"I was the kid that turned up to Crankworx without a sponsor on a borrowed bike and won, all that disappeared and now I’m known for one big mistake in my life, it’s crazy and it sucks"
We just watched Red Bull Media House’s, Any One of Us, documenting that crash at Rampage in 2015. What motivated you to make such an emotional and honest film?
A week before I got hurt I bought this brand new camera. After the crash I was looking at the ceiling and wondering what to do, so I gaze around the hospital room and I see my brand new camera sitting there on the table. I thought: there’s no better way to learn how to operate it, so I started shooting. It was something to kill time.
How was it watching the documentary back?
To be honest it was embarrassing. I get awkward when I see that stuff but it’s important to me to showcase what goes into a spinal cord injury. I could have pulled all those scenes out but it would have been a lie, it would have been a fake documentary and I didn’t want to do that.
I was guilty myself of not knowing what goes on with a spinal cord injury. I’ve had friends in the bike world paralysed and I never knew what they had to go through behind closed doors.
The struggle is not just not being able to move or feel, there’s so many more complications – not controlling your bladder, your bowels, the nerve pain, all sorts of stuff.
We’ve all seen the footage of your crash, but can you tell us that day from your perspective?
Out of all the Rampages I’d competed in it was the one I felt most confident about, and the best chance I had to win. I had such a unique line, killer lines ready to go, I had a plan, good energy, and I was like, “man, this is the year.” I’d won all the big slopestyle events but Rampage was the one I’d never stood on the podium. And then afterwards I was going to hang it up.
Then the race got moved to the day before due to weather coming in, so that gave a little bit of uncertainty, but I was still focussed. That’ll never ever happen again at Rampage, they’ll wait. I didn’t get to practice the bottom stuff as much, because of that, but then everyone there was dealin with the same issues, and I felt confident enough to drop in, right?
Dropping in, one of things I was most stressed about was backflipping the canyon at the top, it was the biggest act I’ve ever done, over a canyon, and it was the first thing I had to do on my run. And it ran perfect, the biggest hurdle in my whole line and I just did it. I remember I talked to myself, saying “this is going exactly how I want it.”
Then the big step down, I hadn’t had the chance to really ride because things got pushed up a little bit. But I was like, it’s fine, I’ve done drops like this and bigger. Then I overshot and got off course by maybe two feet. I was in the brush, trying to get back on course and my pedal caught a branch, flipped me over the handlebars and I landed straight on my back.
Did you know something was wrong right away?
I was so pissed, I had the winning run at Rampage, and now I would have to go up and do my second run. I got my breath back and tried to move and I couldn’t move anything from my waist down and then I knew I was in big trouble. I’ve taken many big slams in my life on the bike and I’d never experienced anything like this. I was like: there’s no way this should happen to me. No. Fucking. Way.
I started freaking out and I couldn’t move or feel anything and I knew right there that my life is going to change forever and I closed my eyes. That helicopter ride was one of the scariest things too, all the debris and dust, my eyelids started bleeding. On the helicopter they said “everyon’e cheering for you, let them know you’re OK.” And I’m like, I can’t do that because I’m not OK. I just remember crying, and thinking this was the longest helicopter ride of my life – it was only about 10 miles though.
Did the documentary do what you hoped it would?
It’s coming up on five years, and here I am doing an interview about something that happened five years ago. Before the injury I was known as the kid that turned up to Crankworx without a sponsor on a borrowed bike and won. First guy to do a 720 on a mountain bike, first guy to back to back winning Crankworx, the youngest to win Crankworx. All that disappeared and now I’m known for one big mistake in my life, it’s crazy and it sucks. I knew that would happen after doing the documentary, people would forget about everything else, but I accepted it, it’s hard to talk about but I signed up for it.
The documentary finished with you riding around Amsterdam, where are you now with recovery?
I’ve recovered a lot since the end of the documentary. Now I’m able to walk around the house with no cane the majority of the time. Thank to e-bikes, I’m able to get out and ride with my buddies.
Am I happy where I’m at today? Of course not, there are so many things I wish I was able to do that I can’t. But I’m able to ride a bike – if I was a skater, surfboarder, any of those I would be in big trouble because I don’t have all the muscular groups.
With e-bikes I can ride 80% of the local trails here in Reno, I’m able to jump a few things. I don’t ever push myself to be in the danger factor, everything I do is super calculated and low risk and you’re never going to see me do anything crazy. Cam Zink wanted me to ride this one trail near the house, and I had to say no because I know there’s a danger factor in that, I don’t want to put myself in that position ever again – when everything gets taken away from you, you don’t want that happening again.
How did you recover to the level you have, when so many others suffering spinal cord injury don’t?
People say, you recovered so much because you worked eight hours a day at it, you had the mindset. OK, maybe, but my spinal cord didn’t get severed completely, it was a T12 burst fracture incomplete.
I think I’m getting stronger, with the muscle groups that are working are getting stronger. But my glutes are not firing properly. I still have the same work ethic I had from day one, I’m in better shape than when I was a competitor, it’s crazy, It’s just a part of my routine, it’s like my coffee in the morning.
How did it feel the first time you rode a bike again?
I was pedalling a stationary bike inside for six months, but I really didn’t have the balance to ride outside. Then summer comes up and I get a bike, build it up, then the first time I rode it was for the documentary. They didn’t show it, but I actually rode to Cameron Zink’s house, he lives down the street. He freaked out, he had no idea it was me, he was shocked.
Does riding feel normal to you now? More normal than walking?
I still can’t feel my feet, and the only way I can check they’re in the right place is to look down, and that’s so weird. My posture on the bike felt normal, but not my feet. So I can’t feel the grip on the pedals, the pins, the sensation, all of that isn’t there. That was a really awkward feeling, but then I started going downhill, felt the wind on my face and it was amazing and it felt like that never went away. But I don’t have any calf strength, and you need that to bunnyhop. So I compensate with the muscles that are working, like my upper chest. I had to relearn how to ride a bike.
Riding was relatively easy, it’s walking that’s so much harder. You need more muscle groups. I practice walking every day, I practice my gait, practice my patterns. I wish I could ride a bike everywhere, I wish I could go shopping, go to the grocery store by bike, wish I could go to the mall and ride a bike around. I wish I could cruise around the airport, go to my gate by bike.
What’s next for you?
I’m very happy with my position in mountain biking right now, to be able to promote e-bikes and show them the technology, and be in charge of global athletes for Ride Concepts shoes. There’s only eight of us in the brand but we all ride and it’s a great company to work for.
I roll for Scott, promoting e-bikes, whether you hate them or love them they’re blowing up, no question about that. And for me personally e-bikes were the best thing that ever happened for mountain biking, without them I would not be riding. Literally the year I got hurt was the year e-bikes started coming out, the timing could not have been better.
If you could press a button an rewind your life would you do it all the same again?
Today, I don’t think I would change anything. But if you’d asked me this while I was in the hospital or six months after the hospital or one year after, I would say I would change it all. Now where I’m at today, I think I’m happy! To be able to ride a bike again, to be able to pee on my own, to be able to get around, man I’m lucky to get all that back.
Credit: Red Bull Media House’s proceeds from Any One Of Us will benefit the Wings For Life – Spinal Cord Research Foundation. For more information visit wingsforlife.com