Our editors sat down with BMX rider Joce Camarra to chat about her mental health journey. You can learn more about Joce and follow her on Instagram at @joc313
Introduce yourself to our followers. Hey everyone! My name is Joce –pronounced Jah-ss, short for Jocelyn! I’m 29 years old and I ride freestyle BMX. I love anything that keeps my body moving, but BMX is my favorite way to enjoy my time and grow.
Tell us a bit about your athletic experience growing up. How did you first get started with BMX? Although BMX takes all of my love and energy now, I’ve worn many hats on different athletic adventures! This is a long one, are you ready?
When I was young, I started on your average nugget rec soccer team, swam, and did gymnastics. I then carried on with gymnastics for about 6 years. My coaches had kept saying they were going to place me in an elite program because I had potential, but it never quite panned out. A little frustrated and defeated, my family decided we were going to try something different! I liked different! A couple of the coaches had a soft spot for me and suggested I try cheerleading which was also out of the same gym. I loved every second of this. Cheer was the perfect amount of “high speed and exciting” that I needed. But after a year of that, I was over it. I have ADHD, can you tell? I was ready to move on mostly because cheer had turned into a bit of a toxic environment for me. It was my first experience of coaches who screamed at their athletes, and I was in 5th grade so this was a shock to me.
I played softball from 5th grade onwards and stuck with it until high school. I also picked up dance somewhere during that time. I was all over the place with athletics, but I loved it. For softball, I was a center fielder and probably the most excited kid out there. I went back into cheerleading in high school and that became my hardcore passion that I would carry with me into my college years, where I was once on three teams at the same time. I eventually lost that passion due my financial situation (broke college kid) and because it was so hard to drive hours and hours to practices in the next state, while also student teaching. Sadly, had to choose, and I dropped cheer, but I felt like something was missing. I needed the scary, tired, and successful adrenaline rush that cheer gave me.
After that, I tried bodybuilding, (realized it wasn’t enough of a rush); almost played women’s full-contact football; got sponsored by a small board company to learn how to skate; and then realized I wanted to try BMX. I was a sucker for the extreme sports world and realized I already had the main skills needed to start under my belt. I could pedal. The possibilities were endless! Now here we are, obsessed with the community, the science behind dopamine levels associated with pedaling, and the feeling of success you find when you land something scary that you’ve worked so hard on. It fuels me.
How does one “go pro” in a sport like BMX? What did your journey look like? My goal is to have as much fun as possible while riding bikes and still feeling like I’m personally accomplishing things that make me proud. When I started this, I was also told by everyone I loved that, “this isn’t a sport you can really make money from, do it because you love it.”
I let that sink in. And I decided I was ok with it.
While most people do ride for the pure passion of the sport, anyone who tells you that they don’t want make money from BMX is totally lying –there’s just this “what if feeling” that kind of gives you butterflies! Becoming pro is something that’s pretty hard to do now-a-days, although there are some people crashing through the ceiling and finding that golden ticket for their hard work! There are some insanely deserving athletes who have achieved their goals, and it is so cool to see.
I’m not pro rider, and probably never will get to that level, but I have to say I am absolutely a professional when it comes to fully embracing this BMX life and the smile that comes with it! If it ever happens though, I’ll give The Hidden Opponent full credit for the first pro vibes!
How has your athletic experience affected your mental health? How do you take care of your mental health? This is a tough one. I’ve been on a wild rollercoaster the whole time I’ve been riding. Life throws some curveballs, and occasionally the thing you love so much (for me it’s BMX), doesn’t always provide an escape. I am proud to say that the majority of the time, BMX does exactly what I need it to. Like anyone, I adapt from what I’ve gone through. I pick up anxieties, and “scaries,” and things that give me triggers, but I’ve always used movement as my escape. On the flip side, I am extremely hard on myself. In all aspects of my life. If I know I can do better, I get anxiety. If I don’t understand something, anxiety. If I struggle to understand what’s going on in a relationship, you guessed it.. anxiety. This involves every part of my being –my personal life, relationship with myself, my work relationship, and basically everything else.
Anyone with anxiety (and what I think is undiagnosed depression), will tell you that there may be absolutely nothing “wrong” to make your stomach flip… but it still does. With how the world is now, it’s also extremely easy to fall into these anxious pits, BUT it is also more of a safe place for people to actually share and surface some of the feelings that they struggle with. I’ve always joked that I’d rather have a broken bone than a confused and broken heart, but I don’t know how many people actually realize that I’m 100% serious. I’ll take physical pain over internal. Internal is confusing and messy and really deserves to be handled gently. That’s why I ride. While I’m a hot mess of positive energy, I’m also the type that needs to put my negative energy into something. BMX is the perfect place for this. If I push myself, I’ve found that I can reach a level of measurable success that I never thought possible. In turn, riding gives my brain those happy vibes it deserves. I rely on BMX to function when things feel dark.
Can you talk more about what it is like being a female athlete in a nontraditional sport? Luckily, I’ve found myself surrounded by people who have either let me be or stood up next to me to cheer me on. I know this isn’t the case for some ladies and it really crushes me. There are some not-so-kind humans out there, but it’s best to ignore them. But being a female in a mostly male sport has taught me that I can be just as tough as the males, and they’ll constantly remind me of that, even when I feel weak. I also have come to realize that I love riding with the guys because they see things extremely differently than I do in terms of things to try, what to be scared of, knowing my riding level, and not making a big deal when I need to remove the emotion out of things. Women tend to be more nurturing, and while I love love love that (and have happily accepted being scooped up and loved when I am in hurt a pile on the ground), I really love the friendly “suck it up buttercup, you’ve got this” approach that my male teachers throw to me. I only wish I had more female riders around me to ride with!
Our sport is definitely expanding in terms of more ladies joining, and I hope that anyone who is nervous about being in a male-dominated world either finds all the women who are happy to toss inspiration and love like confetti (ya’ll know who you are!) and/or surrounds themselves with the type of guys who are so stoked for more feet on pedals, regardless of what gender!
When and how did you decide to teach physical education? When I was little, I always had a ton of energy and loved movement and play. In middle school and high school, I was often the child wrangler at events and all the parents fully trusted me because they saw how much I admired the little spirits. To this day. I still find kids drawn to me –it’s like they somehow know I was a teacher and always have a million questions. Now they have even more questions because they don’t often see “a girl on a bike at the skatepark.”
Regardless of where I am, I tend to make little human friends. But because of this, I knew early on that I needed to be a teacher, and Physical Education just made the most sense. It just felt right, and while I’m not a teacher anymore, I really miss the opportunity to teach little humans the awesome things about moving and staying healthy. Another big aspect of becoming a teacher was that I struggled really hard in school. I was the kid who tried really, really hard and never pulled good grades. I was the kid who would get passed because I showed up enough times in the professor’s office but still didn’t understand, so my participation carried me. I wanted other students to know that your drive and determination and heart towards what you are aiming for will be rewarded if you just try your best. I know some incredible athletes that struggled through school because their brain was wired for movement and not to sit down and learn. Effort and heart are HUGE. Anyone can be successful.
Were you able to find ways to promote mental health and healthy body image as a teacher? I was! Being a teacher in today’s world is difficult but I find that most students are very excited to learn what you have to say if they can tell that you are passionate about their well-being. The little ones are typically just happy to run and learn. My biggest focus for my older students was communication. I wanted them to know I cared and that I was there for them. If there was a reason for something affecting their homework, class focus, or attitude I just needed to know so we could plan accordingly for them to feel successful and heard.
What advice would you have for a young athlete struggling with mental health or body image? You. Are. Perfect.
Strength will grow, skills will advance, opportunities will arise. Just stay true to yourself and focus on your goals. If you aren’t sure of what those goals may be, just focus on what feels good for you in this moment. Know your limits, but also know that you can do anything you put your heart into. Do not be afraid to ask questions or struggle a little. And if you fall, you’re closer than if you were too scared to jump. Be sure to love yourself as much as you can, and as often as you can. And know when you need a mental and physical break. Life is full of wild feelings, chase the ones that make you feel successful.
Lastly, do not beat yourself up. Every day is another new day to do something that makes YOU proud of YOU, regardless if that’s big or small. Being a human is hard sometimes. Celebrate all the little victories, and the big ones.
What’s coming next for you? What do you hope to accomplish in the near future and more long term? This is such an exciting question. The first thing that comes to mind is an excited “I dunno!”
But, if I really think about it, I want to be more of a face somehow for people who are learning or just starting out with BMX. I’m Joce, just your average girl who picked up a bike and I’m taking full advantage of all the happiness that comes with it. I’m determined to show people that you can start riding later in life, somehow find all the rad and wild opportunities, and also become someone just by loving something hard enough. You don’t have to be some wildly skilled rider, just a ton of positivity and stoke to spread.
Obviously, I’d like to keep working on my skills and get better, maybe compete sooner rather than later, maybe learn something scary with someone like Travis Pastrana, and train with Rick Thorn. You know, the normal things every girl thinks of -haha! Aside from that, I just want to keep pushing and impressing myself, meet new people who fuel me, stay healthy, and continue to smile.
Is there anything else we missed or anything else you’d like to add? I just want to say that I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and can’t thank you enough for supporting me and all the other athletes that struggle with mental health.