After a terrible accident that left him with two destroyed ankles, years of surgeries, agonizing pain, former pro motocross racer Chris Ridgway found a doctor to amputate his lower left leg. Why? Some people might think he was crazy. The real reason is because he wanted to get back on a bike and ride. 15 years after his original injury Ridgway is now racing in a special division for amputees or partially paralyzed racers. Only a few years ago this form of racing was almost unthinkable, now it’s an X Games event.
DR: Your career or involvement in racing goes back years, long before racing the adaptive class. You started racing back in the 80s, turned pro and then your career hit a standstill for quite a few years. What’s going on now and how did you get here?
CR: I think I’m the only active racer at the X Games that raced a supercross at the Coliseum. I raced here in 1992 or around there. In 1995 I got hurt pretty bad. I crushed both of my ankles and heels and spent a couple of years in and out of a wheelchair. I spent 8.5 years just hobbling around after the injury, I could barely move. I had both of my ankles fused. I was racing and I was doing everything I could but my leg would re-break every once in a while and the doctors would re-break intentionally while trying to fix it. Finally I found a doctor to amputate so I could simply move on with my life. Once I got my leg amputated in December 2002, I started driving racecars and off-road trucks and racing motorcycles again.
How many surgeries did you actually have? I’ve heard it was a lot.
I bet you I have had 8 surgeries on the left leg trying to heal that up. If you count all the incisions I’ve had then we’re up in the 20s because they’d do bone grafts out of my hips and it was crazy.
Is it true that you were seeking a doctor to amputate your leg long before you finally got it done?
Yeah it took me about 2 years to find a doctor to amputate it. It pissed me off to tell you the truth. I felt like those are the pros in their business and they should have said. “Hey Chris there are guys that are getting along a lot better than you are and they are wearing a prosthesis.” They should have done that for me and they didn’t. It was then when I sought out a doctor out to amputate.
How did you deal with the pain back then? Obviously there must have been some reason you finally said hey let’s take this thing off, the pain is beyond belief.
I took a bunch of Vicodin. I took Vicodin everyday for 8 years and I was abusing it and all I wanted to do was ride. I didn’t have a drug addiction, I just wanted to ride and the doctors were telling me I needed to sit on the couch more and I said no I don’t. I need you to remove my leg so I can live my life the way I want to.
How does someone who’s been in a major accident overcome a major setback and still have a drive to get back on a bike and race? How do you overcome adversity whereas most people that can walk don’t even have the ambition that you have?
Well motocross trained me to get over injuries pretty quickly. When you race motocross, you get hurt a lot so you learn how to deal with it better than most people. That’s the truth to it, at least what I believe. I mean if this had been my first injury, my life would probably be in a different place right now but I had broken a bunch of bones before and I healed up from them. This was just another injury and I either had to let it ruin the rest of my life or I had to take advantage of what I had and just move on and do what I can.
After something this traumatic, how do you not say, I’m going to go do something else instead of getting back on a motorcycle. Did you ever know you could ride after you had your leg removed?
No, I didn’t know that I could ride. That was a big question mark and riding has been the one thing that I love to do my whole life. That is my life. Riding is all that I think about. It wasn’t even a question if I could ride, I knew I was going to ride and that was all there was to it. I just didn’t let it affect me. I knew that I was going to do something to have fun.
How did you build a bike that was capable of hand shifting or some kind of adaptive mechanism?
With the 450s these days we don’t have to shift a whole lot. What I do is I have a Rekluse clutch and I just rider just about every track in third gear. I just kind of learned to ride the bike a little bit different. I’d lug it in some corners and then in some of the straights I’m revved out a little too far. I’m trying to get an air shifter set up and once I do that I’ll be even faster. I can ride any bike though and that’s kind of cool.
What was it like when you heard that the X Games decided to have an adaptive class?
It was incredible. To be put back on this kind of a stage. This is the biggest stage for our kind of athletes. This is bigger than anything and to be on that stage is incredible. I enjoy it. I enjoy being here and I enjoy all the attention.
Your goal as a pro motocrosser before the injury was obviously to reach this stage. It was achieved in a sense yet way you had to do it in a different way.
Yeah I was trying to be the world’s faster motocross racer like a lot of guys and I didn’t have the talent. I had some talent and I had a lot of heart but it wasn’t enough to get me to the top. To be here now in a way it’s a double-edge sword I mean I’m glad I’m here but I wish I would had made it through the normal way.
Made it through meaning with all of your limbs?
Yeah, I’m not worried about missing a limb. I still don’t have any regrets, it’s not that big of a deal to me. I think it’s one of those things because most people aren’t missing limbs and they don’t know much about it and I think that they feel that it’s a bigger deal than it actually is.
How many awards, titles and or medals have you won so far since getting into adaptive racing?
Before The X Games this year I had won every adaptive race I entered. I have 4 Extremity Game Gold Medals and I have 2 X Games Gold Medals.
Unfortunately a small mishap has forced you to pull out of X Games 2010?
CR: Yeah I smacked my knee on the handlebars really bad in practice. My knee ballooned up. It’s not broken or anything but I tore some stuff up in there because I went and got my knee drained.
What would you say to people with handicaps that might be able to overcome them like yourself? You must be an inspiration sine you got back on a bike probably ride faster than the majority of most people with all of their limbs.
I’d say it’s mostly a mental thing. You just have to get over the loss mentally and try to be positive. No matter what you do, you can’t get your limb back so you just have to move on. You just have to figure out a way to do. If you are going to be better than everybody else or not, that’s hard to say but you just have to live you life and try to be so you might as well just stop wasting time with that.
What kinds of comments and phrases you hear over the years when people see you out there riding and then they realize you don’t have a leg?
A lot of people don’t even notice because I am still one of the faster guys at the local tracks. The people that do notice come up and talk to me and they tell me I’m an inspiration-I like hearing that. I didn’t do this to be an inspiration but I guess that’s the way it is and I don’t mind the attention. I don’t mind where I’m at right now because of this.