In August, Connor Fields, a Lee Business School student, made history at the 2016 Summer Olympics by winning the United States’ first gold medal in BMX. But the road to Rio de Janiero had some bumps.
Disappointed by a seventh place finish in the 2012 Games, Fields spent the last four years focused on training and competing and was the top-ranked U.S. rider both nationally and internationally just months out from the Olympics. Then, in March, he was sidelined by injury and his second shot at the podium became uncertain.
Luckily, Fields only had to deal with the physical pain of the injury and the healing process and not with the emotional pain of not being able to compete. He returned to his bike and the U.S. team in June — just two months before the Games.
A champion athlete who spends five to six hours per day training, he is also a student training at Lee Business School for future business endeavors and enjoys the intersection of his BMX career and classroom studies.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Texas but I moved to Las Vegas when I was four. Pretty much all that I remember is being from here. I went to Green Valley High School.
How long have you been involved in BMX?
I started in BMX when I was seven years old, but I got serious around the age of 12 or 13. My mom found a flyer at a bike shop advertising one of the local tracks, so I tried it and it was a lot of fun. One of the things I like about BMX is that it’s an individual sport. I was always really competitive as a kid and I would get mad at the kids on my teams because they wouldn’t be playing as hard as me. So, I enjoy that it’s up to me and it’s fun.
Tell me about your road to the Olympics.
I also competed in London in 2012. I was actually the one seed in the finals and I was expected to medal or win, but I had a bad event and placed seventh. That was hard. It took a long time to get over that.
In March, as I was competing for and preparing for Rio, I broke my wrist and had to have emergency surgery. It was a crazy four months of not knowing if I was going to be chosen or healthy enough to be able to compete form-wise. Ultimately, I qualified to make the team by discretionary nomination based on my previous results over the last four years and I ended up at the Olympics with only two months of training camp before.
What’s next for you?
I still train and plan on competing in the games in 2017. I’ll only be 27 years old, so I have a good chance. Late 20s is when it starts to go downhill — not so much because of the physical side of BMX, but typically near that time there are other priorities to consider.
What are you studying at UNLV?
I haven’t declared a major yet as I’m deciding between a marketing and a business administration degree. I’ll probably also get a minor. Right now I have 57 credits, so essentially I’m a junior. I started school in the spring of 2013. My plan is to compete for at least four more years, so for me, taking two to three classes per semester is fine.
How do you balance that training and going to school?
I actually enjoy it!
I typically train about five days a week and those days can be anywhere from three to six hours depending on if it’s one session or two sessions. As an athlete, it’s a 24 hour-a-day job. When you’re not training there’s things you have to do to your body whether it’s stretching, seeing a chiropractor, getting a massage, and even resting.
Going to school is a nice change of pace. My life is approximately 90 percent about BMX — so when I go to class I’m doing something else with my brain. It gives me a chance to think about something different, learn something, and meet new people. I don’t love studying — I don’t think anybody’s going to be excited about that — but I think it’s important to have balance in your life and also to not put all your eggs in one basket. You never know where life is going to take you, so it’s good to plan ahead.
Any skills from BMX help you in your academic career or vice versa?
Tons! As an athlete, you are a business person. You have to create a brand and image, and market and manage yourself. I’ve incorporated myself, so I have to deal with contracts and negotiations, pay taxes, etc. It’s interesting to learn things in accounting, finance, and my other business classes and see the crossover into real-world experiences and apply what I’ve learned. For example, I’m in microeconomics and we’re talking about mortgage rates. I bought a house and it’s great to understand the concept.
Lastly, any advice for our newer students?
Don’t worry if it’s hard or if it’s stressful, or if you think you have to finish in four years. If you just keep punching at it — that’s the most important thing.