An interview with BMXlife founder, Joby Suender
Interview by Jeremy Lux, article by Eric Gasa
Joby Suender’s story starts on the dusty slopes and dirt jumps of some trails in the middle of nowhere called Minersville. The name gives the Pennsylvania town’s coal mining roots a dead giveaway, but it was here where once upon a summer in the mid-90s that Suender discovered his love for BMX; a passion that would lead him to start the Philadelphia youth outreach program BMXlife, years later.
Today, BMXlife and Illumine Collect maintain a positive partnership through volunteerism and community advocacy. On the latest episode of the Life in Motion podcast, Jeremy Lux chats with Joby Suender about his upbringing, BMX, and the memories he’s made through his program’s outreach.
“I’m from Pottsville, Pennsylvania originally a coal mining town about two hours north of Philadelphia…” says Suender, “It was awesome to come up at that time back in the late 90s, early 2000s. Dirt riding was much bigger than street riding was back then and kind of how it is today.”
Suender describes spending his days “digging from sunup to sundown.” At 14-15 years-old, Suender was busy building dirt ramps and rubbing elbows with a lot of BMX pros like Chase Hawk, Steve Crandall, Chris Doyle, and John Jennings.
“It was great to see all those dudes from the magazines and videos at such a young age,” Suender says.
“So, you started riding around 14 or something?” asks Lux.
“I think my dad tells me the training wheels came off when I was about three,” he replies.
If there is anything indicative about Suender’s upbringing its that he eats, sleeps, and breaths BMX. He watched interviews of the greats, like Dave Mirra, as a kid. Lux remembers the last time the X-Games were in Philadelphia his dad took him to get an autograph from Mirra.
As he grew older Suender, set his eyes for Philly and the biking scene there. He enrolled at Temple University where he befriended Kevin Vannauker and Matt Miller of the Chocolate Truck BMX Crew where Suender helped film videos. It was here in the northern hoods of Philly that Suender cut his teeth riding street. The experience exposed Suender to the socioeconomic strife in the area; the broken sidewalks, homes and families of Philadelphia.
After graduating from Temple, Suender became more involved in volunteer work and helping his community. He was hired on at the recovery nonprofit, One Day at A time which opened Suender up to many opportunities. Between his childhood experiences riding BMX and seeing life in Philly, the idea of starting a biking program geared towards kids was a natural no brainer for Suender. He named the program BMXlife.
“We’re trying to put families back together,” says Suender.
On socioeconomic issues, Suender is empathetic and keeps his ear to the ground; he puts himself in the shoes of others to truly understand the struggle.
“…it’s the whole circle of things compounding on each other. When you’re living in poverty you don’t get the best chance at a good education. If you don’t get a chance at a good job, you’re not going to have the money to move into a safer community…” explains Suender, “With the program, it helps incentivize growing and making some good moves for yourself.”
Biking may not change the projects of Philly overnight but giving kids a chance to enjoy themselves and find self-worth in their talents may be just the spark to lift them out of a bad situation.
BMXlife’s parent organization, One Day At A Time funds local food banks and addiction rehab centers. He explains how sometimes there isn’t any food in the cupboard or fridge for these kids; sometimes lunch is just a bag of chips and a grape soda. Together, One Day At A Time and BMXlife aim to change this and the community for the better.
Suender shares some of the memories he’s made with the local kids. One boy named Dae Sean discovered his love for biking through BMXlife much like how Suender did back in the trails of Minersville. Dae Sean’s interest led him to Cycles PHL Bike Shop in Philly where he is now happily employed.
“I want to see the kids in these neighborhoods all on BMX bikes and sticking with it,” says Suender.
If it’s anything that BMX has instilled in Suender it is confidence. Each day he’s at BMXlife he’s working to build and bring up the kids of Philadelphia, whether it be through a good meal, a bike, or learning a new trick.
Though the task may seem daunting, he is not one to back down or turn his head away. For Suender, good intentions are one thing, but action is another.
“We’re trying to do whatever we can just to make sure this community and these families are set for success,” he says, “so they can have a fair chance at living a good life.”
For more info on BMXlife check out their website at bmxlife.org or on Instagram. You can also learn more about the One Day At A Time program at odaat-philly.org. To hear the full recording of Joby Suender’s interview with Jeremy Lux be sure to check out the Life in Motion podcast on iTunes.