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After watching the very first X Games in 1995, Austin Coleman had dreams of making it there. This past summer he was there competing, soaring above a ramp inside the Nokia Center. Photo by Jason Lewis
Coleman was one of the few black kids riding around on a skateboard in Orange County when he was growing up, but he learned while growing up near Rodeo and Crenshaw. Photo by Jason Lewis
Austin Coleman is living the life. As a kid he had dreams of being a BMX rider, and he has achieved his goal of competing at the X Games. After his career is over he will use his degree from USC to be a real estate developer. Yeah, that is living the life.
Coleman knew what he wanted to do since he was a child, so he set himself up on the right path many years ago.
"As a kid I was always really active,” Coleman said. “I played every sport you could imagine, but I have been very self motivated. I have always enjoyed being active, but I didn't really care to show up at practice time everyday. So I kind of gravitated to more individual sports. I first got into skateboarding. It was something that you could go out there and be creative, and be on your own. You can work on your own schedule, so that was always appealing to me."
Coleman spent a good portion of his childhood in Orange County, where he switched from skateboarding to BMX biking. He was one of the few black kids with a skateboard or bike performing tricks.
"At the time skateboarding wasn't something that a lot of ethnic people did,” Coleman said. “It was at that time still considered a very suburban thing to do. But after I moved to Orange County, of course I brought my skateboard with me, and everybody thought that I learned out in Orange County. But really that's not the case. I started skating in South Central LA. Looking at skateboarding now, it is very hip hop oriented, very lifestyle oriented, very inner city oriented, but at the time people thought that it was weird to see a black kid with a skateboard."
Coleman learned how to skateboard around the area of Rodeo and Crenshaw, where he spent his early childhood. He would ride to the local Thrifty store, practicing new tricks, to get an ice cream cone. He remembers when the store was burned down in the 1992 riots.
After seeing the X Games in 1995, Coleman went to a BMX bike show at the Los Angeles Convention Center and he knew that was the sport that he wanted to participate in.
After switching to BMX bikes while in high school, he was always looking to push the limits.
"Just like every other kid I got on my bike, jumping off of curves,” Coleman said. “Then the curve turned into two stairs. Two stairs turned into four stairs. And progressing from there, there is no secret or formula. Every BMX pro started out the same way. Just as a kid peddling around his neighborhood, jumping off of everything in his path.
"It's that don't quit attitude. You may have never done backflips off of a bike, but I guarantee you that when you were a kid you peddled to see how fast you could go, or you raced your friends. Or you learned to take your hands off and peddle with no hands. It's that same feeling, that you just try something that you never tried before. After you took those hands off, then you try it with no feet! Then you try to see if you can go backwards. I liked the feeling that it gave me, so I never quit."
As important as BMX biking was to Coleman, so was his schoolwork.
"I always had an interest in academics. I was a self-motivator, so I always really wanted to do well in school because I enjoyed it. I wasn't only out there doing tricks on my bike, I was also getting straight A's in school. There are not very many guys that you see at the X Games in competition that have a four-year degree. Most of them jump right out of high school, because you're at the height of your talent, and if they have the opportunity at a pro career, most people grasp it. But for me it was just as important to do well in school as it was to ride my bike well."
Coleman majored in Public Policy, Planning and Development, which centered on community and real estate. His mother was a real estate broker in Los Angeles for several years, so he was interested in the field from an early age. Since graduating from USC he has worked on a few real estate projects.
"You can't ride bikes forever, so development is in my future," Coleman said.
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