Steve Boardman’s mom was a nurse in an operating room in San Jose, Calif. She had one rule for her children, based on the injuries she saw day after day: no motorcycles. Of course, by the time Boardman was in high school and a friend told him about a dirt bike he’d recently acquired, Boardman was out there messing around. He loved it.
Boardman soon met a guy named Denny who told him about dirt bike racing. Boardman was only familiar with track-based racing, and it didn’t really interest him. But Denny told Boardman about a different kind of race called an “Enduro,” 100-mile races through the country that can last six or seven hours. That appealed to Boardman.
Boardman showed up at his first Enduro race in the early ’90s; it was called a “family” Enduro, and indeed some youngsters were participating. Boardman and a friend hopped on the trail and sped ahead as fast as they could. At about the halfway point, they came upon race organizers setting up a refueling station. “You guys are an hour early,” said the organizers.
At that point Boardman realized Enduros weren’t quite like other races. The point wasn’t to go as fast as possible. Enduros were more about precision and control than about sheer speed; in fact, for each leg of the race, the goal was to arrive at a certain time–not as quickly as possible. In fact, to arrive early was to be penalized. Boardman thought he was winning the race; in fact, he was losing it.
“We were like, ‘Ohhhhh…’” he recalls. He realized he had some learning to do. As he progressed through the sport, he learned the logic of “time trials” like this. Sections of a race were high-speed and extremely demanding. Then there were other legs of the race that were more about recharging, simply getting from one trial to the next. “There’s a psychological rest between tests,” he says. “Nobody could sprint as fast as they can under these conditions for six or seven hours.”
Boardman and his friend showed up at the next race on the calendar. This turned out to be the National Enduro. Boardman had gone from Little League straight to the pros. “We did well, but we were like, ‘Okay, there has to be something in the middle.’”
Indeed there was. Boardman spent the next few years going to Enduros of all kinds. He rose from C-class to B-class, and then to A-class, which is the class before the pros. To enter A-class was a “rude awakening,” he says. To be competitive in A-class, it wasn’t enough to just ride on the weekends. You had to be doing cardio and weight training on a regimented schedule through the week.
If you think the engine does all the work in a motorcycle race, think again, explains Boardman. “It’s probably one of the most difficult full-body workouts of anything I’ve ever done,” he says. “I grew up playing soccer, football, baseball, and basketball. I’ve competitively snow-skied and water-skied. I’ve done a lot of different sports at the competitive level, and nothing comes close to dirt-biking in terms of physical demands.” You’re standing on foot pegs for six or seven hours at a stretch, navigating a 220-pound motorcyle through tight trails and rugged terrain. “It takes a tremendous amount of endurance,” he says.
Through the ’90s, Boardman went on to have success even in A-class, finishing often in the top 20 and garnering a few trophies. Then he took a break from competitive riding while career and family life became especially demanding for a few years. But by his oldest son’s fifth birthday, he put little Ryan on a Honda 70. Two years later, seven-year-old Ryan was competing at family Enduros–and winning them in his class. Both Ryan and his little brother Kyle have stuck with the sport over the years, earning countless trophies. (Kyle did his first Enduro at five.) Both have multiple state champion titles.
“This is a family sport that we take very seriously,” says Boardman. “It is very time-consuming, it is very expensive, and it takes a lot of practice and training.” (Boardman eventually won even his mother’s blessing for his hobby, convincing her that it was motorcycling on roads rather than off them that posed the real threat: “I always said to her, the rocks and trees don’t move. If I hit ‘em, it’s my own fault.”)
Not only is dirt-biking fun and demanding, says Boardman; it’s also helped him advance his career. (Boardman now works as VP of sales for Convergent Dental; before that, he spent a decade rising the ranks of sales at Invisalign.) He finds dirt-biking has helped him in two crucial ways.
The first has to do with focus. “I see people that get easily distracted,” he says. But if you’ve trained to do a seven-hour motorcycle race, you can “completely focus,” he says. “You’re flying through the forest, the terrain changes, there’s a rock here, a rut there, a tree there, and every limb is doing something–you’ve got the gas and break in your right hand, the clutch in the left hand, the rear brake on the right foot, the transmission on the left foot. You’re constantly working all four limbs, while reading the terrain,” he says. “I definitely saw that as I got better at racing motorcycles, my ability to focus on the task at hand increased–whether it was working on a project or being an executive in a board meeting or reading a book.”
The second has to do with release. “When you work at the executive level of a startup company, you work 14 to 16 hours a day,” he says. He’s constantly traveling, doing trade shows, training sales reps. “It’s a lot of work, it’s very exhausting, and it’s always on. I don’t think that’s sustainable for anybody unless there’s some sort of release.”
Others might like to crack a beer and watch a football game, he says. “I’m the kind of guy that wants to get out in the mountains. That’s my peace and my therapy,” he says. “It really gives me an emotional recharge as well as a physical recharge. When I’m racing, I can’t think about work, the next meeting or business trip. I can’t think about anything other than what I’m currently doing at that time. I need that on the weekends to help recharge me and get me ready for Monday morning.”
In the end, muses Boardman, he lives his life like an Enduro–with bursts of fervent and productive energy, spaced out with intervals for psychological recovery. It just happens to be that he achieves that recovery by racing Enduros.