Ryan Mills: Four Years Sober

Four years ago, former pro rider Ryan Mills took his last hit of heroin. Today, Ryan is healthy, sober, back on his bike, and a completely different person. We've covered Ryan's road to sobriety periodically over the past few years and the strides he's made as a BMX rider and as a human being are incredible. This most recent milestone came at a less-than-ideal time in the world - one that deeply impacts the community Ryan was himself a part of in the not-so-distant past. It seemed like an appropriate time to catch up with Ryan, see how he's doing, snap a few photos, and get his take on turmoil currently amongst us.


So, four years sober. Congratulations. How does it feel?

Yes! Four years! I’ve never felt better. Healthy mind, healthy body, and healthy soul! I’m really loving my second chance at life. The choice to sober up is the most important choice I will make with my time here on Earth.

Does it get easier?

I think that this answer varies from person to person. For me, each day that I continue on my path is another day stronger in my sobriety. I can kind of relate it to going to the gym and working out. At first the weight seems heavy, but over time, the same weight seems easier. Adding more weight is somewhat similar to each problem you face as you learn to navigate through sobriety. It seems tough again, but over time, those problems become easier as you become stronger in those areas. Time and patience is key to success.

How do you deal with the temptations that I'm sure life is constantly waving in your face?

There is always going to be temptations in anyone’s life. Having the experience of being homeless and controlled by a substance like heroin allows me to see the bigger picture in these situations. Knowing that I will lose everything I’ve worked for in a matter of months, knowing that I would throw my clean time down the drain, knowing how many people it would let down if I fell for the temptation of the high - It just doesn’t seem worth it to use a drug for my own selfish reasons.

What sort of a role do you think riding BMX has played in all of this?

BMX has given me a huge outlet to calm my brain and is a healthier addiction I now have. 

Completely having to relearn how to ride a bike was a challenge I gave myself as I sat for months in jail wondering what I was going to do with my life. The fact that at the time I thought it was impossible to the point I am now is a huge success in my eyes. 

I’ve honestly never felt better on my bike than I do now and that’s a huge confidence booster. I am lucky to have the BMX community as well. If I did have my BMX friends, I don’t think I could have made it in the beginning of my sobriety. Having the option to fall back into positive influences that all supported me 100% was my life saver. Most people that I’ve seen try to get sober and not change their surroundings have fallen right back into the disease. I only know a select few people out of hundreds of people I knew in drug court that continue to live in sobriety still. I stay in contact with them and we check on one another from time to time. They motivate me to keep going, too!

I know your job relates to your past. What is it? Who signs your paycheck and what do you do exactly?

It certainly does. So, at the moment, my job title is Prevention Coordinator and I work under a program called Overdose Data to Action - OD2A. We are government funded through the University of Nevada, Reno. I currently oversee several sub-awards who we fund here in Vegas, which are coalitions in prevention and needle exchanges for harm reduction. I’m also a voice from drug addicts and a sound board basically for these places to bounce ideas around. I help guide Nevada in making important decisions in helping create awareness with addiction.

Are you living in LA full-time now?

I met a girl in LA that I have been staying with out there. At first, I was doing a week or two there and a week or two back here in Vegas. Then COVID-19 and the quarantine happened while I was out there. My girl wasn’t feeling safe quarantining alone, so my week there turned into months. Also, I have an immune compromised brother who has multiple sclerosis that I couldn’t risk getting sick if I came back home and was asymptomatic.


How do you like being out there?

It’s not a bad place to be stuck in. The riding is awesome, the weather is amazing, and I get to be locked up with a rad chick!

What was the quarantine situation like out there? Were you riding?

It was a huge adjustment at first. People were panic buying all the food and toilet paper. There was a huge sense of needing to survive at first. I thought it was all madness. I stayed in for the first week I’d say, then I was kind of like, "Fuck it, let me go take advantage of these empty streets." I got into a routine of working early morning then Brandon Begin would text me, “Sup,” around noon every day and we’d hit the streets, then I’d finish up work at night. I’ve also gotten some good weekend sessions with the Golden Days boys - Nate Richter’s bike shop - and a lot of people coming through town to film stuff in the city. Everyone in LA that I get to ride with are all amazing people and very talented riders and it pushes me to do things out of my comfort zone on a bike.

It's my understanding narcotics anonymous meetings were - and may still be - cancelled during the lockdown. Were you aware of this and do you have any thoughts on it?

I was definitely aware and concerned about it. In addition to meetings being cancelled, rehabs also had to shut down and stop accepting new patients. It has become a very fragile time for addicts that we are all scrambling to figure out.


As someone who has spent time incarcerated, I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you about what's currently going on in the United States. Did you have any first-hand experiences with police officers acting unfairly?

I have seen plenty of injustice in my time. I’ve seen abuse of power and racism many times over. There has to be a change made! It’s all so fucked up. I stand with all of my friends - no matter the color of their skin. Black Lives Matter needs to be heard loud and clear! Peace and love need to be spread in this world.

Do you think anything is changing with the negative stigma that haunts users?

There is always going to be a stigma with drug addicts. People just don’t have the perspective or the opportunity to be educated. My job has to do with reducing the stigma, but it is an uphill battle that we are fighting. You can even use the George Floyd video as an example. 

Not only is it racist, corrupt, and an excessive use of power - when one of the cops was asked why they were holding George down like that, the cop said “Don’t do drugs!” as if that’s the treatment you deserve for being a victim to addiction.

I know you've mentioned in the past that some BMX riders have reached out to you for advice or inspiration in kicking their drug habits. Is this still happening?

All the time.

What advice do you give to those who need help?

I try to support them in their decision to even make the first step in reaching out for help. That is a huge first step. I’ll then try to link them to care in whatever city they live in and give them options in rehabs and outpatient places they could go for treatment. Often, I will encourage them to get back into BMX or to try to find another thing they are passionate about to focus the mind on. I also will request updates from them to see the progress they are making. I will also try to give them small goals they can first conquer and feel accomplishment. That was huge in my self confidence in the beginning. I have seen some very impressive changes that people have made over the past few years. It’s fills me with joy to see people happy.

What's next for you?

For the next couple of years, I will be continuing my work that I am currently doing now. I continue to educate myself and strengthen my career as well as my sobriety. BMX is definitely something I will continue to do. I have some goals with BMX that I still have to complete. I am working on a clothing company called Deadend - you can follow on Instagram @deadendbmx - that Steve Woodward and I have teamed up on. It’s just something to have fun with and use as a creative outlet. It’s fun to do and we have a pretty great crew of support with our followers.


Any big plans for your five year anniversary in 2021?

No plans yet, but some ideas rolling around my brain. We didn’t get to do a jam this year due to COVID-19, so I’m going to have to lean in on year five! 

Anything to add? The floor is yours...

Thanks to Vital BMX for always shining a light on my road to recovery and creating awareness of the opioid epidemic. I also want to thank Rich Hirsch for always helping out with my bike. It’s been huge for me to be able to be a part of Stranger Bikes. Huge shout out to Nate Richter, too. Riding for his shop, Golden Days Bike Co., has allowed me to go on some amazing road trips and it’s always fun to film with him and the crew. One Love!

"When you get sober, half-naked women will show up in the middle of the desert at the same time as you." - Ryan Mills

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