By Ken FaughtThe American motocross scene is unquestionably the place to be if you're seriously into racing. It has long-since surpassed GP racing as the most-prestigious championship series, and the U.S. has become an international melting pot of two-wheel talent. The most-recent transplant is Darryl Atkins (7-time New Zealand MX and SX Champion) from the North island of New Zealand. For more than a decade he's raced all over the world and even finished as high as fifth at the Motocross des Nations. Now, Atkins calls Corona, California home. Interestingly enough, Atkins was told in 1994 that he would never race again.A terrible car accident left him with detached nerves in his neck, and doctors undertook heroic actions to allow Atkins a second chance at life. Normally, surgeons would have amputated his right arm, but his accident happened outside of Oxford hospital in England, one of the top medical facilities in the world. Although doctors were able to save his arm, they told him he probably wouldn't be able to lift a glass of water, let along ride or race a motorcycle. Even more interesting is the fact that when they replaced the nerves, they did so by rerouting ones used to control other parts of his body - one of the nerves connected to Darryl's right arm was previously used to control his breathing. So when the New Zealander takes a breath, his right arm actually moves up and down. He's done such an amazing job with his rehabilitation, that doctor's wanted to know what allowed him to beat the odds. Here's Darryl's story in his own words.DR: How did you get into riding?
DA: I was very fortunate as my dad owns a motorcycle shop in New Zealand and he really helped me start my racing career.DR: When did you start racing?
DA: I started in 1979 at the age of 9 on an YZ 80, at a natural New Zealand style motocross track on a farmer's field.DR: When did you realize that you could make money racing?
DA: I started racing 125's at the age of 15 and I started to travel (USA and Tahiti) so when I turned 16 and turned pro, I realized I could make a living from racing.DR: How difficult was it leaving the small island of New Zealand?
DA: Ever since I was young, I wanted to race the world championship so to make the step of traveling to gain international experience was quite easy for me because I was focused on my goal. I had also won the New Zealand championship several times battling with Shayne and Darryl King and we all had realized to get better at the sport we had to travel. I guess we all wanted to be the best New Zealand racer on the international scene.DR: What was it like when you first arrived on the GP scene in Europe?
DA: It was great to see all the big names I had seen in the magazines (Van de berg, Puzzar, Bayle, etc.) and it was amazing for me to be competing against these guys and their factory teams at the Grand Prix events, which were getting 30,000 spectators in those days at a single event. So it was a real challenge for me to take all of this in and try to learn along with all the different cultures and languages. It was difficult for the first years.DR: What happened during the accident in 1994 when a flat tire caused your van to roll over six times?
DA: I was in England to talk with Yamaha for the following season and my mechanic and I were heading to Madrid, Spain for an international supercross. I had decided to have a nap as we were going to take a night boat from England to France so I was lying down on the front seat. I woke up immediately to a huge bang from the rear tire exploding and watched as the van went sideways and started to roll. It rolled six times from the slow lane through the center conjunction that separated the freeways and onto the other side of the freeway. I remember just going around and around like a ball bearing in a spray can, then I was thrown through the front window onto the road. My head was lying on the road in the fast lane and I could feel the wind from the passing vehicles that were coming out of London. Later was told that I was inches from being hit from the traffic as it was dark and they couldn't see me lying on the road. Two young guys stopped and were directing the traffic with flashlights from the fast lane into the center lane to avoid a vehicle hitting me. All I could remember apart from the headlights from our van shining in my eyes, was moving my legs to assure me I was not paralyzed. I knew my arms were broken and I felt that my right arm, which had the nerves pulled from it, had been broken in a hundred pieces.We were transported to Oxford Hospital, which was about 40 miles north of London. Oxford is one of the top medical facilities in the world. The doctors immediately went to work on my left forearm since it had been severely broken and they added a plate and 12 screws along with stitching up all my open wounds. As I became more and more conscious, the doctors and I realized I couldn't move my right arm and they thought I had possibly pinched a nerve. As four days went by with no improvement to my right arm and after doing MRI scans and finding a lot of bleeding in my neck area, the doctors decided it was time to operate. This was the scariest time of my life as three of the best nerve surgeons came into my room and told me what they thought had happened (the nerves which controlled my right shoulder pulled out of my neck) and there was a chance when they operated they would amputate my arm. But there was also a chance depending on the damage and how many nerves had been torn away they could reroute nerves located between my ribcage that I used for breathing into the muscles that the damaged nerves controlled. After a 12-hour operation, I woke up and the first thing I did was fell that my arm was still there. I was in quite a critical condition and immediately doctors came into my room. They explained what they had done and said I had a 50/50 chance that the nerve they had put in the muscle would regrow and I may be able to drink a glass of water with that arm in 1 or 2 years (nerves grow one millimeter a month). However, I also had probably 30 percent of my right arm that didn't get new nerves implanted and those muscles would just go to waste. I remember the surgeon saying I would never be able to ride a motorcycle again in my life and I turned around with tears in my eyes and said "I'll prove you wrong."After two weeks, I checked out of the hospital with a paralyzed arm in a sling, returned to my base in Belgium and basically gave away all of my belongings and headed to South Africa on my way home to spend a little time with my best friend Greg Albertyn and his family in the sun. When I reached New Zealand a month later, I was happy to see all my family but my life had changed and all I had in my mind was that I was going to race again at World Championship level. My arm still had no sign of movement after four months, so I found the best nerve surgeon in New Zealand and went to visit him. After he had run a few tests, studied what damage had been done and what the doctors did, he said to me that there was absolutely no chance my arm would ever move again in my life. I went out of the clinic in tears. This just made me even more determined to prove the doctors wrong.Every single day I would go to the gym and to a swimming pool to move my arm, as it was much lighter in the water. At the six-month stage, I could move it two inches away from my body in water. Every month it progressed slowly. After 12 months, I started to ride a motor bike but had to place my hand onto the bars, the real damaged nerves were my bicep, with more than 60 percent of my shoulder muscles and 30 percent of my forearm. It was really strange when my arm started to work. I would breath and my arm would move, so I had to retrain my brain that those nerves formerly used for breathing now had a different function in my body.DR: What was the most difficult thing you had to overcome during your recovery?
DA: At the moment of my accident I had finished 10th in the world supercross championship and was really on the point of making it or not, in those days it wasn't that common for a rider from down under to get good results so I had to struggle to prove there was good talent from NZ. So at that moment the King brothers were very successful in the world championship with Shayne winning the 500 world championship, I was happy a kiwi had won one but on the other hand it was kind of hard for me as a few years before this I would battle bar to bar with the Kings.DR: How did you do when you returned to GP racing?
DA: Eighteen months after the accident, I wanted to get back to Europe as quickly as possible. My mind was ready but my body wasn't. In 1997, I tried to qualify for a 125 GP but was four seconds off the final qualifying position. So I decided to do some national championships and supercross events until I felt I was ready to qualify for a GP. Two years later I returned to the Grand Prix scene and qualified at most events, even scoring world championship points in the prestigious 250 class. I also finished ninth in a round of the world supercross championship in Paris, France and in 2003; I won the Denmark and Czech Republic supercross championships.DR: How does your injury affect you today?
DA: I decided to stop with the World Championship series because I realized I couldn't be world champion and my arm was a huge handicap to me, especially on the rutty, bumpy demanding tracks that required upper body strength. At supercross tracks, which I am mainly racing in Europe now, I can get away with not having so much strength and use my talent rather than muscle. I did return to the hospital probably about five years ago and my arm had progressed a bit. It was quite funny as I met with the doctors - the whole hospital basically stopped and I was surrounded by doctors asking me what I had done to have such a recovery after seeing my movement and strength. They told me I was 500 times better then any patient they had performed this operation on and continued to watch me move and asked questions how I did it.DR: What brought you to the United States to live?
DA: I've always wanted to be involved in the industry when I stopped racing and the fact that I met my girlfriend Heather at the Indy bike show in 2003. I am also going to race the AMA Supermoto series here as I feel it's going to get big in the future and now is the right moment to begin riding. Since it does not by any means effect my arm, I feel once I really learn it I can be competitive at this sport in the US. I was fortunate enough to try it out on a TLD bike two times for a half an hour before doing my first event in Paris, France in January '04 against all the worlds best supermoto and motorcycle racers and I was happy to finish 7th in the final.DR: What are your current racing plans for 2004 and beyond?
DA: To race the AMA Supermoto series along with some international supermoto races around the world, do a few selected supercross events in Europe, which I have done well at in the past and to network with the industry and markets abroad for my business future.DR: When you first came over to the States, you were working for Fly Racing and now you're helping Troy Lee Designs with international distribution. How is that working out?
DA: Things went well for Fly and me. Unfortunately they needed me to move to Boise but I was so happy here in California and didn't want to make another move. Things are going really well with TLD at the moment and I feel that I have a real talent in the international market for American companies to export their products. Because I spent so much time racing and working for Fly racing all over the world, I really understand all the different cultures and markets that we are dealing with and I also understand the American culture. So I am a key to success for doing business internationally to make the right connection with the right business partner for that country. This saves US companies a lot of time and money with my services and the markets internationally can be huge.DR: For those who are interested in your consulting services, how would they go about contacting you?
DA: I am always interested in speaking with future business partners in the US and I can be contacted at email@example.com.