Jolene Van Vugt
ARC Entertainment


Of all the options available to her while growing up in London, Ontario, motocross trailblazer Jolene Van Vugt didn’t just choose the road less traveled – she headed full-bore into uncharted territory.

The 32-year-old, holder of several world records and the first Canadian Motorsport Racing Club women’s national motocross champion, is on the phone from Prague, where she is preparing for yet another stop in the risky, flashy and over-the-top daredevil extravaganza known as Nitro Circus.

Vetted and assisted at times by Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O and the whole Jackass crew, Nitro Circus is a collective of vehicular athletes who have done the impossible on television, thrill massive arena crowds to stunts from Las Vegas to the rest of the world, and have hit the big screen. Their 3D film Nitro Circus: The Movie did a flash run through world theatres earlier this year, and now the perilous building-jumping, car-flipping, motocross and BMX jumps are pulling it all out on home video.

Nitro Circus: The Movie includes a few gory extras – injuries recalled in, fortunately, good spirit and good fun – and includes Van Vugt zooming her way through a full loop… on a tricycle. The near decade-long thrill ride is the brainchild of 10-time X Games gold medalist Travis Pastrana, the motorcross, supercross and rally-car champ who brought Van Vugt in as one of his specialists, early on helping her to become the first woman to backflip a full-sized dirtbike from ramp to ramp in 2010.

Van Vugt took a little time before heading out to her show in the Czech Republic to talk with MSN about her career, and about Nitro Circus: The Movie’s release on home video.

MSN: Are there countries around the world where Nitro Circus gets a more frenzied response than others? It was something to link off your website and see throngs of people in Perth, Australia, not just coming out to shows, but cramming rooms at personal appearances.

Van Vugt:
Definitely. I mean, we’ve got a great reception here in Europe. It’s been awesome in New Zealand and Australia, as you saw in the videos. We get massive, massive people there. It tends to do better in these countries than sort of back home.

MSN: How did you end up in the Nitro Circus crew?

Van Vugt:
It was through motocross. I met Travis when we were teenagers racing down in the U.S., and then sort of into our twenties and kind of hooked up again. He was having some people over to kind of hang out and have fun at his house, and I was just with a group of friends and we stopped by. At the time, he was trying to teach a girl how to do a backflip. He had tried with a couple of girls, and they hadn’t quite been able to get it on the full-sized motorcycle. And then I thought I’d give it a try. I didn’t know if I would be successful at it or not, but I definitely decided I wanted to see if I could. I was able to do it, and he taught me in a couple of days to flip. And, in that process, he saw how durable and committed I was, and it snowballed from there. He started inviting me out to more and more shoots and more and more things, and that’s sort of how I got introduced into the Nitro Circus.

MSN: Do all the stunts in Nitro Circus come from Travis, or is it a case of everyone in the crew contributing?

Van Vugt:
It’s a massive group contribution. Everybody comes up with different ideas. Sometimes, that idea sticks as is. Other times, it snowballs from there into other things. People hear a concept and then they add to it or they take away from it, and that’s how a lot of the concepts come into play. They come from every crew member. A lot of the time, our rule is: If you come up with a stunt, you have to be willing to step up to it first. That’s what keeps the stunts in check. You can’t just throw out a crazy idea and then expect somebody else to hook themselves.

MSN: Even with all the experience in the crew, fear never seems to go away. The look in the film of each person just before basically bodysurfing off a giant ramp and into the lake at one point shows how scary it can be when the moment of truth comes.

Van Vugt:
The slingshotting off the ramp? There’s definitely always a respect for what we’re doing, and I think that’s sort of the different looks you see on people’s faces. Each person has their own feeling of fear and how they respond to it and what level it kicks in for them. But we all have a massive understanding of what we do and a respect for what we do, and we keep that all in reality.

MSN: Is there always some sense of fear before you head into a stunt?

Van Vugt:
You know that scene where we all respond and in my real go – you know, when I get nervous, I get quiet – and like I say in my clip “I feel like I’m going to throw up. So, I feel like I’m going to go.” Generally, that’s sort of how I feel any time I get pretty nervous for a stunt where we don’t know what the results are going to be. That had never been done before, so we didn’t know if I was going in too fast; we didn’t know if I was going to spit out the side. I was already injured. I had just come off a full shoulder reconstruction, so going into the movie for me was frustrating. So, I was like “Man, I hope I don’t break my shoulder again after just having surgery four weeks ago.” Those are all natural responses that you’re seeing. That’s just kind of how Nitro does it.

MSN: Right after you go through the ramp, wheelchair athlete Aaron Fotheringham gives it a run on his wheels. All I could think was: These are two completely different vehicles, completely different animals, attempting to do the same thing.

Van Vugt:
You’ll see in the movie: Aaron asks me for any type of advice, and I say “I can’t give you any advice! I’m on a tricycle! You’re in a wheelchair! I have absolutely no idea what your vehicle is going to do!”

MSN: You call Aaron a unicorn in that scene. There’s no one like him.

Van Vugt:
Yeah, he’s a unicorn. I call him a unicorn. And Tommy [Passemante, also known as Street Bike Tommy] says “Yeah, he’s special because he’s been spotted.”

MSN: In one of the car flips in the film, driver Jim DeChamp gets knocked out and has to be cut out of the car to get him to hospital. Is he doing all right now?
 

Van Vugt: It’s been a year and a half since Jim’s injury. He’s doing well. It was a pretty hard hit and a pretty hard injury. And he has worked hard to come back from it.

MSN: All the sports you come from and the work Nitro Circus does relies heavily on sponsors to keep going. Has there ever come a point where a sponsor felt uneasy about a stunt and wanted to back away?
 

Van Vugt: Not in my experience. I’ve never had a sponsor respond that way. All of my sponsors have always been very supportive of everything that we go out there and do. I mean, everything that we do is very unique. A lot of the time, we’re blazing trails with stuff that’s never been done before. Sponsors are very proud when we achieve the unattainable.

MSN: Your father got you your first motocross bike when you were 11, and later on urged you to make a commitment. How do your parents feel about the way everything has turned out?
 

Van Vugt: My parents are very proud of me. They’re just glad that I decided to follow my dreams and do something I really love. My Dad absolutely loves motorcycles and is impressed with them, so the fact that his daughter has been able to make a living of it – he could not be more proud.

MSN: I see in your biography that this year you set a Guinness record for fastest land speed on a motorized toilet. Was that an actual record that had to be broken, or did you basically invent the category?
 

Van Vugt: I actually broke a record. There was already a standing record from Guinness. We went in and we broke it in Australia at the beginning of the year this year. It was a promo stunt for our live tour.

MSN: The work you put in to establishing the Canadian Women’s National Championships for motocross: Has it meant that more women are getting into the sport?

Van Vugt:
Every year, yeah, I think our sport definitely grows – some years a little bit more than others. With the introduction of that series, there definitely more women that were able to get into it because there was a reason for sponsors to sponsor them. That was one of the main reasons and my main drive for creating such a series. I was going down to the U.S. and spending a lot of money, and nobody was willing to support me because I wasn’t giving them exposure, obviously, in their own country. That series gave all these women the opportunity to have sponsors support them and get proper exposure for the sponsors.