The Ride : The Incredible Life of John Buultjens
Last month I had the pleasure of interviewing Ali Afshar, producer of the film, The Ride. The movie is based on the incredible life journey of John Buultjens. There is also a book on the topic, Ride: BMX Glory, Against All the Odds by Chris Sweeney and John Buultjen's. It is an honor to have the opportunity to speak with John himself, in more depth. His attitude is empowering.
Sylvia: In the film, The Ride, it shows that you were born into an extremely abusive home, due to your birth father’s alcoholism and violence.
John: Yes. My first childhood memory is of my father throwing me into the fire in our fireplace. I had come up from behind him to hug him. I was happy to see him. He reached back and tossed me into the fire. My mother rushed me to the hospital through rat infested streets. I could smell the burnt flesh on my foot. This was in the ghetto of Glasgow, Scotland. The trash collectors had gone on strike. Trash was everywhere. Rats everywhere. In the movie they changed the location to the United States.
Sylvia: That’s a horrific first memory. Was your relationship with your mother good?
John: Yes. I wanted to protect her. My older brother was more of the protector in the family. But I too tried to take the beatings by my drunk father for her at times. I was being beaten early on and by the time I was 5, I was sexually molested by a friend of my father’s.
As a young kid I would escape the violence by jumping on a train on my own to go begging. I would sleep in dry concrete sewage pipes. All of us tried to stay away as much as possible. The streets felt safer than my home. I was often taken to the doctor, and they had a pile of reports of my injuries, yet never reported them. It was just a way of life in the ghetto. No woman deserves to be beaten. The women especially were beaten a lot there.
The final straw came when I was home, with my mother, father and sister. This was in the early morning of the 24th, Christmas eve, just after midnight, crossing over from the 23rd. My older brother wasn’t there. He was in jail. My parents had an argument and my father started pummeling my mother. He was beating her like a punching bag. I went to attack my father with a knife. In real life, he knocked me out. In the movie, it shows me attacking him. After all that, I still went to school that day. It was half day because of Christmas Eve. But that was when the police and social services showed up. My mother had called the authorities. They picked me up. They took me away and I never went home again. I was 7 years old.
I hated my mother for years. I couldn’t trust women anymore. I felt she betrayed me. I ended up in the foster system. Decades later I thanked my mother, for doing what she did. As I got older, I realized that she felt she had to get everyone safely out of the house before she could leave. She knew she had to give me up to give me a chance at a better life. So, I thanked her for making that sacrifice.
Sylvia: In your birth home, you were raised with racist ideologies and even had a gang member try to tattoo a swastika in your ear. What was your reaction then when you realized that you were being adopted by a mixed-race couple?
John: The first moment I saw my father, I said, “I am not living with that black bastard!” I was 10-years old. My dad is Sri Lankan and a professor of biological sciences—well educated. My mother taught braille and linguistics. Yet, I thought I was better than him because I was white. Now, in every way, my adoptive parents are my real parents.
Sylvia: Your father chose you specifically because he thought he could make a difference your life—a difference in your awareness.
John: Ya. And he is my closest human in my life. They, my parents are my closest. I have not one secret from them.
It didn’t start out that way. I hid stuff at the beginning. They also were never told, when adopting me, just how bad it was, what I went through. The film couldn't even show that because it would have gotten a different rating--a hard R.
The big turn around for becoming honest with my parents came for me when I bought them the black and white bird figurines. I didn’t buy them with money I had won, the way it showed in the film. In real life I bought my parents their gift with money I had stolen from them. I felt guilty, so I bought them something. I was stealing money regularly to help myself fit in with the other kids. I was living in a nice west side neighborhood now. Which was such a sharp contrast to where I had come from. I finally got caught when my girlfriend told on me that I had been stealing.
Sylvia: The biggest life changer of all was when you got into the BMX bikes. Can you share more about that?
John: My parents took me to the movie, E.T. : The Extraterrestrial. When I saw the boy flying in the sky on that bike, I wanted that. It represented freedom to me. I could get to wherever I wanted to go on a bike.
It also gave me an escape from the memories of my past. Riding my bike was my meditation. You need to focus when riding. No other thoughts enter your brain. You just focus on the present. All your focus is on riding.
Sylvia: You had never even ridden a bike before your dad bought you your first bike and you eventually ended up becoming a BMX champion—a BMX star! That’s just incredible!
John: The first time I rode a bike, we tested it on the BMX track, to see if we wanted to purchase it. I was much younger than the actor in the film. I was only 10 years old. I was obsessed with my bike and rode it every day, pushing myself to try new things. In those days you learned the stunts by trial and error (laughing). There were no YouTube videos to watch and get tips from. The movie shows my process of learning going by much faster. In actuality, it took about 8 years, not 8 months to learn all those stunts and get ready for competition. It built my confidence. It was something I excelled at. Now I design the bikes! That's how I met Ali. He bought some of my bikes and we got to talking. I told him my story and he agreed that it would make a good movie.
I always acknowledge my parents, what they have done for me. They say it was all me. I did it. We talk every day. I’m thinking I am going move back for a while though, to spend more time with my parents. They are getting older now
I am like my parents. I am nothing like my biological parents. I have had a rich life, surrounded by amazing people.
I would like to close by saying, that all we have is now. Live in the present! Don’t manifest negativity. Live in the present and appreciate who you have in your life.
Sylvia: Thank you John! Words to live by!
The views and opinions expressed by the interviewees do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Conscious Media Movement.