Catching Up With…Jolene Van Vugt
By Dawn McClintock
You may remember Jolene Van Vugt as the Canadian Women's MX champ who helped raise the profile of women's racing here in Canada. She spent many years doing what she loved most...racing. Back in 2006, she was given the chance of a lifetime when she was invited to come down and hang out with Travis Pastrana and his crew. She ended up cutting her teeth in Pastrana's backyard, doing backflips into a foam pit and the rest, as they say, is history. She has continued to tackle every challenge thrown her way as part of the Nitro Circus crew and her Nitro Girl role has taken her even further afield, all the way to "the land down-under". After a cancelled surgery back in August, Jolene is back on the schedule today, slated to go under the knife as I type this. We spoke with her after her first surgery was postponed to find out about her ever-changing life. All the best with the surgery, Jolene.
You have surgery scheduled for your ankle. What did you do?
When we were filming Season 1 of Nitro Circus TV, we were inside the stadium in Utah. They found this big long escalator for us and I volunteered to ride an Ogio bag down the escalator. It didn’t turn out so well. At the bottom of the escalator, I tweaked my foot somehow that my whole body went right through my entire ankle and I broke my ankle. I took a little bit of time off to let it heal, but unfortunately we had to get ready for second season right away and there wasn’t enough time. I’ve had to deal with it for about a year and a half now. It’s been ice in the morning and ice at night just so I can function. I’ve got a bunch of floating chip bones that lodge themselves into the joint on a regular basis, that’s created bone spurs and my ankle doesn’t have movement and is in pain on a daily basis. It’s also created some arthritis, so it sucks.
Tell us about the Nitro Circus Australian tour and how that all came about?
In the middle of second season, this company in Australia called Global Action Sports approached Jeremy and Greg Godfrey. The owners, Mike and Andy, ran the Crusty Tour for 7 years over in Australia. They saw a big potential with Nitro Circus through our television show and the DVDs. So they approached them to partner up on a Nitro Circus Live Show. We all thought it might be really cool to do one day, but we were focused on the TV show and our next step was always the idea of a movie. So when these people came to Greg and Jeremy and Travis, it suddenly became more of a reality instead of just something we possibly could do. Negotiations started as soon as we finished up Season 2 and we had a few months off.
We were in negotiations for a 3rd season of the television show with MTV. We really wanted to go even bigger with the third season, more stunts, etc so there were a lot of negotiations for that and they were negotiating this live tour. It just basically came down to these live tours finally coming to a reality. The guys were like, “This is going to work. It’s going to be something that will be a lot of fun.” They asked us if we were interested in performing in a live show. We, as Nitro Circus, had never performed live before. When we film it’s just us and maybe a small crowd of people. They really wanted to make sure we were on board.
Sold out show, after sold out show in OZ.
How did you train for the live tour?
We started training for that in December, last year in Pala, California. In February at the motocross track there we had set up a Giganta-ramp, which is our large style ramp for BMX’s, skateboards and our contraptions that came into play obviously for Nitro Circus. We just kept negotiating for the third season but stuff got put on the back burner and we moved forward into the live shows. We trained our butts off and at the end of April, we performed in the five major cities in Australia: Brisbane, Sydney, Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne. We would do 2 to 5 shows a weekend and the largest show was 16,000 people, sold out. The smallest show we did was 9,000 people, sold out. We sold out every single show and in Melbourne we were only actually supposed to perform 2 shows but because it was our final weekend they ended up adding a 3rd show because there was such a high demand for our performances. So that was a very successful show. It was very successful. They were right away into the works to have us do more shows so they have locked in dates next year for New Zealand in February 2011. We’ll go back to Australia to do some regional tours in some of the smaller areas, then after that we are set to go to Europe.
How would you describe the vibe on the road?
There was 38 athletes and 91 of us in total including cast, crew, the people that set up ramps, our pyro, post-production, everybody involved. It was a large group travelling and every single person said it was one of the most amazing experiences of their lives. It was a very unique, very fun, fun group of people to be around. The Crusty Demons tour had gone through Australia and some of the people that we brought onto our tour had toured with Crusty’s before and they said it was just so much more enjoyable than the Crusty’s tour because we are more of a family oriented type of crew. We are very supportive of each other. It’s not competition, it’s not resentment, it’s not trying to be better than everyone else, it’s everybody helping each other out to try and be better. It was really nice to hear people say that Nitro Circus was unique in that way.
Jolene's feature act in the live show.
What can you tell us about the feature film project?
That’s the big news! We are now filming a 3D feature film. We’ve been in Utah filming for the next DVD as well and we’re doing a greatest hits DVD that was released at American Thanksgiving. While we were filming for the DVD they got us all together and said we’re going to do what we’ve always wanted to do which is make a Nitro Circus feature film and we’re going to do it in 3D. It’s exciting but it also works into the schedule of the live tours so it’s going to be an interesting year of very busy schedules. We’re hoping to start filming the movie in January, then we’ll go and do our tour in New Zealand and then we’ll do our tour in Australia. Depending on locations, we’ll shoot in between the live shows and then once we’re done in Australia, we’ll either come back to the U.S., or there are some locations we want to do around the world. We will travel to those places to finish filming the movie before X-Games comes as Travis and I are hoping to do the X-Games again. Then after all that would be the European tour so it’s a lot of stuff to fit into a small amount of time. A year isn’t that long when you have that many things going on, but we’re Nitro Circus, we’re dedicated athletes that always want to give 100% to everything, so we’ll try to make everything work.
So getting the ankle fixed is kind of the priority…
Yes, this is why I was so upset when the surgery got cancelled the first time, because next year there’s no stopping. I don’t want to be in an ice bucket every single day. I did that from January until X-Games was over and I was just like, “Ugh, I don’t want to see a dirt bike for a while. I don’t want to see an ice bucket for a while. I don’t even want to go anywhere near a gym!” Anytime I would work out or get on a dirt bike, my ankle was in so much pain that I had to ice it, I had to take ibuprofen, I have to tape it up every single time I do anything, it has to be secured, I have to wear braces. When we were on tour, they actually crated large buckets of ice for every tour because there were so many of us that were injured all the time, ankles, wrists, everything. Hopefully we can get it all sorted and get the surgery out of the way and get it all healed up properly and then probably work out a few more injuries along the way but at least I won’t have to deal with this one. I’d really like to go back to wearing heels where I don’t have to be in pain or completely drunk to make it work (laughs).
How was your whole X-Games experience? I know last year’s event didn’t quite pan out the way you had wanted.
It’s just such a unique experience. Motocross racing and competing on motorcycles is sort of a chapter that I’m moving past. I did it for 15 years, travelled, had a great time and accomplished all my goals. X Games was the one last thing I wanted to do before saying, “I’ve really moved on” to go fully into Nitro and stunt work. Once Nitro is over you know I really hope to have a future doing regular stunts for movies. I worked really hard last year to qualify. I was at Travis’ training in between filming. They gave Travis and I a little bit of time in between because they knew we needed that time to prepare. Unfortunately, I had a mishap and cased one of the supercross triples. I came up short on it and snapped my wrist on impact and unfortunately had to go into surgery to get that fixed. So I filmed the rest of season 2 with a cast on. Everybody always asked, “Where did you get the cast from?” because they never saw the accident in the show. So I was really bummed, I thought it was my one shot to go to X-Games and I was really heartbroken.
But you got another chance?
This year came along and I was asked if I was interested or able to come back. I was like, “Big fat capital YES!” So I was ecstatic. The only thing was, we were in the middle of these live tours. I knew I had to train ten times harder than I’d trained for anything. As soon as I came home, it was right to the grind. I had just a little over a month to get ready for the supercross race and I had never raced supercross ever. I like jumping; I love the technicality of a supercross track. I think it’s a lot more fun. So I came home, went straight to Travis’ from Australia. Travis built me a supercross track in the back of his yard (laughs). It was in the middle of his forest though. So it was very tight, very technical, very interesting for me to get along there for a while and the first couple weeks getting back into training from a live tour and doing backflips every night on a dirt bike and on a BMX bike to suddenly be back into training mode for the competition of a race.
For most of the athletes on the live tour, the live tour was actually good practice for them. X-Games was coming and a lot of the stuff they were doing could apply to X-Games. For me, it was the opposite. I was really the only person on tour that did not benefit going into X-Games from the live tour. There was no supercross involved in anything I did in the live tour. It was basically a crash course in training for supercross and I put my head down. It was working out every day; riding every day, doing motos; learning the technicalities of supercross. Growing up racing motocross, there are ways you ride a supercross track that I wasn’t familiar with but Travis was helping me. Travis’ trainer, Todd Jacobs was there helping me and Hubert. The three of them together, we did the best we could for me in the time that we had. I ended up making it through the training.
Will we see #63 lined up for next year's X-Games?
What was your goal for X Games?
My big goal was just to get there. With filming the television show and the live tours, I really hadn’t raced in almost 2 years. It’s a whole other ball game when you’re out there. I had not raced against those WMA girls. I’m up against Tara Geiger, Ashley Fiolek, Jessica Patterson, Tatum Sik, Sherri Cruse. These girls race the WMA’s with each other every weekend. They are training every day and I come off an Australian freestyle tour (laughs). I knew I could do it. I was confident in myself and I think it was just pure desire and determination to show people that I came from a motocross background and I wanted to be part of this event and I deserved to be here. I ended up on the gate. They gave us a couple of practices, which started off a little shaky just getting to know the track. It was completely different than what I was training on at Travis’. There were no trees (laughs); there was lots of room; I was like “What’s going on?” I didn’t just smash my elbow on a tree (laughs). I settled in for practice and I felt so good. I had a lot of the rhythm sections. I started getting the big 75-foot triples. They were large and intimidating. The whoops section was gnarly. Travis built me a whoops section and I did a pretty good job at training with it, but this whoop section was just a level above that again. So it was a pretty cool track and once you got your groove it definitely was fun.
Tell us about the race?
The race comes around and the practice was 2 hours before the race. There was no wind, there was perfect lighting and the track was groomed perfectly. I felt like a million bucks. My goal was 5th, 6th or 7th. If I can just be in there and give it my all, I would be happy with that. Getting ready in staging they move us up by a half an hour. They were like, “Okay, we need you guys on the line earlier.” With TV, awesome part of X-Games, that a lot of people aren’t aware about is it sucks for the athlete if it’s filming live. “Okay, we’re ready to go!” “Wait, we need a commercial!” So you stop and wait right there for the next however many minutes. “We know you’re ready and nervous as all hell, but sorry, we need to do a commercial.” You put that on hold for a second. It’s not always fun or the greatest feeling. Then there’s the opposite, which was us. They said, “Here we go, we need you guys on the line, right now. We have 60 seconds before your gate’s going to drop. We need you to go now.” We all rush up onto the line. “Oh, by the way, no hot lap.” We’re all like, “What?” They were like, “Nope, we don’t have time. We can’t give you a sight lap, we can’t let you know what’s going on.” So we’re all on the line, go, go, go. We get out there and it’s just a whole new world. Because of the way the sun had started to go down in the stadium there was huge shadows on all the faces of the jumps, which were all the large 75-foot triples. Then it was starting to get dusty from all the practices, so they had watered it. So water on top of a supercross track equals very icy, slippery conditions that we were all unaware of until we were in the middle of a race. So we get out there and it’s just, “Holy, what just happened here? This is not the same track that we just practiced on.” I was nervous. That gate dropped and I had not been on a gate in a while and I got a bad start, but I thought, “That’s alright, I’ll work my way up.” All of a sudden we are in these conditions where it’s in shadow or it’s dusty or it’s slippery. It was a tough challenging track for everybody. A lot of girls went down and we made our way through it. I was able to make my way through to finish 7th overall. I was pretty happy and had attained one of my goals. I was a little upset because I was riding very timid with all those elements. I did tense up right away. Unfortunately, I did ride the entire race with arm pump because of holding my breath and being so tense. I just wished I could have been a little more aggressive and confident. I had always said that if I get that chance to ride an X-Games, I’ll probably pack it in and not compete again, and was sort of claiming, “Oh, this will be my retirement race.” I got out riding that supercross track and I just really enjoyed it and I think if I had a little more time and a little more training and now I know what to expect. I think I would have trained for things a little differently, knowing what I know now. I was asked if I were invited again next year, would I consider it. Before the race I would have said no, but after the race, I was saying, “If they invite me back, I’m coming back, no question.” My goal now would be to do better than before. I would love to get a 5th or even better. I know more of what to expect from the entire situation. So that was my X-Games experience and I was just honoured to be invited. There are only 10 women in the world that are invited to compete. So on the gate you are sitting against all the best women, you know so it’s an honour to be sitting with those girls.
JVV spotlight in ESPN magazine.
Courtesy of ESPN: The Magazine
Tying in with the X-Games training, we noticed you had a nice little feature there in ESPN magazine. It kind of looked like you had been keeping up with the gym regimen for sure.
I was constantly training with the BMX and then we went to Australia and we were constantly active not to mention the stress. Especially with my dirt bike backflip, for me flipping is still something that is scary. I’m flipping a 200-lb motorcycle upside-down and I’m not the most consistent person as we know from my past. So I still get the jitters and I get that. I think a lot of that stress combined with all my training; I was really able to keep off any extra pounds (laughs). Then with all the traveling we were doing and heading straight from Australia into training for X-Games and then X-Games training was pretty intense. We did that ESPN shoot at the beginning of July and I was pretty much at my peak level of fitness and that’s what you see in the photo. People are like, “Oh my God, you’re like that every day?” and I’m like, “Well for the most part I’m fit, but I don’t look exactly like that every day.” (laughs) In the middle of my race season is when I’m always the most fit so that was definitely featuring what I look like when I’m in my peak training modes. It was a very complimentary photo. It has my Nitro Circus tattoo and that’s sort of my favourite part of my body and I’m sort of most known for having a fairly nice mid-section. I’d like to give a little bit of credit to my genes. I get that from my father. I can relax for a little while and eat doughnuts (laughs) and still manage to have a nice mid-section. I do work really, really hard to get what everyone saw in that photo.
For more details on the ESPN shoot you can see the video here.
You seem to have perfected some BMX skills somewhere along the way. I don’t remember you being a bicycle rider. What’s up with that?
(Laughs) I had just learned the BMX stuff for the tour. Prior to us starting to jump the Giganta-ramp, I had only really ridden a bicycle, I had never jumped a bicycle, I had never flipped a bicycle, I had never done anything like that. They had invited us down to Pala to try out this ramp because we want to try out a million-and-a-half contraptions. We want to try out the tri-cycles, the boogie boards, we were trying couches, we were trying mini Barbie corvettes. We needed to know what would work, what wouldn’t work and what would apply to the show. So we get there and we’re trying everything and we have the pro BMX guys there. A few of us from the crew were there and we were like, “Ok, we’ve got to get on the BMXs too,” and I hadn’t even considered it. I was there for the tri-cycle and some of the contraptions. I thought, maybe I’ll try flipping a bicycle just to see what it’s like. I never thought it would be something for the show I just thought I’d see what happens. I go up there and managed to get it around the second time. When we were first practicing with all the contraptions it was into a foam landing off the ramp, which was nice. So I just started flipping the bicycle and then they eventually moved the foam out and the regular landing comes into play. I was just like, “Ah, you know what, I don’t really need to do that.” It’s not something I was doing in the show anyways. I had the motorcycle backflip and a couple of other stunts they had planned for me and was kind of just doing it to see if I could do it. The other guys were like, “Come on Joe, just do it. You’d be like the first girl in the world to ever do it. There’s a few pro BMX girls around the world that do it but they flip smaller gaps and stuff like that.” You know me, I’m like, “Well I always like to be the first...so” (laughs) I was like, “Yeah, alright, I’ll give it a try.” So I go up and I crash like I do with everything else. For me it’s never a one and I’m done, I mean usually it’s crash and burn a few times but I don’t give up. That’s one of my biggest attributes that Travis admires about me: I never give up and I’m very durable. So I kept going and I crashed a few times but eventually I came around and started landing them. As soon as I started landing them everybody started freaking out that it was the first woman flipping a BMX over a 35-foot gap and the guy in charge that was managing the athletes, Dov, instantly calls Mike over in Australia and says, “Guess what Jolene just did?” Mike goes, “Guess what Jolene’s doing in the tour?” That was it. From that point on it was Jolene flipping the BMX on this ramp as part of the show. So from then on it was just over and over and over again, running to the top of that ramp riding down and flipping. I got to the point where I was just starting to do it so well to being able to adjust in the air and really getting to know what I was doing. Jim finally looks at me and says, “Alright Jolene, that’s enough of doing that. Let’s see some no-handers, let’s see this, let’s see that.” I was just like, “I don’t think so.” I’d never even ridden a bike down a ramp before and now I’m doing this? “Nah, I’ll just stick to trying to perfect this flip, so I know when I get to Australia, that I have all the confidence to know I’m going to land this trick every time. So I went to Woodward to train with the guys just to get better bicycle skills in general because the first time I went down that ramp, I had baby deer legs and almost launched myself off the side of the ramp because when you’re coming down on such a steep ramp and you get to the transition spots, that weight goes through your legs and if you don’t hold a nice tight steady position, you’re just going to buckle and jello all over the place. In those transitions I still wasn’t holding my form properly so Steve McCann and Chad Kagy that are pro BMX’ers that train at Woodward were like, “Come on over to Woodward and we’ll work with you every day and we’ll ride with you and really get you to just pump your transitions.” So I spent quite a bit of time before we went to Australia doing that. Between training for the BMX stuff and training for my motorcycle flip that was sort of my schedule just doing those two things. It was pretty cool to get to Australia and I pretty much had the BMX flip dialed.
Schooling at Woodward.
I’ve seen your wardrobe and I’ve often wondered where your home base is because living out of a suitcase can’t be easy for someone like yourself who…well, doesn’t travel lightly, we’ll say?
(Laughs) For the most part my home base is in the U.S. is Travis’ house. I have my own room there with a closet with quite a few clothes in it that I keep there on a regular basis. If I’m going there to train or you need to stop in because our schedule changes all the time so I do have some some stuff at Trav’s house and a dirt bike and some motocross gear there. But my actual home-home base where my large excessive amount of clothing is housed is my parents’ basement. Which I know they would definitely like that me to remove at some point. (laughs) That’s where it all is down there in my old bedroom from when I was a teen. I take up 5 closets because I took over the room that used to be my brother’s room. (laughs) So I have taken that closet over and pretty much just turned that entire room into a closet. I travel all the time. My closet is my suitcase. I have managed to learn how to travel with just the necessities but still have the staples, you know, make sure you have a set of dress shoes, a heel, a boot, you know all the DC stuff that I wear all the time. I have a few party outfits because you just never know when something’s going to come up. My wardrobe is 100% DC as we know and the awesome part about that is when I do get bored with my clothes and things are getting a little bit stale. I like to switch it up a bit but I’m not always able to come home and change what’s in my suitcase. Sherri at DC is awesome with sending me a new little wardrobe every once and a while. I just pack up the old stuff and ship it on back to Mom (laughs) and I have a whole new suitcase full of clothes that I get to travel with. So that’s the really fun part with DC. They are amazing and they treat me so well.
Watch for JVV63 signature line of DC clothing next year.
I’ve heard you’re doing some pretty cool stuff with DC. Can you talk about it yet?
Yep, one of the cool things I’m doing with DC now actually is designing a clothing line. I just designed some shoes, which I just got some samples of. The shoes won’t go into production until my full line of clothing comes out. I’m the first female athlete at DC to be designing their own signature line and I’m also one of very few athletes in DC in general to be designing their clothing line from beginning to end. I’m having every input into this line. I have picked out every article that is going to be in my line. Every stud, every button, every zipper has been put there because I wanted it there. The logos, we’re designing a logo for me that will be my signature logo. It will represent me, so once we are able to work that in, eventually when you see the logo hopefully I’m just associated with that logo. My racing number will be incorporated into it and that’s all stuff I’ve had first hand design input in. I’ve been on the computer designing it myself. I have an entire book that I’ve sketched everything. I sat down with the designer at DC for a week at the end of August. I went through every single article of clothing that I wanted to be in my line and I told her how I wanted it to look and told her how I wanted it to fit. We’re now into the next stage of getting the designers to create them. So we can sample them and put them on and see how they fit and then go from there and adjust. You know how you have in your head how you want something to fit one way and once a designer cuts the product it doesn’t always fit the way you want it to. We’ll go to the next step of me fitting every sample and seeing if it’s exactly what I wanted and then we’ll go onto the logo placements and the design elements like the graphics that will go on each article.
JVV designed shoes will be in production for 2011.
What’s the overall ‘feel’ of the line?
What I’m really excited about with this line is the fact that it’s going to be something that I can wear during the day like regular DC; have fun with it, casual it down and wear it to the races or wear it to filming for Nitro or on the movie set, but then at night you can put on a pair of heels or put on jewelry and fancy it up. You’re able to wear it out to a party. Stuff you can incorporate with other items to dress it up and wear it on a red carpet. That was my main focus with my line was being able to wear DC all the time. What I found hard with going to a lot of the Hollywood parties or getting to do a red carpet event was I wanted to always be wearing DC, but there wasn’t always the elements in the DC lines that I was able to incorporate to have that nice dress, sexy appeal to it. So I found myself taking DC clothes and kind of cutting them up or putting DC brooches on different things. My idea and my drive behind this line was being able to take these elements in the line and wear them on the red carpet as-is and be like head to toe in DC and I’m on a red carpet. It’s very fun, punk rock, wild child oriented but still with the DC respect behind it. They have a name that they’ve been proud of for many, many years and their stuff does work. So it’s got all of that involved in it. It’s going to be a very exciting line that I think a lot of girls of all ages are going to be excited about. I’m really excited about it because I love clothes (laughs) and I have too many of them and I went to school for design and fashion merchandising. It’s all stuff that ties into everything I’ve been working on and it’s all kind of come full circle. I’ve been able to use everything I’ve gone to school for and even working at Racer X Canada with all those elements. It’s everything that I can now attribute to something that I get to put my name on and I’ll get to wear it every day.
Thanks, I’m so excited about it.
Will your line be available to the Canadian market?
I’m pretty sure. They haven’t exactly told me where it will be released overall, but it will be in PacSun for sure which is a pretty big American store similar to our West49s or Boathouses. So I’m thinking that it will probably be, maybe not the whole but pieces I’m sure will float up into Canada if not the whole line. I mean being a Canadian, that is something I will obviously push them for, you know it’s a big market to have DC here in Canada anyways. That’s definitely something I’ll be advocating for sure. I get to do a lot of promotional for it, photo shoots then obviously I’ll be modeling my own line. It’s just going to be a fun thing. We’re releasing it in the spring next year so it’s something that needs to happen fairly quickly because they do want me to have a spring line so we’re working very quickly with the entire process.
Nitro Circus media blitz for upcoming tour in New Zealand. NC knows no bounds!
Thanks for catching up, Jolene, and all the best.
Great to chat with you. Thanks Dawn.
For all those wanting to leave well wishes for Jolene following her surgery, please leave your note in the comment section below and we will make sure she gets your personal greeting.