Swiss BMX rider who beat anxiety eyes second Olympic medal

Olympic bronze medalist in BMX in Tokyo, Swiss athlete Nikita Ducarroz performs some tricks after an interview with Reuters ahead of Paris 2024 Olympic Games in Geneva, Switzerland, May 22, 2024. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

GENEVA (Reuters) - Once a teenager stricken with debilitating panic attacks that confined her to her home, BMX freestyle rider Nikita Ducarroz is aiming for her second Olympic medal at the Paris Games while advocating for mental health in sports.

The 27-year-old, who won bronze for Switzerland in BMX freestyle at the Tokyo Olympics, credits the sport for helping her prevail over anxiety and saving her life.

When she was 14, the Swiss-American Ducarroz would spend hours on the computer, unable to leave her home because of severe anxiety. That is when she became fascinated with YouTube videos of BMX riders performing gravity-defying stunts.

She first tried to emulate what she had seen in the videos in front of her childhood home in California, a small step that eventually gave her the confidence to go a little further.

"After that, I didn't want to stop. I wanted to go to the skatepark that was further away," Ducarroz told Reuters at the Plainpalais Skatepark in Geneva. "That's how I finally got out of the house.

"Without BMX, I think I would still be stuck at home."

Ducarroz, ranked fifth in the world, still has a qualifying event next month in Budapest for the Games but is also relying on strong performances at previous world championships to earn a berth for Paris.

"I'd like to win another medal," she said. "But it will be more difficult this time around because the skill level has increased."

BMX freestyle will be making its second appearance at the Olympics, and has gained popularity since debuting in Tokyo.

"There are 17- and 18-year-old girls who are really strong," Ducarroz said. "A lot of girls are getting into the sport and it's really cool to see."

On the sidelines of her Olympic preparations, Ducarroz shares her story to show that those struggling with their mental health are not alone.

She is one of the founders of MindTricks, an Instagram page that serves as a space where athletes can share their experiences about how they manage their mental well-being.

Its goal, she said, was to normalise conversations around mental health within the sports community.

"We have to view mental health the same way we see physical health," said Ducarroz, who works with a sports psychologist.

"We work in the gym, we get stronger. That's normal. I think it's important that working on the mental side becomes normal too."

(Reporting by Denis Balibouse, Cécile Mantovani and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Alison Williams)

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