30-year-old Matt Gillespie has been in love with BMXing since the age of 9. So obsessed was he with becoming the best rider in Ireland, that he credits the sport with helping him keep out of a trouble in his teens, when he could easily have gone down the wrong path. “Whenever we were hanging out and doing things that maybe we shouldn’t I was the entertainment. I was so obsessed with perfecting my latest trick, it kept me away from some of the things my friends were doing that could have gotten me into trouble.”
Matt was convinced he could make a career from the sport he loves and saw it as his only option after failing to achieve the necessary grades required to go on to university. However, his parents had other ideas and by his twenties he found himself working as engineer, successfully paying the bills but with little to no job satisfaction. Having co-founded a charity that secured Belfast’s first permanent skate park in 2005, he spent his spare time developing ways to not only perform urban sports but also to use them as tool to engage young people.
After 3 years of juggling both, Matt decided to take the plunge, quit his job and decided to pursue action sports full-time, with the thought constantly at the back of his mind that he had to make this work, to prove to his dad that he could! A couple of ventures (and an appearance in a Rihanna video) followed that started successfully but, due to factors such as management disagreements, he was forced to walk away from – once leaving behind 50% ownership of a company.
Realising he needed outside support Matt decided he needed a mentor and after a bit of research came across The Prince’s Trust Enterprise programme online. “I knew I wanted a mentor, but I had no idea everything else I would get from being involved in the Enterprise scheme,” explains Matt. “I had never written a business plan and had no idea where to start. I was also pleasantly surprised when they told me about the low cost loan, as it allowed me to secure funds to pay for the necessary bikes and safety equipment I really needed.”
This was in 2015 and since then Matt hasn’t looked back. Thunder Action Sports are a leading provider of adrenaline fuelled action sports, urban sport displays and experiences, whilst the Urban Excel arm of the company allows Matt to use BMXing and more to engage young people in programmes that then go on to work on issues such as confidence building and reducing anti-social behaviour. “I’ll always enjoy being on my BMX, but being the person who can help show young people that they can do things that they think they can’t gives me a whole new level of fulfilment.”
“My mentor is the best guy ever! His advice and guidance has helped me so many times and without him I wouldn’t be where I am now – Taking Urban Sports to exciting new heights with plenty of big milestones in the near future. I’ve also just won a contract to deliver the Trust’s Get Into programme in Ireland and can’t wait to help give back to other young people, some of what I have learnt along the way.”