Ryan Sheckler reflects on skateboard injuries and alcohol addiction: ‘My body wasn't prepared to deal with the trauma’

(Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Getty Images)
(Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Getty Images)
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It Figures is Yahoo Life's body image series, delving into the journeys of influential and inspiring figures as they explore what body confidence, body neutrality and self-love mean to them.

Ryan Sheckler likes to push his limits, physically and mentally.

That's how he honed the skills and charisma that made him a celebrity in skateboarding at a very young age. He signed his first sponsorship deal with Etnies skate shoe company at just 7 years old, became the youngest X Games gold medalist at 13 and starred in his own MTV reality show by 16.

All are great successes that the now 33-year-old attributes to his "all or nothing" attitude, which motivated him to take risks in the pursuit of reaching new heights as a young athlete. But, he also acknowledges, that mindset contributed to some "gnarly" setbacks.

"My body wasn't prepared to deal with the trauma that I was demanding it to go through," he tells Yahoo Life.

The show Life of Ryan portrayed some of the highs and lows of the skater's early career, including the realities of being a teenage heartthrob, dealing with personal relationships, coming to terms with his parents's separation and facing injuries that he feared at the time were career-ending. "When I first started getting injured, I definitely was scared that my sponsors were going to drop me and thinking, oh, it's over," he says.

However, those were ultimately smaller obstacles compared to those that he faced after the show's ending in 2009.

"I had a drinking problem, I had a pretty bad drinking problem," he says. "And that added to my inflammation, that added to injuries taking way longer to heal than they should."

Sheckler's alcohol abuse had a huge impact on his mental health, as he recalls feeling "sluggish" and "depressed" when he was drinking. The experience of "being out of tune" with his body, however, was most detrimental to him as an athlete.

"I was drinking [alcohol] excessively, I was eating tons of fast food, I was not hydrating, I was drinking tons of soda and I was just putting garbage into my body, and then expecting my body to perform at a top level athletic ability," he says. "You can't have both."

He admittedly was "pretty ignorant" to the fact that he wasn't prioritizing his health or that it would have the consequences that it did in the way of physical injuries and mental struggles. But it was difficult to have that kind of forethought in a sport that both encouraged and catered to the rush that he always found himself seeking.

"Am I abusing [my body]?" he thinks aloud while discussing his two decades (and counting) in skateboarding. "Yeah, for sure. But it's like, I like it. I like this feeling, I like the fear, I like the adrenaline."

He also appreciates being present in those feelings, which he couldn't be while drinking.

"I don't think my injuries are just by chance. I think they've always come at a point in my life where maybe I wasn't very present, and I needed to reset," he says.

His biggest reset to date was when he first entered rehab in 2016 to address his problematic alcohol use. He then suffered a devastating injury in 2018 and experienced a relapse in 2020. Both he eventually view as challenges he'd push himself to overcome and look back on as lessons rather than mistakes.

"I've had to experience a lot of pain, I've experienced a lot of love, a lot of success, a lot of failures. Those are all exactly what I needed to have to be right here," he says, referring to his life now that sees him sober, married and raising a daughter who he hopes to pass all of the wisdom that he's gained from his life experiences onto — all while continuing to skateboard. "There's no better feeling in the world than knowing you've conquered something for yourself, you're not doing it for anyone else. And that's just kind of always been my life."

What he knows to be true is that "I'll come back," which is what he's proven with his latest Red Bull TV documentary titled Rolling Away. "I'm always going to come back stronger, and I'm going to come back better."

As for how he feels in his body today, "the simplest answer is in tune," he says.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, contact Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Treatment Referral Helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357).