Motocross racer Ronnie found revival in the healing waters of floatation therapy.

Now, he’s giving others the chance to reemerge into a better life.

Story Eric Hoppes

Roaring engines, incredible jumps, and a cheering crowd would be typical responses when asking the average person to describe their idea of motocross. While those may be certain highlights of the sport, many fail to realize the athletes are always taking a risk—even when everything goes according to plan. Aside from the obvious trauma at stake, a rider’s heart rate can approach 190 beats per minute and sustain that rigorous rhythm for the full duration of the five- to seven-minute races.

Ronnie Tichenor, a Florida Gulf Coast native, became a professional motocross racer in 1986, when he was only 16 years old. He quickly found success accelerating into the top 125 ranked fastest riders, accomplished 25 podium finishes, and was known for his stylish technique. He was at the top of his game, but injuries proved to be major setbacks in his professional racing career. However, in 1993, an opportunity arose to represent Factory Suzuki, which led to a transcontinental pilgrimage to Japan—and a fresh start.

Over the next four years, Tichenor flourished, rediscovering the racing style witnessed at his prime. Not only did he manage to regain personal confidence in his skills, he also picked up two championships along the way (including the Japanese national championship).

This phenomenal success generated more interest in Tichenor’s status as a contender, bringing him back to the United States to rejoin the ranks of the motocross elite. Unfortunately, this career high was short-lived, as he suffered a traumatic knee injury at his first major race in Troy, Ohio. In total, Tichenor has suffered nearly a dozen concussions and has undergone 13 invasive surgeries. Once his professional racing career neared its end, he officially made the transition into coaching. He is still considered one of the best trainers/coaches in the business.

Even though he was able to find success as a coach, he still suffered from the debilitating nature of the extreme injuries to his mind and body. Because of his repeated concussions, the physical damage to Tichenor’s brain was classified as a traumatic brain injury (TBI). This condition resulted in violent mood swings requiring a laundry list of pharmaceuticals prescribed to treat his condition, including sleep aids, blood pressure stabilizers, and three other antianxiety/antidepressive drugs. He also battled the bottle as alcohol became a more prevalent supplement.

Rising above it

After his body, family, and career had been compromised, Tichenor knew there had to be a better way. He removed himself from coaching and turned to meditation. With sessions of up to four hours per day, Tichenor began to peel back his personal layers in order to find some kind of respite.

While researching various forms of therapeutic techniques, a PhD by the name of Justin Feinstein appeared. Feinstein works as a clinical neuropsychologist and associate professor at University of Tulsa’s Oxley College of Health Sciences and acts as the director of the Laureate Institute for Brain Research (LIBR) Float Clinic & Research Center. A rather hefty curriculum vitae for a rather modest man, but what Tichenor discovered below the surface was revolutionary.

Feinstein was researching the “intimate connection between the body and the brain, and developing new technologies to help bring this connection to the forefront of awareness,” as stated on the LIBR website, by introducing floatation therapy. Floatation tanks, sometimes referred to as “sensory deprivation tanks,” are “highly effective at removing distractions from the external world so that patients can more clearly experience their internal world.”

In February 2018, Feinstein published a groundbreaking trial in PLoS One, a journal committed to “accelerating the publication of peer-reviewed science,” featuring a total of 50 patients as his first “proof-of-principle” study demonstrating the effectiveness of a single one-hour floatation therapy in the relief of many common chronic mental ailments, including anxiety and PTSD.

In the span of merely eight months of meditation and regular floatation therapy, Tichenor reports that he’s managed to eliminate the necessity for all five of his prescription medications and has been sober for a full six years and counting.

When asked to describe his experience with this unique therapy he said, “My mind runs a million miles an hour anyway. Floating allows me to unplug, and it feels like I hit an internal reset button.” He went on to describe our digital age, our constant attachment to technology, and how we are “always waiting for the next notification.”

See for yourself

The distractions of our modern technology often lead to people exhibiting symptoms of anxiety or depression, many with no form of effective relief. After discovering the tremendous benefits to therapeutic floating, Tichenor wanted to share that feeling with the world. To get a closer look at the process, I visited Temple Float Spa in Palm Harbor, Florida, the headquarters of Tichenor’s latest venture.

Upon entering the tucked-away “temple,” I was immediately greeted by a warm, cozy feeling and beautiful tapestries hung in the lobby, and an area reserved for post-float reflection. The soothing scents of incense and salt filled the air as I slowly started to notice the tension leave my furrowed brow and clenched jaw. Before the therapy had even begun, I was enamored by the calming energy that flowed throughout the facility.

Now, the float. It starts with a cool, refreshing shower to rinse the remnants of society off before entering the tank, followed by the donning of a pair of earplugs to keep any salt from entering the ear canal. As soon as all of the prefloat precautions have been taken, it’s time to enter the tank. Roughly twice the size of a backyard Jacuzzi, the pool offers ample room to find a comfortable floating position. Once the floater has become acquainted with their environment, he or she simply seals the lid, blocking any additional ambient light, and drifts away. It’s a phenomenal chance for those who have experienced trauma to find solace and self-reflection in a safe, private, and welcoming environment—connecting the mind and the body in an attempt to achieve internal harmony.

Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed by the modern burden of technology, or whether you’ve experienced depression, anxiety, or PTSD symptoms and are searching for a new way to find effective relief, consider going for a float.

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