and surprised most by ranking second. His fresh, positive approach belied a confidence and a devil may care attitude to being the new boy on the block.
When asked about those breakthrough days Spinner reflects, “Hmmm wow 2006, It’s been a while. Thinking back at it now, I think of course I am a very competitive person so I put pressure on myself but I was just going out there and putting everything I had out there. No strategy, no thoughts. Just thinking I have to do my best tricks I’ve ever done right now.”
He succeeded in not only doing his best tricks, but landing tricks that had never been landed in competition before. The quad whip, 720 whip and the monster 1080, a dizzying and spectacular 3 full revolutions of man and bike through the air, are all Spinner firsts.
Although turning Pro was a dream come true for Spinner, there were possible down sides to being in the company of those riders he was more accustomed to watching and admiring than competing against. “There’s a few ways to explain it. The simple way is before meeting someone you have a perception of them than after meeting them. Some I didn’t look as forward to hanging out with compared to others. Some riders made me want to hang around the positive energy they gave off.” He then qualifies this by stating “I am purposely not naming any names”.
The transition from amateur to professional didn’t dim his desire to ride a bike, if anything it crystalized the very aspects of BMX that attracted him to the sport in the first place. As with any discipline where the emphasis is on the individual to improve, develop technique and express creativity, Spinner found he was able to immerse himself in the act of riding his BMX. “I started riding because it was a way to escape reality. It sounds kind of crazy but I would just get lost in whatever I was focused on at that moment, normally a new trick I was working on. I would get so in to it that I would have nothing else to even think about.”
Despite the popular perception, it can sometimes be a difficult transition from carefree amateur to card carrying professional, although there were adjustments to be made, the process was a positive one for Spinner. “Turning Pro built a bigger responsibility for me and I loved it. Turning Pro was my dream come true, but it changed the way I rode”. Enigmatically adding, “Not for the better or worse but it did change it”. Also having an ally in BMX legend Dave Mirra can’t have hurt his progress.
Another change was felt by the level of interest he was attracting; suddenly everyone had an opinion. He may not be the only athlete to feel the heat of an ever watchful world, however Spinner certainly received his fair share of criticism. It seemed his style was not to everyone’s taste. Although not impervious to this negativity, he learned to deal with it, “I think it bothered me the first two years 2007 and 2008 then I just didn’t care I think that’s when I grew up around 2009 and 2010.”
However for Spinner those who condemned his style when landing his trademark tricks were missing the point, stating pragmatically, “It’s just too easy to talk some smack via the internet. I have done some tricks that I was technically the first person to do but sometimes it’s about getting it done, rather than making sure it looks the best.”
This is of course an issue that all sportspeople must learn to accept, particularly with an ever more opinionated public’s access to a platform to express their views. A standard and all too often heard response from embattled sports people is to question the validity of opinions and criticisms from those who have never experienced life at the top. Spinner is more magnanimous, “[It’s] just different views on how riding a bike should be done and that is where the drama comes in”. Though with a touch of devilment and a chuckle he adds, “But I always wanted to say to these internet goons ‘You do a quad whip or a 1080 and make it look pretty’.”
Maybe you can attribute Spinner’s attitude to his upbringing, being the son of two native New Yorkers? Or perhaps it’s a self-belief carved from overcoming a personal tragedy. “My mom passing was very, you can say, crazy is the best way I can describe it. She was so close to me I didn’t even believe it. To this day I have dreams that she’s here.
It’s pretty crazy going back to when I was 16, I still thank my mom for teaching me such good morals and the way to live life, because it would have been pretty easy, well much more easy, to take the easy way out and just use her passing away as an excuse for my whole life; on why I did nothing. If anything, I just have to keep moving forward even to this day. I still have thoughts about my mom and get very sad.”
Whether the experience of losing such a loved and important influence in his life evolved Spinner’s spirit and created a resolve in his determination to honour his mother’s memory or whether his character is simply hardwired to create positives from any situation, the mature manner in which he dealt with her passing, at such an impressionable age, is admirable. It would be this personal strength and resolve that would be again tested in 2009. Only this time it was less a case of losing something he cherished, more a rugged resilience to regain it.
“I tore my ACL and with all great athletes that is the turning point in a career and to see if the athlete will come back at all or will he come back stronger. I got myself so hyped up on making sure I wouldn’t just be back. The next contest I entered I actually won which was so amazing but trust me lots and lots of hard work and dedication after tearing it again and then again. It was very hard mentally to come back from that just from a motivational standpoint.”
The history of sporting endeavour is littered with careers ruined by the dreaded Anterior Cruciate Ligament injury. In a pursuit such as BMX Park it is an area of the body that can be under huge strain and at huge risk. When any of us do any physical activity the brain is continually sending and receiving information from every part of the body. This information can come from the muscles, the tendons and cartilage to help the brain map out our spatial awareness of how and where the body is interacting with the environment. The bodies of athletes at the elite end of sports are hyper sensitive, sensory instruments and their brains are finely attuned at interpreting the bodies signals. This is major factor in differentiating hobbyists and amateurs from the professionals.
The net effect on an athlete following recovery from an ACL injury is that the information the brain receives from the knee in most cases diminishes Proprio ception – or the ability to know where you are in time and space. To a man launching himself metres into the air and whipping and revolving a bike underneath him, this can create a huge problem.
That Mike Spinner rode his bike again following that ACL in 2009 is testament to his resolve and determination. That he won his comeback competition is a remarkable testament to his ability on a bike.
However following 3 ACL injuries it may be a lamentable fact that Mike Spinner may never again ride his bike in competition. But in typical Spinner style he rolls with the punches, “No, I don’t think I will be getting back on as a competitor. I am involved with a BMX Am Tour right now and the finals will be back at my house at the end of the year so we can find the next PRO! Therecontour.com, check it out! The last couple of years I have hosted two pro contests that were exclusively shown on Vitalbmx.com, called the Play Pro which was amazing. I am still up in the air if I will be doing that again this year.”
So what happens when a pro BMX rider can’t compete anymore? The revolutions may have stopped, but the evolution continues. Mike explains with obvious enthusiasm, “Well long story short when I did hurt my knee in 2009, I came back guns blazing by using all these sports nutrition products and I just started dreaming about if I did my own thing what I could do or come up. Anyways my big push now is that I want to bring the fun and excitement of the action sports world to the sports nutrition world and the importance of the sports nutrition world to action sports! It’s been going great so far. We are in over 1,000 stores in the United States, on the biggest websites in the world and in about 50 countries right now. We are in such stores as GNC and on Bodybuilding.com. As for the future, just working hard having fun and just trying to create as many good partners as I can to grow EVL!”.
He adds with a nod to his NYC parentage, “I love the constant hustle. What is so crazy is that I used to think years ago that I was so busy. I look back laughing I guess you can say I am working 70+ hours a week”, and with a laugh he adds, “but I love it, so it’s not really work right?”.
EVL maybe his new focus, however Spinner still savours his relationship with BMX. When asked how to describe his feelings about BMX his response is unequivocal, “Love relationship! It not only got me to where I am today but also got me through the hardest times in my life. I thank everything for what my bike has done for me.”
As for other riders shredding it right now, Mike has been impressed with Kyle Baldock, Logan Martin and Mark Webb. However he is clearly looking to be involved in helping the next generation of riders to come through and shine. It does help hiwecer when you have a huge skate park in your back yard. “I still have my skatepark in the backyard and there are some amazing kids that ride the backyard like my friend Brian Fox. He has some really good potential but just letting my knee heal up and hopefully I will be able to cruise around and just enjoy being on my bike again. Right now, I’m involved with the Recon Tour, the Amatuer series which goes around the country, just like last year it was an amazing success hopefully this year as well we will find the next guy to turn pro!”
I guess I still walk around on it in disbelief that it is real. I bought a house then built this giant 12,000 square foot skate park in my backyard and I have my own dog and this is all from riding a bike! Right now I haven’t really been riding just from my knee but still have some young riders using it. Just like the last couple of years I host some cool competitions on it!”
The keyboard warriors out there might not like his style, but it is impossible not to admire the qualities of Mike Spinner. They certainly reach way beyond the boundaries of a BMX park. His resilience, determination and pragmatism in the face of adversity is an inspiration. And three dizzying revolutions of man and bike through the air is not half bad too!
By Ian Walker