Do what you love and injury won't hurt so much
Nitro Circus founder Travis Pastrana on passion, fatherhood and doing tricks that could kill you
As a child growing up in Annapolis in Maryland in the US, Travis Pastrana lived a life of fun.
“My family had a construction company so we were always building things,” he recalls. “I loved building ramps, jumping off bridges, or riding dirt bikes or BMX. We always had new piles of dirt to play with and sand piles to land in that were a little softer. It was a lot of fun.”
All hewanted to be when he was growing up was a motocross racer. Perhaps it’s not surprising given that his mother, father, and most of his uncles raced motorcycles too. Indeed, since this is what the family did together on weekends, it’s also not surprising that he was able to race all the way up through the amateur ranks to achieve his life goal.
“It was a dream come true,” he says of turning pro. “It felt similar even though instead of a hundred spectators at a local track, you’re in front of a hundred thousand at a big stadium. For me, it was always about the riding. It was more personal than it was about trying to be famous or anything like that. It was just a kind of progression.”
And yet there were many bumps along the road. Injury often put him out of action for weeks or months at a time. Indeed, there have been so many torn ligaments, broken bones, and so much surgery (at least two dozen operations to date) that he can’t remember it all. And given that racing was what he always wanted to do, these setbacks hurt in more ways than one.
“After my third ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] reconstruction in three years, I just didn’t know what I was going to do,” he says. “I could hardly walk and I just didn’t know if I could be the athlete I wanted to be.”
Ironically, this happened at a time when freestyle motocross started and when rally racing took off for him. Because one doesn’t need to walk well to do a freestyle trick, Pastrana could still race, be competitive, and further develop that passion for what he does.
“It’s simple,” he says of what has kept him going despite the setbacks and risks. “It’s to wake up in the morning, to have that smile on your face, and to be able to do what you love. I hate getting hurt but the worst part about being hurt is that you can’t do what you love; because the pain of being hurt is less than the pain of not being able to travel the world with your friends and ride your dirt bike. So I would never stop doing what I love.”
Pastrana’s career highlights include winning the American Motorcyclist Association 125cc National Championship in 2000.But his greatest success has been starting Nitro Circus, perhaps best known for its action sports television show, and going all around the world to do “some rad stuff” with his family and friends.
“We have a contraptions specialist that just loves welding and piecing stuff together; going out and finding the local culture and seeing what kind of contraptions they have in different parts of the world that we might not know about; and seeing if we can run it down the ramp,” he says. “A lot of them end poorly but the crowd loves it.”
Indeed, Pastrana believes that the best part about being on tour with some of the best performers in the world is learning from them. He acknowledges that there’s always someone who can do something you can’t, but believes that once you learn how, it opens up so many doors to things you never thought of.
That’s why he’s passionate about building training facilities around the world. “We have one in Australia and one that’s set up part-time in California. But I want to build one in SA, one in Europe, and maybe two in the US where riders can train and can work on these big jumps that we’re coming out with,” he says.
“Right now we have a few guys on tour that are doing triple backflips and quadruple backflips on bicycles, but it’s unattainable for the kids coming up. That’s why Nitro World Games is open to the public; it’s rad to have a world championship that’s not invite-only.”
In his spare time, Pastrana does more or less what he does when he’s on tour: riding dirt bikes, cruising on four-wheelers, and having fun. He likes to shake things up because he believes that getting stuck in routine of any kind, especially now that he’s a father, is one of the hardest challenges he’s had to deal with in his life.
“Marriage and parenthood are challenges for everybody,” he says. “Luckily my wife [professional skateboarder Lyn-Z Adams Hawkins], who is also a bad-ass athlete, has taken on motherhood well. But it’s difficult when you’re about to do a trick that you’ve never done before and if it goes wrong you could possibly die; it’s an interesting conundrum once you have a family, for sure. My mom definitely says I gave her grey hair!”
But no matter how badly he’s been injured or what part of his life I’ve been in, his mother will regularly ask him the same question: are you sure this is what you want to do? Because the answer is yes, he’s grateful that she’s given him the opportunity to chase his dreams. It’s something he hopes to give his own children too, especially now that he sees them keen to follow in his footsteps.
“My wife knew what she married into and I knew what I married into,” he says. “But I’m scared that our five-year-old [daughter Addy Ruth] loves motorcycles and bicycles and that our three-year-old [daughter Bristol Murphy] has already been on the four-wheelers. But at the end of the day it’s fun. And I want them to have that same passion that we have for whatever they choose to do.”