Subscribe

Glen Ellen-raised girl one of best female BMX competitors in the world

To watch Nikita Ducarroz ride BMX is jaw-dropping and inspiring.

In competition, she drops into turn and makes full use of the 60-second time window, combining tricks off the wall with tricks in the air, spinning her handlebars as a kind of punctuation to her moves, nailing her landings. “It's pretty much about doing hard tricks, making them look good, using the entire course and staying on your bike,” she said.

Sounds like life advice.

For the past eight months, Ducarroz has been working on those skills, almost the entire time in quarantine at a skate park in Holly Springs, North Carolina, working with “the two Daniels,” as she calls them: Daniel Dhers, the owner of the Action Sports Complex who is on the Venezuelan team; and Daniel Wedemeijer, her coach and a rider with the Dutch team. Even among this elite group, Ducarroz shines.

It wasn’t always like that. In fact, one of her earliest BMX videos is titled “She Always Falls.”

Until she was about 12, Nikita Ducarroz—then known as Nike to her friends—was a powerhouse on the Sonoma soccer club scene, and her mother secretly hoped she might find her way to the Olympics. Nicole Abaté Ducarroz had herself been a competitive roller-skater when younger, but though that wasn’t an Olympic sport, a mother can dream…

Then Nikita began spending less and less time on the soccer field and more time at home. She developed extreme social anxiety and withdrew from sports and most social activities, including school—she was homeschooled in an arrangement with Woodland Star, and completed high school online with K12 Cava (California Virtual Academies). She only felt comfortable with her immediate family, which includes her parents and two younger brothers, Jonas and Julien.

But she wasn’t entirely homebound. On a visit to her father Jean-Francois Ducarroz’s family in Switzerland, Nikita saw kids riding BMX, bicycle motocross, using a lightweight, small-frame, single-gear bicycle. “She always had a passion for bikes; at 3 years old she was riding a two-wheeler,” said her mother Nicole Ducarroz. It kicked off something in her, and soon she was testing out tricks and jumps during camping trips, and built a ramp in her driveway. Eventually a half-pipe and a box jump were built in the backyard of the family’s Glen Ellen home.

Nikita openly acknowledges the challenges she faced as a teen, and fully recognizes that it was BMX that got her out of it. “One hundred percent,” she said in a recent call with the Index-Tribune. “I needed that thing that I was so passionate about. For me it was BMX but it could have been anything, to give me a reason to push through the fears of leaving my house.”

Soon she was mustering the courage to venture to the outdoor skate park at Maxwell Farms Regional Park, though it wasn’t easy. “I literally had to make my entire day's goal to get myself to go out of the house to go to the skate park,” said Nikita, which is about a 15 minute drive from Glen Ellen.

Forays to an indoor skate park at Ramp Rats in Santa Rosa followed and, before long, her first competition - at Old School Skate & Surf shop on Broadway. Her growing passion led her to more meets, first in Sacramento, then Denver, then Europe. She moved to San Diego to work with a BMX racer and trainer, Dr. Jason Richardson, who became a kind of “life coach” for her, according to her mother.

She was rising to the occasion and her reputation, and rankings, were climbing.

Mongoose stepped up in 2016 as a bike sponsor, and they’ve helped build her celebrity through their videos – a perfect medium for the electric sport that features strength, speed, altitude and attitude, agility and finesse.

“In 2018 it got really big, because the Olympics got involved,” said Nikita. For the first time, BMX freestyle would become an Olympic event in 2020, in Japan; and going to meets was no longer just about “whichever ones I thought would sound fun or which country that I wanted to go to.”

BMX started as an outdoor sprint racing sport; BMX freestyle followed, focusing on the tricks on a contrived, often indoor, course of half-pipes and ramp jumps based on urban skateparks. While BMX racing has been an Olympic sport since 2008, 2020 was calendared to mark the debut of BMX freestyle.

Nikita had her eyes set on Tokyo as her rankings climbed, and her dual citizenship—born in France, with an American mother and Swiss father—doubled her opportunities to qualify.

“Obviously I don't like to count on it until I'm handed a letter that says ‘You are officially going.’ But, based on all the calculations, I have my spot,” she said confidently. She is ranked seventh in the world and, while she currently has the points to rank third in the United States, as her mother Nicole says, “She is the Swiss team.” (At least in this sport – they have a national cycling team that she’s also a member of.)

It’s oddly possible the coronavirus pandemic might have been the best thing for Nikita, or at least not a bad thing so far. Along with the other six riders at the Holly Springs training camp—representing Venezuela, Holland, Croatia, Australia and the U.S., as well as Switzerland—she’s been doing intense three-hour training sessions several times a week.

“We're just here, with one thing to do—pretty much everything else is shut down and there is nothing else to do,” she says. The decision to retreat to Holly Springs actually preceded the pandemic; Nikita had gone there for the previous two years, for a week or two of training, “and I just really liked the vibe here.”

In January, working with Wedemeyer in the Netherlands, they decided to move to Holly Springs to train. Nikita nabbed a townhouse, and Wedermeijer brought his girlfriend and their infant along to North Carolina. “Then literally the day after they landed, which was around mid-March, everything just shut down.”

A week later, the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo were canceled, postponed for at least a year.

There had been indications that the pandemic would have a global impact, and the Olympics might have to be put off, but the delay certainly threw them for a loop. But after the initial shock, said Nikita, “It was just ‘All right, now we have all this extra time to just train.’ There's no competition.”

Born in France but raised in Glen Ellen, Nikita Ducarroz is one of the top female freestyle BMX competitors in the world. (COURTESY PHOTO)

The group of seven riders made its own quarantine rules, to ensure that the virus wouldn’t infect their tight-knit group: all shopping was done online, no one went to the grocery store, there was no contact with anyone else outside their BMX bubble.

“It definitely was strange. But with how the world was and how the world is, it was really just the best place that I could have been.” Nikita is convinced the focused training has made her a better rider. “I feel like in this quarantine time, I've made more progress on my bike than in the past two years.”

Perhaps inevitably, the lockdown also brought a return to the paralyzing anxiety that crippled Nikita through much of her teen years.

Now 24, she admits that there are times she struggles, even now.

“It's funny because the last few weeks I had a couple of panic attacks in one week, and that brought me back to like, ‘Oh shoot, I don't want to leave my house. I'm scared to leave my house.’ All of a sudden, going to the grocery store was hard again, and going to training was hard, and it brings me back to that time.

But then I have to remember, ‘All right, you're not going back to that. You've come a long way.’ I have to keep remembering it happened before, I got through it before and I’ll do it again.”

As Nikita Ducarroz said in a recent social media post, her eyes glowing with the best kind of pride, “That’s why I ride. That feeling of relief and stoke when you push through the fear.”

email Christian at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

The Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Sonoma County Gazette