A Broken Down Rebuilding

Sheila Stephani

On the side of our house, we have a grey pole barn. Inside, scattered across the cold, dirty, floor, are the hundreds of various parts and pieces that used to be a 250F Yamaha bike: spark plugs; screws in eight different sizes; deflated black, dirty tires; polished fenders. Then there are the tools of rebuilding: oil cans; wrenches, some heavy as a man’s forearm, some small enough to fit in the tightest spots; screwdrivers, Phillips head and flat head, some type of unknown head; the list is endless. It is my brother’s project. It used to be ours, but too many years have passed. Too much time spent on work and school, no time for building the bike anymore. But, the parts of the 250F Yamaha remain on the cold floor of the once tidy pole barn.

My brother has never been one for conventional sports. No baseball or basketball for him. He needs speed. So, at age thirteen he mounted a motocross bike and became hooked: the feel of the rumbling motor, the flying pieces of wet dirt, the obstacle of a jump. He didn’t just love it; he was good at it, too. He had the precision, a natural talent. Each turn that he made and each jump he approached, he always had an exact sense of precision. I’d never seen it before I saw him race. Not only that, but he puts energy into each ride; he’s got grit.

The culture of motocross is unfamiliar to the general public. It is an entirely different world behind the gates of the track. The boys travel around in a pack. Their hats backwards or sideways. Their plaid printed boxers hang out of their uniform pants. They never wear shirts. The girls usually take off their jerseys and walk around in their tank tops. The zipper of their uniform pants unzipped and belly showing. As much as my brother attempted to fit in and follow the ways of the fellow motocross men, my mother never allowed it. If his hat was sideways, she would take it away from him. If his boxers were showing, she would pull his pants up for him. My mother wouldn’t put up with such behavior. My brother quickly learned that the motocross culture would always slightly be a foreign environment.

His extreme need for speed found my brother in a heap of trouble one race four summers ago. He was leading the pack of twenty male racers around the second bend of the Mora track. The track was puddled with deep, sticky mud, not a single inch of it remained dry. As he approached the largest double, he twisted his throttle. Upon take off, all seemed in place. I anxiously watched, leaning against the barricade fence. My heart began to race in eager excitement, for I loved watching my brother soar through the air. I assumed this takeoff would be no different, and I would watch him successfully clear the jump. However, once my brother was at his peak height in the air, it all turned disastrous.

In order to conquer a motocross double jump, one must consider a few primary aspects. First, the speed of approach cannot be too fast or too slow. While approaching the takeoff, the rider must decelerate while leaning slightly toward the back of the bike. Second, now that the rider is aloft, he tightly grasps the bike using the strength of his inner leg muscles. At this time, a conscious rider will check for nearby opponents, preparing for landing. The landing can be the toughest aspect of conquering the double jump. When approaching the landing, the rider carefully begins to accelerate the speed of the bike. Once the tires of the bike land as they should at virtually the same time, the rider rapidly accelerates and he is off to the next element of the track, the table-top section, perhaps. Maybe the whoops portion. It takes strength, grace, and incredible concentration in order to accomplish any specified motocross element.

My brother locked handlebars with the racer behind him, and lost control of his Yamaha. As my brother let go of the handle bars, the bike kept streaming through the air, but my brother did not. He dropped to the ground. His full body mass landed on his right foot. I remember the shrieks of horror coming from the bystanders. I remember my brother not moving. I remember he looked like a dead fish. Limp. He was unable to even lift his head beneath his cracked helmet.

I remember my mother as she watched her son come crashing to the ground that hot Saturday afternoon. One moment she was standing behind the fence. The next minute she had cleared the thing in a single bound and landed knee deep in a puddle of mud. She ran. She lost her shoes. She ran until she reached her boy’s disarranged body. Pushing every other person out of her way, my emergency-room-nurse-mother rapidly assessed my injured brother’s condition. After determining that all upper extremities were intact, she carried him off of the track. My tiny mother mustered up enough strength to cradle her six foot son back to our camping site. Not once did she panic or doubt her decision making process. Maybe because of her occupation. Maybe because all she was concerned about was the unstable condition of her boy.

I began racing motocross because I looked up to my brother and always wanted to do whatever he was doing, whenever he was doing it. If he was grinding rails on his skateboard, I was right behind him with my skateboard, grinding the same rails. I watched him race for a year before I got on a bike and experienced my first kickstart. Once I heard the loud, low roar of the engine, I was hooked too. And a little scared. The only fear my brother had was that I would beat him, that I would race faster and stronger. Other than that, I became another motocross buddy to him. I quickly acquired my own bike, gear, helmet, boots, chest protector, kidney belt, neck brace, goggles, and name plates. Next thing I knew, I was peeling off the new lime green name plates. I found myself in the start gate of my very first race. Face dripping with sweat, hands glued to the handlebars beneath my gloves, the start light turned green. I only wanted to make my brother proud. I pushed aside my fears. I charged after that goal.

My brother completely shattered his right ankle in his crash, nearly each bone beyond resolvable. His heel was reduced to powder. His foot crushed. The search for a reliable surgeon proved nearly impossible. It consumed weeks. Each day the pain grew stronger and my brother’s confidence grew weaker. All he wanted was someone to fix him. We heard the word amputation. Finally, my mother found the one and only surgeon in Minnesota willing to take on my brother and all his pieces. It took multiple, titanium, 3X4 plates and at least a dozen screws and pins to give my brother a reconstructed ankle. But this was just the beginning.

The path to recovery proved to be a lengthy process for my brother. After surgery, he was on strict bed-rest for months, only allowed bathroom visits when absolutely necessary. I became his personal servant. At the ring of his bell, I was there, bedside assistance. I brought food, drinks, movies, magazines, video games. Whatever he desired. My brother had doctor’s appointments every week, if not multiple times a week. It seemed as if he was constantly getting a new cast, or splint, or boot, or something. Eventually, after months of rest, he began years of physical therapy. My brother had to learn how to walk again. He had to retrain his ankle and foot to take steps. Limping. Tripping. Stumbling. As frustrated as he was, he never gave up. He pushed through the pain and inconvenience of being immobilized, and he took the necessary steps in order to fully recover. To this day, he wears a foot support in his shoes and an ankle brace when playing any type of impact sport. After intense therapy, he did return to his motocross bike and conquered the very double jump that had once left him motionless. Nothing stops my brother. But something stopped him from finishing the 250F Yamaha.