For as long as he can remember, Josh Perry has lived off adrenaline. “I started riding a bike when I was 3,” he tells PEOPLE. “When I was 13, I went to ramp parks. I got my first BMX bike, and I loved it.”
He loved it so much that he decided to turn BMX riding into a career. Going Pro at 16, he entered his first contest. At 20 years old, he won his first event in Joplin, Missouri. His prize: a Harley Davidson.
That same year, he competed in his first X Games, the annual national event that focuses on extreme sports and airs on ESPN.
Things were going well. “I was looking to progress in my career,” he says. “I got a good start and was excited to travel, compete and make videos.
A Frightening Diagnosis
But his plans came to a screeching halt in March of 2010. After a fall while training, he had to get an MRI. When the doctor came back into the room, Perry sensed that something was wrong. “There was a weird energy in the room,” he says. “The doctor came out and said that I had a brain tumor on my left side. He said, ‘If it doesn’t get taken out, you will die.’ ”
In retrospect, Perry knew that something had been wrong. “I was getting the headaches in mid-2009,” he remembers. “And then I had some blurry vision.”
Still, the news was devastating. “My first thought was, ‘I can’t ride anymore.’ But then, I had to focus on preserving my life.”
Perry had an operation at Duke University in April 2010. “It was supposed to be a five-hour surgery, but it took longer,” he says, but the surgery was successful.”
Almost immediately, he noticed an improvement. “I wasn’t getting any more headaches. My vision was back to normal. I wanted to ride again.”
A Discouraging Recurrence
With the surgery behind him, Perry began to practice. Within three months, he was back to his old tricks – but the surgery had taken a considerable psychological toll. “That took two years to get my confidence back,” he says.
And then, tragedy struck again. In 2012, he was doing some BMX demos in India. “My mom messaged me, saying we needed to talk about a recent scan I had done. I knew instantly that something was wrong.”
Sure enough, Perry learned that there were two more blueberry-sized tumors in his brain – one in the right side, and the other in the rear. “They were near arteries,” he says. “Traditional surgery wouldn’t work.”
Instead, Perry had Gamma Knife treatment, a new procedure that bombards the tumors with radiation. Again, it was successful: the tumors have shrunk considerably and continue to get smaller.
A New Motivation
While Perry’s life still includes regular brain scans – his next one is in November – he has resumed his career. “I’m ready to keep riding and competing, making videos and succeeding in the BMX world,” he says.
My message is bigger than that,” he continues. “I became a science nerd when it comes to nutrition. People are torturing themselves by eating processed foods. Fast food isn’t really food at all.”
“I don’t know what caused my tumors,” he says. “Could it be from living near power lines? Or what I ate? Or head trauma? I don’t know. But what I do know is that people are killing themselves if they live miserable lives when they have the ability to change it. That includes how they eat, and how they live.”
“If there’s a message I’ve got, it’s that you can’t live in fear or dread. No one knows how long they have. So everyone, including myself, needs to try to live a happy, healthy life. We’ve only got one.”