The Friday Interview – TJ Lavin

The Friday Interview – TJ Lavin
Interview and photos by Fat.

This was a difficult interview to do-one of those interviews where I really didn’t know where to start. The kind of interview that is so prestigious and should be done so proper that I procrastinated on it because I knew the words on this screen would never do it justice.

TJ Lavin has been an icon in BMX for more than 15 years now, and there is so much history behind him and what he has done in the sport. From setting trends, to defining tricks, to winning the biggest contests, over the years TJ has done it all and then some. Since last October when he nearly lost his life in a horrific crash at the Dew Tour in Las Vegas, so much has happened in TJ’s world. He went from not knowing his own name or how to walk to hosting a television series, starting a new gig as an MMA announcer, launching a new company, picking up new sponsors, and landing a job as the Dew Tour course builder, just to name a few.

The Internet would need more space if I was to dig into everything I wanted to with this interview, but I’ve done my best to tackle some of the bigger topics in hopes of sharing what TJ has been through in the past year, what he has going on now, and what the future holds for him…

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TJ standing on the roll in at the Portland Dew Tour with his masterpiece of a technical course in the background.

Name: TJ Lavin
Age: 34
Location: Las Vegas
Sponsors: Monster Energy, Headrush Clothing, Mentom Sunglasses, Forgiven Alcohol Metabolizer, and Hart & Huntington

I guess we have to start back in October…Can you give us kind of a synopsis of the days leading up to your crash at Dew Tour to set the scene for us? I know you didn’t remember much about the day of your crash, or the crash itself, but since then you’ve been able to piece things together with videos and things people have told you. So, what exactly have you put together? What sense have you made of that day and the crash?
Yeah, everything was going great I guess. From what I put together I was helping Fuzzy get the course all dialed in and having random sessions at my house. On Oct. 3, the day before my crash, at about 5:00 p.m. we were all getting ready to ride and my friend Ty Pinney came over. He ended up having the hardest slam I’ve ever seen in my life. I visited him in the hospital that night, and I guess it freaked me out pretty bad. I was telling a few close people that I think it’s my last contest, and that I just wasn’t feeling it, et cetera. Well, the time came [for me to drop in] and my first run went good enough…Superman seat, no-footed can one-hander, to 3 whip. Sweet, I’ll just go through, do nothing dangerous, and call it a day. Sure enough the “last run” gods were watching and I hit the first jump going way too fast. I somehow missed my hand doing a one-hand one-foot nac-nac to can-can and broke my right orbital through breaking my wrist. That gave me a TBI (traumatic brain injury), and I’ve been trying to get better ever since.

Trying to understand what brain injuries are like is very difficult if you’ve never been there, so can you try to explain what it’s like to not know basic things when you have that kind of head trauma?
It’s crazy, not knowing animals, or significant events, or colors et cetera. Learning how to tie shoes or put shapes into their proper slots. It’s all your number-one priority. Not fancy cars or money. Family and friends really become a stronger priority and everything else is secondary.

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This one-handed no-footed can-can photo was taken on TJ's last contest run (a mere 20 minutes) before the crash that changed his life forever.

After an injury like that, how does the brain heal, and how do you relearn things? Do certain things kind of come back with a “click,” or is it a slow process to get things back?
Some things are still there, then some things you have to relearn. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to overcome, and I’ve had some adversity thrown my way the last few years. The process takes forever, and if you don’t work as hard as you can to get better it won’t happen.

What has your rehab program been like over the past several months?
Intense. When I started my physical stuff it was really hard. My walking wasn’t there yet, my eyes were still bad, balance and agility were nowhere to be found, and I was so weak. Now I’m going to hot pilates every day, long walks or even short jogs, spin class, yoga, and whatever else I find for getting back in shape. Cool went out the window a long time ago, haha.

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Seconds after TJ crashed the crowd stands still and looks like on in silence.

Where would you say you are in your recovery process?
Eighty-five percent is a good number, I’d say. I’m still trying not to fall down in yoga ’cause my balance is terrible and my agility is gone too. If I had to live forever like this it’d be fine, but I really want to get better than I was. Or at least the same.

At what point were you mentally and physically healed enough to be able to do things like host another season of your MTV show “The Challenge,” pick up new gigs like becoming an MMA commentator, and launch a new company like Forgiven?
We launched Forgiven last October right before my slam, so it was on semi hold until I got better. My partner Chas held it down solo, but we work pretty good together, so since our re-launch in February it’s been really hectic. Lots of meetings, appearances, commitments, and shows keep me busy. The MMA stuff has been a hobby of mine forever, but a good friend of mine started his own promotion, so I do a little color commentating on his shows. I love MMA. The MTV thing is great. One of my best friends is the executive producer, and him and I work great together.

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Trying to get in the zone on the roll in before his last run at the 2010 Vegas Dew Tour.

During such a rough time, how did you stay focused and motivated enough to pursue all those new ventures?
Fear definitely lit a fire under my ass along with the help of some close family and friends. When your best skill gets taken away from you in the blink of an eye you tend to get a whole new hustle about you. If all of a sudden you couldn’t do what you’re best at, whether it’s taking pictures, working on cars, building things, whatever it is, you find new stuff to make you keep going. Or you just go to Hoover Dam and do the world’s biggest gainer.

How did the idea of building jumps for Dew Tour come along?
Fuzzy called me and asked me to do it, and I said yes, so I added a couple more guys in the mix and it’s been fun so far.

Dew Tour gave us some of the original course drawings and digital renderings of the Portland jumps. Can you explain that concept to creation process with the course and how it goes from drawing to digital to real life?
It’s pretty simple taking it from paper and making it a reality. The only thing I try to do is keep an element of dirt/trails alive in the courses. I don’t want a guy that never rides trails to win our contests. Stay away for the three bow jump formats. I’ve learned a lot-from having my own yard to way back when Fuzz and I would build, so now it’s time to unleash a little tech on some of the foam pit kids, haha…

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Putting in work on the Portland jumps.

Who is on your crew for building the Dew Tour jumps, and what was it like working with them in Portland for a week?
We have Elf, and Gilly still [from Fuzzy’s original crew], but I brought in Adam Aloise, and Nate Berkheimer. Those two are hard workers as well, and if Nate can’t get through a line, it’s probably not gonna work! Haha.

How tough is it for you to watch a contest like that on jumps you built and not be able to ride with your friends out there?
Not being able to ride is the worst. I wish I could test and session with the boys, but it’s still fun being a part of it. I have fun seeing the guys’ faces when they see something new for the first time.

I know there was a lot of talk about the course in Portland being built for “true trails riders and dirt jumpers,” so what did you think of Kyle Baldock (who never rides trails) kicking so much ass on the jumps?
There are some people in the world who just have it. That kid is one of ’em. No matter what you’re riding or what terrain, he’s gonna be a force. A lot of kids are scared of dirt. If you look at the biggest transfer at your local park it might be 15 or 20 feet. But if you look at a dirt jump course, our first set is never less than 27ish. I really think some of the park guys will kill it on dirt jumps as long as they keep that same confidence. Like in Portland, a lot of the top guys will kill any street course!

Explain what you’ve done with the jumps at the second stop of Dew Tour in Salt Lake City.
Still tech-rollers, hips, et cetera…It’s gonna be good.

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Working on the course in Portland.

I know at your own backyard dirt jumps you have a new rule that all riders have to wear a full-face helmet. Tell us a bit about that, and do you think Dew Tour should make riders wear a full-face also?
It’s okay to be cool, but my friend Reed said it best: “How cool can you look while having one of your boys hold your piece will you try to take a piss.” That’s what happened to me, and I don’t want anyone ruining the rest of their lives over a stupid helmet. I wish you could’ve seen the shape I was in from a slam to the face. It’s just not worth it just to be “cool” and to worry about what people think. If they don’t want to wear a full-face, that’s cool, I just can’t have anyone getting this hurt on my behalf. Another reason I made it a rule is to lead by example. If I ask the Dew Tour to really consider making it a rule, it’d be pretty bad for me not to already have a rule like that enforced in my own yard.

Speaking of your backyard…what’s the status of the jumps since you aren’t riding these days?
Jumps are still out there. Looking lonely at times, but a few guys still come by to ride. Cam White comes by a lot since my crash. It feels pretty weird out back, I’m not gonna lie. Mark Rubio came over and he was fun to watch. We’ll see what happens over the next few years. I’ll always be involved with BMX because I love this sport too much.

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TJ enjoying his backyard dreamland a few months before the crash.

Anything else you want to ad or final words of wisdom?
Just know that even if BMX is your life, some day you won’t ride as much. So take care of your body the best way you know how. If that’s wearing an FF helmet, then so be it. If it’s not being as cool at the park and actually wearing kneepads, then cool. It’s just a shame when I see caution thrown to the wind with 16-year-olds (or less) who worry so bad about being the coolest kid instead of their future. I promise, when it comes down to it, real life doesn’t give a shit about you wearing an FF helmet unless it’s the other way and you get snapped off. Then you’ll get glared at, and it isn’t too cool. If you see me and have a question or want to talk about anything, hit me up. Thanks! -TJ

Click on page two of this article to see how the Portland Dew Tour jumps went from TJ’s simple pencil drawing to a digital rendering, and finally to the real deal made of dirt, blood, sweat, and tears.

The evolution of a Dew Tour dirt jumping course…

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