BEST OF JODY’S BOX: THE FALLACY OF THINKING YOU ARE BULLETPROOF

BY JODY  WEISEL

I have been fairly bulletproof throughout my motocross racing career. I can count the number of major injuries I’ve had on one hand (although that hand is the one that I cut my thumb off of in Jeff Hick’s rear wheel). No sweat. The doctor sewed it back on, and I only missed three races. The closest I ever came to a broken bone was when I got a stick jammed in my shift lever as I jumped down Devil’s Drop at Carlsbad Raceway. The stick turned out to be no problem, a fact that I discerned by looking down at it as I swept left through the finish-line turn; however, looking down turned out to be really dangerous, as I ran head-on into the steep bank that lined the track in the next right-hand turn by the bleachers. I did a front flip over the fence and landed on my back. When I got back to the pits, I started throwing up. Lovely Louella loaded up all my stuff and drove me to the hospital where I was diagnosed with three compressed vertebrae and sentenced to three weeks of bed rest. No sweat. I was back racing on week three—although I had to stop twice on the way to the track to lie down in the bed of my truck until my back muscles quit spasming.

Of course, no motocross racer’s story is complete without a knee injury. I wish I could tell you all about mine, but I don’t know how I did it. I do know where and when, but I had one of those silent ligament tears where you don’t feel it. I was walking across the pits after the riders’ meeting at Perris Raceway in June of 1986, and I started limping—a little limp for the first 10 steps, and then it got bigger the farther I walked. Eventually, I hopped on one foot into a lawn chair. It was a muddy day, and somewhere during practice I must have put my foot down and twisted my knee. Jeff Spencer, Team Honda’s trainer, sent me to see the best ortho doctor he knew. That doctor said, “I can operate on it and it will hurt for six months, or I can leave it alone and it will hurt for six months. Your choice.”

“If you don’t operate on it, can I race while I’m waiting the six months?” I asked. If he said no, then I was going to let him operate on it.

“If you can stand the pain, you can race all you want,” he said. “You can’t hurt it any worse, but you’ll be back the first time your knee hits the gas tank.” No sweat. I raced that next weekend—and for the six months after—by never touching the ground with my left foot or gripping the gas tank with my knee. Thirty-four years later, I still won’t slide my left boot across the ground in a tight corner. I put it out, but I let it hover 6 inches above the ground.

“I SPENT TWO MONTHS BREATHING ALBUTEROL THROUGH A NEBULIZER BECAUSE MY DOCTOR SAID I COULDN’T RACE UNTIL I COULD BLOW THE PING-PONG BALL UP THE BLUE TUBE IN ONE BREATH.”

My longest time off my bike after that was in 2015 when I got pneumonia. It wasn’t my fault. I had the flu and decided to race to blow the flu out. It didn’t work; instead, I sucked the pneumonia in. Sometime during the second moto, I don’t actually remember when, I found myself parked by the side of the track with my head on the handlebars. I was huffing, puffing, hacking and coughing. The promoter ran over to where I was and helped me get off the track. I spent two months breathing albuterol through a nebulizer because my doctor said I couldn’t race until I could blow the ping-pong ball up the blue tube in one breath.

Late last year I finally got the broken bone that I so richly deserved. I crashed at the top of Glen Helen’s Mt. Saint Helen and did backflips down the hill, breaking my left arm in two places. I had it plated (after the massive abrasions healed) and spent six months in casts, braces and rehab. I’d never had that much time off. The silver lining was that I was able to catch every episode of Adam 12 that I had missed from 1968 to 1975. When my doctor finally released me to ride, I stunk. I know what you are thinking, but it was possible to stink more than I stunk before I got hurt.

Then, one day I was fiddling with my goggles and accidentally covered my left eye. I realized that I could not see out of my right eye. It was a blur. It turns out that I was legally blind. My ophthalmologist (funny how you collect more personal doctors the longer you race) told me that I had cataracts and an eye disease called keratoconus. I needed cataract surgery, followed by a YAG laser capsulotomy and future cross-link therapy injections in both eyes. Worst of all, I couldn’t race for three months.

The other day at the track, an old friend asked how my arm was doing. I said, “No sweat. I don’t care about my arm. I can only deal with one medical problem at a time. I’m busy with the eyes right now.”

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