Tag Archives: spinal cord injury motocross

SCI Superstar: Andy Hensel

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“It’s not too bad, it’s just different.” This is how Andy Hensel from Port Pirie, Australia, one of the world’s most accomplished paraplegic motocross racers, now describes what riding is like. A former top 20 freestyle motocross racer, he’s now making records as a paraplegic, discovering the far reaches of what is still possible as a paralyzed motocross racer.

Injured only a few years ago, this 20-something had already had a difficult past. He went to jail for drug charges for 1 year in his late teens. But after his injury, he knew he had to stay on-track. And within a year, he had already figured out how to return to motocross.

Some might think he’s crazy for returning, but that’s why he’s a SCI Superstar in our book. Andy refuses to let his injury win. Read on for his excellent story.

Why he’s fearless

As a boy, Andy fell in love with anything on wheels. Bicycles at Christmas and birthdays quickly got him hooked. Andy first started racing Go-Karts, but by his teens he switched to motocross – FMX – and within eight months of switching over, he was already in the top 20 motocross racers in Australia. He was known for doing his jumps with his flexible legs that’d fly and pose in the air behind him.

But in 2012, while racing at the Australian Underground Freestyle MX, he crashed going 75 mph. He knew the moment he took off he was going to crash, and it was all caught on video, recording the very moment his back broke (he’s now classified as a T7 incomplete paraplegic).

Andy flipped over his handlebars when he landed, his body landing crooked and breaking his back. Since that day, his transition into life as a paraplegic is a work in progress. At the beginning, he did not take the news well, hating doctors were so sure he’d would never walk again. “Tell me I broke my back,” he says, “but don’t tell me I’m not going to walk again.”

Since his injury, he’s been fighting to get as much return as possible, even going to Project Walk in the United States. While there, he was able to walk using a walker. But all the while, he knew he couldn’t stay away from motocross for long. And within 7 months, he was back on the track on a modified 450 motorbike.

What’s next?

But just getting on a bike again was not enough. Andy wanted to prove that even though he was paralyzed, he was more than capable of being as badass as he was before. And in 2014, Andy made history landing the first back-flip on a motorbike by a paraplegic, landing safely in a foam pit (watch). His ultimate goal now that he’s paralyzed – join the Nitro Circus and do crazy stunts for pay (he was likely inspired by our SCI Superstar and Nitro Circus member, Aaron Fotheringham).

Motocross may be different for Andy now that he’s paralyzed, but he’s determined to focus on what he can still do instead of dwelling on a moment he can never take back. This is the attitude all people with spinal cord injuries need to take on to survive. Andy has – that lucky dog – just figured it out a lot sooner than the rest of us.

Would you return to the track as a paraplegic?

– Follow him on FB: Andy Hansel (athlete)

Watch the videos!

Andy Hensel Paraplegic Dirt Bike Backflip GoPro Footage

Paraplegic FMX Rider – Andy Hensel | UNSTOPPABLE NUTRI-GRAIN

Andy Hensel Riding and Recovery (pre-injury footage)

SCI Superstar: Ricky James

One word has been driving Ricky James since he broke his back – perseverance (and he has the entire thing tattooed up his left leg in huge cursive font).

If you know motocross, you probably know who Ricky James is (and maybe knew about him before injury). He was a rising 15 year old star in the motocross world who started racing at the age of 2 (they called him a “prodigy on two wheels”). He was even home-schooled so he could keep up with his crazy schedule.

Motocross is in Ricky’s blood and always will be. That is why after his accident (he hit a dirt embankment racing Amateurs Nationals in Lake Whitney, Texas), he was the last guy to ever think of wiping his hands clean of the sport he grew up sleeping and breathing. Are you kidding? “Motocrossers are a different breed,” says Ricky.

Why he’s fearless

Ricky became paralyzed after breaking his spine in half (check out this insane x-ray of his injury on his site under “What is SCI?”) at the T6-7 level, but that didn’t stop him. Thanks to a family friend who was also paralyzed, after only five weeks after his injury Ricky was back out at the track with friends. He is still so alive, still so strong (both physically and mentally) and has energy that just won‘t quit. I love that Ricky refuses to let his injury stop him from doing what he loves. In layman’s speak? He’s on the same bike.

Ricky uses a steering stabilizer for more balance, electronic shifting and an electronic start to make up for the use of his legs; and those mods are NOT cheap. Thanks to his sponsors, including SoCal Trucks, Colours Wheelchairs and SHOEI, he has the coolest set-up any adrenaline-addict paraplegic could dream of (and also thanks to help from the paralyzed motocross experts @ Para Pros Racing).

Ricky was back racing within months of his injury, and is doing a lot more on top of straight motocross. He also races motokarts (“adaptive motox;” a new sport created by the X-Games, which he was in in 2008) and off-road trucks. “I don’t want to be known as the wheelchair guy that races,” he says. “I want to be known as that really fast guy who happens to be in a wheelchair.”

What’s next

Finally healed up after two riding injuries (yep they still happen. He took a several month break after dislocating his shoulder), Ricky did something that always impresses me whenever I hear of a wheeler doing it – completing an Ironman triathlon. He went to Lake Placid, NY on July 20th to complete in his second (yup second) Ironman triathlon.

His first Ironman was in 2008 in Kona, Hawaii. Ironman triathlons are insane acts of endurance, requiring entrants to run/push a marathon (26.4 miles), swim 2.4 miles and bicycle/hand-bicycle 112 miles. Ricky is rocking his still-there abilities to their core.

As a representative for Life Rolls On, racing any way he can still get it (including NASCAR trucks) and living the beautiful life in Oceanside, Cali (a tad jealous of that one), at 23, Ricky has made his way through the wilderness of his youth in a beautifully refined piece (I‘m sure to many people‘s surprise). He just refuses to quit, and I, and the motocross world, love him for it.

Watch the videos!

NBC Sports profiles Ricky James (great interview with his parents, beautiful clip)
Fun interview with Ricky James (with an Aussie reporter) about Ironman (and see his multiple leg tattoos)
Ricky James talks about his accident and how he can still ride (from Transworldmx)
Cool clip of Ricky James in a PSA from Life Rolls On