Something amazing happened at Yamaha’s recent event to congratulate James Stewart on winning the 2009 Supercross Championship and award him his YZ450F. After James had stepped over to take the microphone, a van pulled up behind the grass rise where the event was happening.
When the van pulled away, there was Doug Henry. He had crutches in his hands, and braces on his legs under his jeans, but he was standing there in front of the Yamaha headquarters. And then… he walked. That sounds more optimistic than the actual happening, but it was great. Braces kept Doug’s legs straight, and his arms were doing a lot of the work, but his torso was gyrating and his feet were taking steps forward. He needed help to get up the rise to the microphone, but he got there, stood tall, and admitted, with a big smile on his face, that he was winded and was “out of shape.”
Doug congratulated Stewart on his championship, and stuck around long enough after the event to answer a few questions.
Pete Peterson: Can you tell me how are you able to do this? Do you have braces on?
Doug Henry: Yeah, I have straight leg braces that I use. It’s really hard to work in them because my hands are full so how do I pick anything up and carry it around? So I use ‘em to get around when I know I’m not going to be doing any lifting. I get in my leg braces and I walk around the house most of the time. The kids play softball and baseball so I go out to the field and there’s a fence, so it’s really easy to just grab onto the fence if I’m going to fall or whatever, which I do just about every time I’m up. It’s a learning curve, and I think I’m getting better. I make progress, but it’s really, really slow. It’s hard to notice within weeks. It seems like it’s a month before you really notice anything. But sometimes it just all the sudden pops up that it’s easier, so I know there’s improvement.
PP: Is there a benefit to going around in the braces as opposed to a chair? Is it building your core muscles, anything like that?
DH: I think a lot of it is weight bearing on your bones. Keeping the weight on your bones, kinda getting off your butt, keeping your back stretched out instead of sitting at that 90 degree all the time. I try to get up and do some stretching, and do some weight bearing, and do some balance, and work on that. And you know, you can see little tiny muscles firing in the leg and hopefully that’ll grow. I’m just kinda waiting for something to happen. But if it doesn’t I’m just gonna keep moving.
[note: for these next two questions, you have to hear and see Doug answering with his optimistic smile]
PP: How difficult was it to do what we saw you do here today?
DH: Keith (McCarty) came out here when he called me and he said, ‘I’m looking at the hill right now. It’s about a twenty foot walk and it goes up about five feet.’ So I’m trying to figure out what kind of pitch that is in my head, and that’s way too steep for me. I said I can do it with a hand rail or a solid body. They had Mike Guerra come up and I was throwing him around like a rag doll. To balance is really, really hard. And you use a lot of arm strength to balance, especially going up a hill. It was a work out trying to get up this hill.
PP: How’d you feel when you got up to the podium?
DH: I felt pretty wore out, but it’s all exercise, it’s all training, it’s all good.
PP: What’s your role with Yamaha these days?
DH: I try to help out with whatever I can with them. I don’t really have a certain role. I do a lot of stuff at home, going to dealerships, events, I’ve been going to a lot of schools just for awareness for motocross and trying to get more areas available to ride in Connecticut and the surrounding areas. But whenever the phone rings and it’s Yamaha, I pretty much do what they say because they’ve helped me out so much and I could never repay them for the success I’ve had in racing, and with this injury they’ve just been so supportive. I owe ‘em everything I’ve got, you know?
PP: Looking back at your racing days, what was the high point of that career?
DH: (In 1997) Winning Vegas on that four-stroke was the most amazing night. It didn’t seem like it was such a big deal at the time for me. I had an idea, but nothing compared to what the ripple effect was years down the road. It was amazing what that win really did. People just love four-strokes, but they just didn’t have a good, quality racing four-stroke. When I won on that, so many people went out and bought ‘em, so it’s just changed a lot.
PP: Are there any foundations you want to make us aware of, somewhere we can go to help you directly or help out the cause for spinal injury recovery research?
DH: There are a lot of different foundations. Rider Down (www.riderdown.org) and Road to Recovery (road2recovery.com), those two have helped me out with a lot of benefits and raising money. But I’m going to try to put together something, I’ve got some ideas in my head, and maybe in the next couple years we’ll have something that’ll benefit some of the guys that are hurt.