"I wouldn't be where I am, if I hadn't gone through what I have."
The bio reads like that of many up-and-coming BMX pros. Mykel Larrin, 25, lives and trains with some of the best riders in the world at Camp Woodward, a state-of-the-art skating facility in Woodward, Pa. He has teamed with BMX legend Kevin Robinson to give motivational speeches to students and military personnel all over the country. He's traveled back and forth to Iraq to take part in the Bikes Over Baghdad program, performing for U.S. soldiers. He's ridden in the X Games in Asia, Los Angeles and Foz do Iguaçu and will ride in Barcelona and Los Angeles later this year. He's considered a rising young vert rider on tour and has veterans anxiously looking over their shoulders.
But in the case of Larrin, the bio doesn't tell the whole story.
To truly know Larrin, you have to understand the challenging circumstances of his childhood. He and his brother JaRyan were born from different African-American fathers. Their mother, Tracy Larrin, is Caucasian. She raised her sons singlehandedly and with little money, all the while suffering from panic attacks that made it hard for her to leave their home in Racine, Wis. But she still found time to teach the two how to skateboard when Larrin was 4.
Larrin had a special relationship with his maternal grandfather, who lived across the street from his childhood home. One evening, when Larrin was 12, he, JaRyan and Tracy sat on their front steps after dinner. Tracy saw her sons' grandfather looking lonely across the street and asked Mykel to pay him a visit. Larrin had immense respect for his grandfather and revered the larger-than-life figure to the point of intimidation. So he chose to stay on the porch. The next day, his grandfather died from a heat stroke. Larrin vowed to never take anyone or anything that he loved for granted again.
"Just another day at the park."
Larrin did have a father figure in his life. Kuko Padilla helped build the Lake Pershing Skate Park, where Larrin first fell in love with riding. The two spent countless hours there, riding and repairing the park's ramps. Larrin would practice 180s, 360s and G-turns on borrowed and hand-me-down bikes. Soon he was doing tailwhips. Padilla saw an abundance of talent and determination in the young rider, and when Larrin was 13, Padilla bought him his first BMX bike.
At 14, Padilla entered Larrin into his first BMX park contest at a local tournament. Before his first run, Padilla gave Larrin the most important piece of advice he said he's ever received. "You simply need to consider this just another day at the park," Padilla said. Larrin took first place in the competition.
Larrin's achievements weren't confined to the skate park. He finished high school with a 4.2 GPA. He was in the orchestra and the jazz ensemble and continues to play violin, drums, piano and guitar. He played basketball and volleyball, wrestled and was a standout on the track team from his freshman year on. By his senior year, Larrin had full-scholarship offers for track from five schools. But he was afraid the regimented demands of college track would keep him from his one, true passion: BMX. He instead accepted a full-academic scholarship from the University of Milwaukee to major in architecture.
The Cost of Growing Up
During college, Larrin was responsible for purchasing his architecture-school supplies. He also paid $200 per month in rent to his mother to continue living in her home. Larrin held down a part-time job and joined a local BMX stunt team called Division BMX, managed by an Appleton, Wis.-based BMX rider named Micah Kranz. The stunt team did local shows and sometimes traveled around the country.
Toward the end of his sophomore year, Kranz invited Larrin to do a show in Israel. Larrin had never left the country and recognized this as the opportunity of a lifetime. Knowing college would always be there, he dropped out of school to pursue a career as a professional BMX rider. After the Israel trip, the team was invited on a tour that stopped in every province in Canada. After five months on the road, Larrin returned home to some unexpected news. His mother told him he could no longer live with her. Because of her panic attacks, she needed to rent his room to someone who would be there to keep her company.
"When I had nothing, I had everything."
Larrin didn't have many options and had nowhere to turn. He packed his Jeep with a duffel bag full of clothes, a sleeping bag, his guitar and his bike and left the home in which he grew up. He found parking on a bleak city block in Milwaukee and laid the seats down in his Jeep so he could sleep in the car. It was a brutal Wisconsin winter, and the temperatures regularly dipped below zero. To stay warm, Larrin blanketed himself in layers, turned the engine on and blasted the heat. Before falling asleep, he would turn the engine off. If the cold woke him up in the middle of the night, he repeated the process.
He stayed positive and found pleasure in riding despite being homeless and having little money. He spent most of his time at a local indoor skate park where members of Kranz's stunt team could ride for free. He lived out of his car for six months but was too proud to tell Kranz or his teammates. Eventually, he was able to crash at friends' houses, sleeping on a couch or an empty spot on the floor.
The Brotherhood of BMX
In the summer of 2009, the Gatorade Free Flow Tour came to Milwaukee. The winner in each discipline would go on to Salt Lake City to compete with the first-place finishers from other cities. The winner in Salt Lake got an amateur wild-card spot to compete against the nation's top professionals at a Mountain Dew Action Tour stop in Orlando, Fla. This was Larrin's big chance. He entered the BMX park competition and took first place, securing his bid to Salt Lake City. There, he met amateur riders from all over the country who shared his enthusiasm for BMX. Larrin called it "the brotherhood of BMX" and became particularly close with a vert rider named Gio after riding together for only an hour.
Larrin did well in the BMX park competition but placed third and missed qualification for the Dew Tour. But he didn't mind. He had a wonderful experience and knew he would never forget the camaraderie of that week.
Gio was scheduled to ride in the vert competition the next day, but his run was in jeopardy because he didn't have the required full-face helmet. Larrin told Gio he could borrow the one he had brought from Milwaukee. But when Larrin went to give the helmet to his new friend the next morning, Gio's roommate said he had left the night before with food poisoning.
Larrin went out to the vert ramp, helmet in hand, and pondered Gio's rotten luck. To his surprise, the event organizer asked him if he would like to take Gio's spot. Larrin was unsure. He was a park rider with less than five hours of experience on a vert ramp in his life. He decided to go for it. He had come to help a friend and now he was standing 14-feet high on top of a vert ramp simply because he was in the right place at the right time.
As the announcer gave the cue for Larrin to start his run, the words of his mentor Padilla echoed in his ears: "It's just another day at the park, Mykel." He dropped in and rode as if he were back in Wisconsin, ripping the ramp with his buddies. When it was over, Larrin barely remembered the run. He was just happy he didn't crash and was sure he wouldn't come in first. As he removed his pads, the announcer read the results to the athletes and fans. Larrin had finished first and earned a vert wild-card spot to the Dew Tour. He was so stunned that other riders had to convince him to climb onto the top stair of the podium.
A lifetime of challenge normally helped Larrin keep his emotions in check, but as he stood on the podium, he choked back tears of joy. Although he finished last in the vert competition at the Dew Tour stop in Orlando, Larrin had taken a big step forward in his career as a professional rider. In the years since, he has continued to travel the world, competing in the X Games and other competitions and learning from the best in the sport. He went from riding just to survive to traveling the world on his bike. But you might not know that about Larrin if you just read his bio.
Larrin will make his second X Games appearance of the year at X Games Barcelona later this month.