Rob Darden Bids China Farewell

Rob Darden's time as China's BMX coach has officially come to an end. Though the circumstances surrounding this are less than ideal, Rob walks away with almost two years of experience in previously uncharted territory. We caught up with Rob to reflect on his time in China, discuss his complicated journey home, and learn about his future plans.


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You accepted the job as China’s BMX coach in June of 2018 - almost two years ago. Now that this has reached its endpoint, how would you describe the adventure?

This has definitely been the wildest adventure I have ever been on. I have seen so many things riding around different cities in China. Between the people, architecture, and cuisine, every day there are WTF moments. You just never know what you will see. That is why I love it so much. Everyday is an adventure.   


Why exactly is it coming to an end?

The coronavirus put an end to everything. It postponed events that we had to attend and stopped us from traveling. In the end, it stopped us from qualifying for The Olympics. The General Sports Administration funds our program and, once it was official that we could not qualify, they pulled the funding and that was a wrap. 


Are you bummed or are you ready for it to be over?

I am definitely bummed that it is over. Nobody ever thought that it was going to end like this. It all happened so quickly, too. We got the notice and, two days later, everyone was sent home. I just feel like we all worked so hard and everything was stripped away in a moment's notice. But, I am definitely excited to go home. The situation in China didn’t exactly work out for my family and I like we had planned. There were extended periods of time that we were separated and that was the hardest part of this whole adventure. I never want to go through that again.  


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What were a few of the highlights from your time there?

Watching the girls ride and progress so quickly everyday. When I first came to China to select the team, some of these girls had never ridden BMX before. They came from different sports. Now, they are some of the best women BMX riders in the world. I am very proud of their hard work and dedication. 

Also, traveling all around and getting to see China. I believe we moved 16 different times while I was here in China. 

Also, traveling all around the world with the team. It was all of their first times going overseas. To see them so excited to see the world, ask questions, and see their reactions was priceless.

Making friendships that will last a lifetime. That is what is so great about BMX - it brings everyone from around the world together all for the love and passion of riding BMX. In the end, that is what it is all about.


What were some of the low points?

Definitely my family situation. A couple promises China made never happened, which forced us to move around China so much. This was not an ideal living situation for family and raising my children, so they never moved here full time. We were never in one place longer than a couple months.

Also, cutting athletes from the team. We started with 24 athletes - 10 guys and 14 girls. Over the course of two years, we had to make team cuts. In the end, we just had 4 girls. 

Also, watching girls crash and get hurt. I know these girls and other girls are very strong - you have to be to ride BMX. BMX athletes are some of the strongest people in the world, but there is just something about a girl crashing and smacking the ground. I’ve come to accept it more, but it still hurts. With the push for such fast progression, injuries come. And, trust me, our team had a lot of injuries. 


After living this for as long as you did, what do you think makes a good BMX coach?

It really comes down to learning everything about each athlete. BMX is an individual sport of self expression. Each rider is different and wants to learn different things, so you have to analyze each rider and learn their strengths and weaknesses. Once you know this, you can start to make a plan and start progressing in the right direction. 

Next is having patience dealing with fears. Guys are a lot easier in this department. You can yell at them, be rude, name call, and most of the time they feed off of it. You have to approach girls completely different. I’ve literally had girls crying on the deck scared to try new things. There are a lot more emotions with the ladies.   


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It seemed like China had a pretty militant approach to BMX (and all sports, for that matter). Do you think this helped or hindered the riders?

“The Chinese way." I’m so tired of hearing this saying. I get it, but this is BMX. BMX is supposed to be fun and is about having a good time with your friends. But, now we are talking about The Olympics. A lot of time and money are put into this program and people want results and medals. The way I approached it was to have a bit of both. Split the sessions up working on strengths, weaknesses, and goals. A little bit more strict, but all while keeping it fun. Then have an open session to do whatever you want and get creative. Pretty much like being in class, then going out for recess. In the end, I think this was the best approach. All these athletes know is that militant style and they expect it, so I just brought the fun and freedom to the table and showed them the true BMX culture.  


Where all did you spend time in China?

Shanghai, Chengdu, Beijing, Taicang, Qinhuangdao, Wusheng, QianJiang, Taiyuan, Shenzhen, and Puyang. There is one more city, but I can not remember the name. We would travel back and forth between these cities depending on the weather, getting ready for competition, or coming back from a trip. 


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What was your favorite place?

Shanghai is by far my favorite place in China. The city is beautiful with all the lights at night and it never gets old. It’s probably the city with the most foreigners, too. I could easily live there.  


What was your least favorite?

Wusheng was my least favorite. It wasn’t the city that I didn’t like. We were located just outside of the city in the middle of nowhere. There was absolutely nothing to do. We would ride, eat, and sit in our rooms for months. Not to mention it rained a lot. 


How much Mandarin did you end up learning?

I learned a decent amount. The last six months I definitely slacked off, but I know the basics and can get by or get my point across when I am out cruising around. I will continue to learn it even though I am going home now.   


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I know you had your own chef. What was that like?

Having a chef was rad. We only had the chef the last two months because we were in quarantine for two months due to the virus. Before that, we had all of our meals catered by local restaurants. With the chef though, you could tell him what you like or dislike. That was a game changer. 


Now that you’re able to distance yourself from the situation, what do you truly think of BMX in The Olympics?

I think BMX in the Olympics is great. BMX is whatever you make of it. The Olympics is not for everyone. Some people just like to cruise around the city, ride dirt jumps, skateparks, and just have fun. Some people do all of that but love the competition side of things. The best thing I think The Olympics brings to BMX is the acceptance of the general population in every country. All of these countries are supporting BMX and building parks because of The Olympics. BMX is growing at an unbelievable rate in this department. I have seen the China scene grow so much in my time here that it is mind blowing. Also, now that BMX is an Olympic sport, you can go in to any city meeting and have a valid argument why your city should invest in a park. It has also created a lot of great opportunities for people - including myself. This is just the beginning. 


Do you have a complicated process getting home due to the current state of the world?

To be honest, I am not even sure at this point. I am hoping to get home in the next week or so. I am sitting in a 5 day mandatory quarantine in Beijing right now. Once I get out, I will start the process. America is getting hit hard right now with the coronavirus. Fingers crossed that I am able to get home before it gets much worse. 

It sucks. I just went through the worst of it here in China over the last two months to go home and deal with it all over again.


Who are some Chinese riders everyone should watch out for?

Just speaking on the girls side of BMX, Lu Si Ting, Ge Hui, Ou Xian Fen, Li Xin Yue, Zhou Hui Min, and Deng Ya Wen. 


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What are your future plans? Do you have anything else lined up?

I have no plans as of right now. I am Just looking forward to getting home and having some quality family time. Get through this pandemic and enjoy that beach life! 


If China asked you to return when the next Olympic period is on the horizon, would you consider it?

I would definitely consider it. We learned a lot this time around and it will only be smoother the next Olympic period. Also, the team will have their own private indoor training facility that I helped design that will be built in April, so there will not be all the moving around city-to-city like we did this time. This would be great for my family and I. As of right now, there has been no talk about the 2024 Olympic period. It’s all too soon, but we will see.


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