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Bruce rides to another level

Hubbard native Nick Bruce always thought competing at the X Games was going to be the highest point of his BMX freestyle career. Because of the impact he was going to have on the younger generation, he was OK with that.

Bruce fell in love with the sport by watching the annual event when he was younger, so having the opportunity to perform at that level and possibly inspire younger riders was something that he always aspired to do.

Bruce’s aspirations changed when the International Olympic Committee added BMX Freestyle to the Olympics in 2017.

Suddenly, heading to Tokyo, representing his country and being able to have a bigger impact on young riders was all he was focused on.

After four years of competing and waiting, Bruce will accomplish his dream when he heads to Tokyo as a part of Team USA to compete in the first ever BMX freestyle event at the Olympics. The BMX freestyle competition is set for July 31 and Aug. 1 at Ariake Urban Sports Park.

“The fact that I’ll be able to perform on the biggest stage, on an even bigger stage than the X Games, and potentially inspire more young kids, like how I was inspired, it’s a huge privilege and I’m excited for that,” Bruce said.

“It truly is amazing. We first heard our sport was going to be in the Olympics in 2017, and since then, I knew that I wanted this more than anything. So the fact that it all worked out is pretty insane.”

Getting to this stage in his career has been one long ride for the 2011 graduate of Hubbard High School and former student at Youngstown State.

As a young kid, Bruce was always on his bike, finding places to ride. But, when indoor parks in the area started to close, Bruce said he started to fall out of the sport.

He’d get his fix once a month by making a trek to Cleveland, but when he was 14 or 15 years old, which is a good time to start a career in the sport, he said he started to put more of a focus into other things. Playing baseball, working with his dad and other activities took up a majority of his time and his bike fell to the side.

“I kind of just fell out of it and didn’t really think about it until I graduated (high school),” Bruce said.

When Bruce got to Youngstown State though, BMX started to come back into the picture.

“I scheduled my classes so I could go riding afterwards and have more time on my bike, and that kind of flipped it all around,” Bruce said. “I started riding more and kind of had this extra spark and couldn’t picture myself without riding.”

Riding sessions after classes turned into winning amateur competitions, which allowed Bruce to compete in professional competitions. Soon enough, he was traveling for events more than he was in the classroom, and he started to see his future come together.

“That was the first time, around age 21, where I was like, ‘Wow, I could actually do this as a professional,'” Bruce, who is now 29, said. “Then I just kind of pursued it ever since.”

Before qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics, Bruce competed in the 2017 X Games and placed fourth in the BMX dirt event. He returned again in 2019 after missing the 2018 competition with an injury. He’s also competed at the World Championships, earning a bronze medal in 2019 and a fifth-place finish this past year, which solidified his spot on the Olympic team.

“At that point, I wasn’t qualified (for the Olympics). I was qualified as an alternate, but I wasn’t for sure in, so I was extremely bummed,” Bruce said. “Then an event popped up after the pandemic, or during the pandemic, and this opportunity arose to solidify my spot. I didn’t slack off. I didn’t stop training during the pandemic, and I knew I was fully ready for it.

“It didn’t go exactly according to plan, I wanted to do better but I did exactly what I needed to do in order to qualify for the Olympics.”

It was the conclusion of a four-year wait where Bruce had to stay at the top of his game while placing the best he could in each competition. He also had to find a way to stay in competitive shape during the coronavirus pandemic.

It wasn’t easy, but Bruce found a way to do it. Just before the pandemic hit, Bruce finished building his own indoor park, which allows him to train whenever he wants.

“I think it’s making the biggest difference, just confidence-wise on my bike and feeling like a strong rider and competitor,” Bruce said. “I know I’m ready. I know I would’ve made it work without it, if I didn’t have it. But the fact that I did have it and I’ve utilized it to the max this last year and a half, I know it’s helped my riding so much.”

Now, heading into the biggest competition of his life, Bruce is feeling like he’s at the top of his game.

“I feel the strongest I’ve ever felt, like confidence-wise and trick-wise,” Bruce said. “I feel really good, I’m in a good place and I feel more relieved than anything that the qualification process is over. Now, I can just enjoy it more. That’s all I’m really looking forward to.”

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