Story By B.J. Smith · Photos By Shan Moore
Printed in the September 2013 issue of Dirt Rider Magazine.
Almost an hour has passed following the X Games Enduro X final in Barcelona, Spain. Taddy Blazusiak has a line of people waiting outside the KTM truck—journalists, sport officials, well-wishers and sponsors—and Taddy doesn’t shut the door, doesn’t turn any of them away. His girlfriend, Joanna, who rarely comes to races, waits patiently while talking with friends.
On the last lap of the main event, Blazusiak had crashed hard while battling Mike Brown for the win. He’s clearly in pain, yet he’s still sitting on a couch wearing his riding pants and boots. A plastic yellow grocery sack filled with ice rests on his knotted right wrist. A sponsor needs a document signed. He chuckles, holds up his bum hand, and then says, “I’ll just do it with my left.” For finishing an uncustomary fourth overall, and looking at the prospect of a bad-news X-ray, Taddy seems to be in a good mood—better than he was after winning a gold medal a month earlier in Brazil.
But still, I’m about to ask a guy who just ejected from his motorcycle in midair, lost the race and may have a broken wrist if I could come up to his house and shadow him, see him train and try to figure out what makes him so darn good. Since 2007, he’s bagged eight combined EnduroCross and SuperEnduro titles, multiple X Games gold medals and five Erzbergrodeo wins in as many attempts, the first of which was possibly the biggest Cinderella story in off-road history.
Where would we be going? To his hometown of Nowy Targ, Poland, where ice hockey and floorball are the most popular sports? To the ski resort country of Andorra where he is also a citizen? Or Girona, Spain, where he pounds laps on a private EnduroCross track just a few miles from the azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea? After standing underneath the orange awning observing this parade of people that he continued to openly accept, I am cautiously optimistic. When the hospitality room finally clears out, I tentatively climb the steps searching for the right way to handle this situation. But he is the first to speak. “Hey, about your visit …”
A hollow, metallic but forceful “thwock” makes Taddy flinch and glance to his right. He’s seated at the edge of a bluff that overlooks a fairway on the back nine of a golf course in Girona, Spain. Netting keeps most of the shanks and hooks from dropping into the yard. A bucket of white and blaze-orange golf balls next to the front door suggests it isn’t completely effective.
It’s almost three days after the crash, and Taddy’s right wrist has strips of white tape running up close to his elbow. He has torn ligaments. He won’t be riding or training; his quest for a sixth win at the Iron Giant is over as quickly as it had been announced just days earlier. I almost suggest hitting the golf course that sits right in front of us, but I can’t find a set of clubs inside his immaculate garage. Then he tells me he doesn’t golf. He was hoping to learn this year but doesn’t know when he could find the time. So we just sit and talk. We discuss his travel schedule, goals, the number of languages he speaks and somehow get off on a tangent about online dating websites. He was incredulous when he discovered that people actually meet through the Internet and sometimes get married.
The most fascinating thing about Blazusiak’s life is how he’s able to divide his time and his mind and still be the best rider his sport has ever seen. In my short time with him, I hear him speak in the three languages in which he is completely fluent: when his practice mechanic stopped by to take away his bike—Spanish; when Joanna wants to have a conversation—Polish; when the reporter, who now feels linguistically inadequate, asks yet another question—English. He often goes to bed at night thinking of words in three different languages. He said it gets confusing, but when he stays in one spot, like when he comes to American for the EnduroCross Series, he gets into a rhythm. He also speaks enough of several other European languages to carry on simple conversations, like French when he wants to chat with his good buddy Cyril Despres, the five-time Dakar Rally winner.
Blazusiak has two homes in two different countries. One is in Andorra, a principality between Spain and France, and one in Girona, only an hour north of Barcelona. They are only three hours from each other, but the climate in Spain is different enough to allow him to train through the winter. Although he was born in Poland, raised in Nowy Targ, his roots in Spain go back to the ’90s when he and his brother, Wojpek, would spend up to seven months a year there to train for trials. The best trials riders in the world are from Spain, and Taddy’s family was big into the sport.
It might be now forgotten that Taddy Blazusiak was once more commonly known as Tadeusz (Tad-ee-osh), named after his great grandfather. In the early 2000s, young Taddy was excelling in FIM World Trials. He was the 2004 European Trials Champion and finished eighth in the World Trials two years later when he was 23. He once had a goal to become the first rider from Poland to win the World Trials title. But he struggled with the Scorpa-Yamaha, a bike that wasn’t fully developed, and then had a brief stint with Beta at the beginning of 2007. In late May of the same year, he was having beers in a bar with a friend who had just broken his ribs. The friend suggested that Blazusiak take his spot at the Erzbergrodeo in Austria, the toughest off-road race in the world. That’s when Taddy says he didn’t actually have much racing …
He looks up with pursed lips and waves his hand in a forward circle. He’s stuck in mid-sentence. “Experience?” I say.
“That’s what I’m talking about!” he says. “I just had the word from three different languages going through my head.”
Blazusiak doesn’t spend much time dwelling on or thinking about what happened. His philosophy is win the championship on Sunday and train for the next one on Monday. But he will use the past as a way to correct faults. One of his favorite lines is, “If you don’t want to improve that means you’re pretty much done.” He doesn’t bother to watch video from races that he won. “Because I know what happened and I won the race,” he explains. “There’s nothing to improve on that. But I watch the races where I didn’t win thousands of times.”
Erzberg 2007 could be his one guilty pleasure because he doesn’t mind discussing the one weekend in his life that he admits he could write a book about. He remembers every detail and doesn’t seem to want to rush through the story. The short version is that some kid from Poland who nobody had heard of, who had very little experience riding fullsize dirt bikes, showed up to the most famous extreme enduro in the world and won.
The details of the longer version are very rich. He wasn’t competing in trials at the moment and was looking for ways to prepare for the 2008 season, which was more than six months away. When he accepted his friend’s entry into the sold-out, 1,500-rider race, he got a 2-year-old bike from the Polish Gas Gas importer. “It was pretty beat up,” he said.
This story is now so legendary that some facts have turned to fable. The real version is that Blazusiak showed up in a camper and was there just to have some fun. He said that even though he didn’t have a trials contract at the time, he was having more fun riding than he’d ever had. In the Iron Road Prologue, Blazusiak was actually underpowered. “Qualifying on the bike was crap,” he said. “It was pretty bad.” But then he signed up for the Saturday night endurocross race that promoter Karl Katoch was holding for the first time in Erzberg history. Blazusiak said he signed up for the amateur class and set times that were fast enough to put him into second place amongst the pros. That’s when Katoch gave Blazusiak the wild card invite to the front row of the Hare Scramble, and that’s also when KTM offered up a factory 250 EXC that had been left vacant by injured Spaniard Xavi Galindo.
The best part of the story is that Taddy, lined up alongside off-road’s best, had no idea the race had a dead engine start. When the official motioned for all riders to kill their motors, he thought instructions were to be given and his attention focused in on that instead of preparing to restart his bike. Then a flag went up and 1,499 motorcycles came to life while the new kid in the gray and yellow Beta riding gear wondered what had just happened.
“So I’m already mid-pack,” Blazusiak said. “I started to push and I ended up like top 10 or 15 after the first few hills. So I started pushing like crazy and all of a sudden I was all by myself and I thought I got lost.” When he hit a checkpoint and was informed that he was leading, it was that moment when Blazusiak realized he was once again a professional motorcycle rider. He finished the event six minutes ahead of his new teammates Tom Sager and enduro icon Juha Salminen. “When I got to the finish, they’re like, ‘Who’s that guy?’”
One month later, Blazusiak signed a contract with KTM through the 2009 season to compete in extreme and indoor enduros. He showed his appreciation to his new bosses by doing one-handed stoppies in the parking lot while wearing jeans and sneakers. Then he went on to become the face of EnduroCross in America, SuperEnduro in Europe, and won Erzberg four more times.
A stack of photographs fills Blazusiak’s hand. He flips through some of them quickly but pauses on others. Joanna recently procured these pictures from Blazusiak’s mother in Poland. The first photo he stops on is one of him at 8 or 9 years old and it appears he has crashed. He’s completely separated from the trials bike. “Man, I’ve been on the ground a lot, especially at first when I was learning to ride trials bikes,” he says. Then he flips to the next photo. A boyish smile that looks just like the one in the photograph spreads across his face. “Racing and running through life, you forget about a lot of this stuff. When I see those photos, it comes back.”
It’s obvious that if he’s ever seen these snapshots before, it was the day they came home from being developed. Again, his life is always moving forward. Right now it’s “all about the goal.” I’m digging to figure out what that means and it seems he’s simply motivated by winning. It’s not about the rewards of winning; it’s the feeling he gets from being first, fastest and the best. “I’ve been walking on the planet for quite a couple years and I’ve found nothing that gives me a better feeling than that,” he says. “That’s why I’m around, I guess.”
And it doesn’t matter what he’s doing. When he was a trials rider, he focused on winning trials events. When he discovered that he was good at extreme and indoor enduros, winning those became the goal. He doesn’t allow what-if moments to happen. If he switched to car racing, that would be the new goal. “I’m super happy, but thinking about ‘what if’ makes no sense. What if I hadn’t crashed last weekend on the log jump? Mike Brown got hung up on the rocks on the last lap, right? Would I have won gold? Live with it. That’s the way it goes.”
This militant attitude toward goals and winning and never looking back also shows up in the fact that he never, ever talks about other riders, even when asked specifically who his main competition is and whether or not he thinks they’re getting better. “The hardest guy I have to deal with every day is myself,” he says. “I’m the hardest guy I have to talk to, for sure.”
Nearing the end of the stack of childhood photos that feature purple and fuchsia riding gear and baggy street clothing, we’re reminded that we were all once style victims of the 1990s. The answers to so many of my questions circle back to having goals, so I ask him if he remembered what he wanted to be when he was 6 or 7 years old. “If I would have known how much work it is to get where I’m at right now when I was 7, I don’t think I would do it. It’s crazy, way too much.”
Today, Blazusiak loves putting in the work. Even though he doesn’t talk about, think about or even hang about his competition, he doesn’t rest until he’s sure he’s ridden more, trained more and tested new parts and settings more than everyone else.
After spending a few hours at his Girona home, it’s apparent that this is actually where he comes to get away from riding, racing and training. This is where downtime happens. Outside of a few trophies, medals and a jersey hanging on the living room wall, his home is immaculate and free of moto-clutter. A homemade calendar on the refrigerator outlines where Blazusiak is each weekend so Joanna can keep up. She’s currently studying to become a lawyer, and she’s never been to America. He likes having that separation. “It’s cool because I can disconnect from the racing scene when I’m home,” he says.
He competes in a world of chaos where obstacles move, lines get clogged by fallen riders, and it’s loud, slippery, dirty and stressful. But his home is very organized. He said he cannot live with his belongings out of order. Dozens of Fox jerseys and pairs of riding pants are neatly folded on shelves. His helmet liners are filed so tightly in a pullout drawer that they look like a foam card catalog system. Each toy—a Jet Ski, a road bicycle, a mountain bike, a shifter kart, a KTM 350, a trials bike—has plenty of space around it and is easily accessible.
One week after winning his fourth consecutive Geico EnduroCross title on November 17, 2012, Blazusiak went to a motocross track in Spain. The FIM SuperEnduro World Championship started on December 8 and he wanted to work on his speed and test the bike to ensure that he could win his fourth consecutive title in Europe, as well. A vicious high side caused a third-degree AC joint separation in his right shoulder. He showed up to round one in Lodz, Poland, heavily taped and on painkillers. “It was a mess,” he says. “I probably should not have been riding the bike a week after the crash. It was an adrenaline rush, but I wanted so bad to be racing and not watching from the stands. I just pushed myself again to a new limit that I didn’t know I had.”
He still won the race over riders like David Knight and Jonny Walker and then had surgery the following week on his left shoulder, which was injured in a previous crash. It was a simple fragment cleanup procedure he had scheduled far in advance. Doctors recommended surgery on the right shoulder’s AC separation but said recovery would require at least three months off the bike. He opted to postpone surgery and instead went home to rest. In France in early March, Blazusiak wrapped up the title even though he was still trying to get back to full strength. Again, it was all about the goal. “I don’t know that we’re superhuman,” he says. “We’re pretty much the same, all of us riders.”
Some athletes, afraid of saying the wrong thing or being misunderstood, will dance around topics like injuries and losing. To Blazusiak, injuries are just part of the game and losing is what motivates him. Even though he’s won way more races than he hasn’t, he’s still surprised to learn that, as of late May, he’s won exactly 57 FIM, AMA and X Games main events. He allows himself about four seconds to enjoy that stat and by the time he’s handed back my notebook, he’s already moved on. “What’s beautiful about racing is that when we are on that gate, it doesn’t matter how many championships you won, how many races you won,” he says. “Nobody cares about the statistics anymore. It’s about those 15 guys at the gate and who’s going to be the first guy at the finish line. We all have the same chance, the same distance to go between winning and losing.”
Now 30 years old, Blazusiak walks his practice track with childlike enthusiasm. With his hands, he air-rides log jumps and firewood pits while mimicking the sound of a two-stroke: Braaaaap! His favorite sections are the fast ones. Even though the more technical tracks are in his favor, and the faster ones better suit teammate Mike Brown, he says he loves slamming into obstacles at speed. He pauses on top of a rock pile where he’s asked how often he free rides. “I don’t ride a dirt bike for fun,” he says. Again, this unfiltered honesty is almost as shocking as it is refreshing. On the drive to the track, he sipped a can of Coca-Cola while saying that he usually doesn’t roll out of bed until 8:30 or 9:00 a.m. on training days. Now he’s telling me that unless someone is holding a stopwatch, he doesn’t get on the bike. Who is this guy? There’s a long moment of silence and he can’t understand what’s not to understand about what he just said. “I ride because it’s fun, but I don’t ride just to ride,” he says. “I ride for my training. It’s always fun because when I’m racing a dirt bike, or riding or training, I feel great. I feel free on the bike.
“I think when you’re really working on your speed and you’re trying to be as fast as you can on the motorcycle, you should ride it to the limit every day. You shouldn’t be just riding. It is hard to understand, but to ride the bike to its limit, you have to ride this [points to track] to its limit every day.” Right now, Blazusiak is hoping that pushing to the limit earns him more X Games gold medals and indoor enduro wins.
With Cyril Despres as his Andorran neighbor, Blazusiak has the best possible mentor into motorcycle rally racing. He has already competed in two events. The most recent was in April at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, part of the Cross Country Rally World Championship Series. He finished seventh overall after five days of competition. Blazusiak is very attracted to the idea of racing the Dakar Rally, the Tour de France of motorcycle races. But unlike Erzberg, it’s not a race he’s going to compete in on a whim or show up to in a camper. It’s a goal but an undeveloped one, still growing in his head, he says. “I love racing. Doesn’t matter what it is. Dakar is something that interests me a lot. If I would have the goal of racing Dakar, if that would be something that I would want to do, I would do it tomorrow. It’s still somewhere, but it’s still not there yet.” Just like when he switched from trials to extreme and indoor enduro, he’s confident that he could be successful in rally. But with the X Games expansion and the SuperEnduro series growing next season, he still feels like he has more to do where he is and won’t put an exact date on a career change.
As we drive back to Girona on highway C-66, I’m finally comfortable with the fact that I didn’t see a true Taddy Blazusiak training day. At this point, I’m not certain that watching him ride lap after lap while testing parts and tweaking suspension would have helped to get any more informed on what it takes for him to be a champion. After hours of conversation, extremely strong espresso and watching golf balls float through the air, I deduced that winning isn’t a goal for him. Winning is just what he does. The goal is larger than winning. Wherever life takes him, winning is what Blazusiak will do. Success will be the goal.