Think back to when you were twelve years old, and try to remember what your favorite playground looked like. Maybe you traipsed across wobbly wooden bridges and an infinite plastic paradise, towering over bark-dust moats like a king. Maybe you hiked through forests of lush evergreens, thick underbrush, and graceful streams. Or maybe you found your Shangri-La in a flat, barren parking lot.

An unlikely place for playtime? Not for professional BMX rider Terry Adams, who recently visited CMC for a demo as part of his southern California college tour.

As a twelve-year-old living in Hammond, Louisiana, Adams found his passion for the sport of flatland BMX. While some kids were still fighting an endless battle with their training wheels (Hey, I got a late start), Adams was riding his bike upside-down on one wheel. Literally. And that is how flatland is done.

So what exactly is flatland? Essentially, it is an offshoot genre of freestyle BMX (Bicycle Motocross), where riders perform tricks using only a flat surface, such as a parking lot or basketball court. Flatland bikes are typically more compact than traditional BMX bikes and use four pegs extending from the end of each wheel axle that the rider can stand on to manipulate the bike into more unique positions. For Adams, this creative aspect was what got him hooked on flatland. He said, “Flatland is more about the art of BMX. It is an infinite art form. It looked impossible and didn’t look real, but that’s what drew me to it.”

Adams started riding young, and at the age of fifteen he began entering contests as a professional rider. Since then, he has put an incredible number of hours into honing his skills. As a result of his dedication, Adams has landed multiple endorsements, which are essential marketing tools for any rising athlete, especially in the action sports scene. While some professional sports bestow lifelong fortunes on their athletes, many action sports (BMX included) pay very little up front and are largely dependent on the individual rider’s success. Adams emphasized the importance of earning income outside of competitions, pointing out that “most riders don’t make a lot of money off races or competitions. A ton of riders make their livings from shows, whereas some riders, like myself, make money from endorsements.” He is currently sponsored by Odyssey BMX Components, Flatware, Red Bull, Freegun Underwear, and Raising Caine’s Chicken Fingers.

As many CMC students have learned to some extent, self-advocacy and self-promotion are much needed qualities today. Whether navigating a college admissions process saturated with talented students or appealing to potential employers in today’s job market, being able to market yourself can go miles in helping you achieve your academic, athletic, career, or personal goals.

Adams had a great perspective on the advantage of the endorsements he has received. “It’s helped me learn how to market myself and keep these companies stoked to help me follow my dreams,” he said. For him, keeping sponsors happy means maintaining a constant presence on social media, interacting with students and fans while on tour, and producing raw, uncut video of his performances when promoting himself and his brands. Adams’ hard work has garnered much respect not only among sponsors but among his peers, landing him the coveted NORA (Number One Rider Award) Cup in 2005 and 2008. The cup is voted on by other professional riders. Additionally, he has placed first in over twenty flatland contests.

When I asked Adams what his advice for other riders would be, he said, “If it’s something they want to make a living from, there’s a way to make money from it. It’s more about taking it seriously. You have to get out there and work for it. If you want to do it, there’s a way to promote yourself. If you want it, push for it, and it’s going to happen sooner or later.” Though his advice may be aimed at BMX riders, his story should resonate with us, as well, as individuals who must learn these skills as we continue to market ourselves throughout our lives.