Victory in his voice: A lesson in fearlessness from racer JD Beach

Motorcycle racer JD Beach shines a light on the psychological, neurological and emotional discipline and preparation that have helped him become a champion.

James Douglas (JD) “Jiggy Dog” Beach personifies what it means to live fearlessly as he faces challenges on and off the racetrack. Charging corners at speeds of up to 140 mph as a top competitor in American Flat Track (AFT) and Moto America Road Racing, Beach, 30, is a confident athlete who has learned to live boldly while combating a profound stuttering challenge.

Try to imagine gutting out a combination of PX 90 ab ripper plyometrics, squats, kenpo, triathlon endurance and core synergistics, engaging every muscle group during a daylong series of heat races and semis in a leather suit and helmet, to qualify for the main event 25-mile contest. According to Beach, “You’re using your whole body, plus your cardio rate is through the roof.”

Despite the intense physical stress, JD has cultivated strategies to focus his mind, which have also allowed him to push past discomfort in public speaking from the pre-race paddock to the winner’s podium, since his earliest days as a youth competitor. JD, who finished the AFT 2021 season in fifth place nationally, has said the need to quiet his mind and intentionally focus to communicate has improved his ability to remain calm and present.

The anxiety of speaking in public is one of the most profound fears that people face. Studies show that for many of us, just thinking about speaking in public can result in panic, elevated heart rate and fear. Remarkably, Beach has learned to harness the emotional intelligence and self-confidence to race at speeds many of us can barely comprehend, and then dare to face a flash of reporters’ questions. He knows there is a chance his mind may race and words won’t flow out smoothly as he audibly struggles, even while accepting a winning trophy in front of a live audience of thousands, with scores more tuned in via live stream across the globe.

According to the American Academy of family physicians, stuttering can stem from a biological and neurological condition that can lead to insecurity, isolation, and challenges with relationships, school and work. For successful professional athletes and celebrities from Bill Walton to Tiger Woods, Wilt Chamberlain to Bo Jackson, winning has meant learning how to leverage personal growth despite speech challenges.

Beach, who was raised in Washington State, began riding at the age of 3, destined to follow in the footsteps of his dad, a racer who fostered JD’s competitive spirit. Cutting his teeth in the grueling sport of motorcycle racing JD didn’t have the experience of playing team sports as a kid, completing traditional school only up through eighth grade, followed by independent studies for a high school graduation certificate.

Guiding young JD toward racing, a sport where he would excel, was a lucky stroke of fate or parental wisdom, as being a solitary competitor suits him well. It was not until he became an adult that JD had ever met anyone else who stuttered. Looking back he said, “for me, racing was something I could do where it didn’t matter. When we’re all on the line ready to go racing, we’re all the same.”

Racing has transformed JD’s vulnerability to a strength, helping him rack up some impressive wins since  2008, when he spent a couple years in European road racing as the first American earning top honors in the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup Championship. On his path to American pro Sport Bike 600 class, and Moto America Road Racing, he has cultivated fans and major sponsorships.

As a member of the Estensen Racing Team, supported by the Yamaha factory, Beach scored his first Grand National American Flat Track win, back to back with his first career Moto America Superbike asphalt victory in 2019. This accomplishment made him the first rider to top the podium during the same season of both disciplines (dirt track and road) since the late Nicky Hayden, champion of World Grand Prix road racing fame and an idol to Beach, did it back in 2002. The legendary Kenny Roberts was the last rider to accomplish that feat on back-to-back weekends, in 1975.

The same practices JD Beach has used to overcome stuttering have helped him as a racer

Experts offer recommendations that people who stutter do better in a low-stress environment, and Beach has found that the reflex to calm the mind to communicate better has actually enhanced his performance in the high-tension, exacting sport of motorcycle racing. In addition to physical training, miles of mountain biking and working with a fitness trainer who has guided him toward a clean diet, the mental fitness he works hard to cultivate in speaking has paid off when he’s piloting an endorphin-raising, monster dirt-racing machine.

As for the circular connection between anxiety and stuttering, Beach told me, “When I’m anxious I stutter, but stuttering can cause anxiety.” Yet in the intense atmosphere of the racetrack, he has cultivated a way to transform vulnerability to strength. Nowhere is his mind-body wisdom perhaps more apparent than JD’s pre-race routine where he makes an effort to quiet his mind and change into his racing leathers alone in his trailer. Like a disciplined yogi, Beach has taught himself to pause in silence and still his mind to create space to focus more consciously. These are transferable skills built on years of internal muscle memory and subconscious body mechanics. “When I am confident in my abilities and speaking better, my life is better. I feel normal. I think I race better.” Let’s say Beach’s split-second ability to observe, judge and calculate the dirt oval track or navigate a high jump “TT” multi-turn circuit course, are a key to victory and transferable life skills.

The pandemic took a bite out of fan interaction with racers and their support crews in the pits and the grandstand. According to JD “when fans came back into the pits and could see us and talk to us, that’s what we worked for. That’s the best part of racing. The fans make this sport,” he said. With increasing coverage of AFT on TV broadcast and live stream media, more people have seen him struggle when reporters’ microphones are thrust into his face as he stands atop the winner’s podium. “There have been many people who have seen me race and contacted me to say thank you. For those dealing with Tourette Syndrome, stammering or stuttering who have seen his competitive, gritty spirit, it has been a welcome revelation when Jiggy takes off his helmet and begins to speak.

Anyone looking for evidence of the benefits of having kids of all abilities play sports can add Beach’s successful career as an example. Sports and cultural icon Bill Walton in the ESPN archive explained that good communication is not a gift, but a skill to be learned. At age 28 he was given advice from Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Glickman that helped him conquer his stuttering challenge with no medication, no gimmicks, no shortcuts, no tricks but just a plan and a vision.

His advice, “Become a teacher – to anyone, anywhere, on any subject – start with young children with a topic that you know. They won’t care about your limitations – all they care about is that you are willing to spend time with them and are trying to give them the gift of knowledge.” As JD looks ahead to what may come after racing, coaching and managing a race team or working as a track commentator might be a direction he would explore. In The Beach Report, JD blogs regularly to give fans a behind-the-scenes look at life as a motorsport athlete.

After finishing just 2.9 seconds behind champion Jared Mees, National #1, at Odessa, Mo 1-70 Half-Mile on April 23, Beach has a solid third place overall standing in the AFT Progressive Supertwins lineup, heading into the Memorial Day weekend Red Mile Doubleheader at Lexington, KY, May 28 and 29.

Letting go of negativity and gaining a new perspective has been the key to JD Beach becoming a fearless racer, carrying on the tradition as a positive ambassador of the sport.

Why We Play features stories about the power of sports to bring us together, overcome obstacles, make positive change and reach everyone. Read more here

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