Ricky James was well
on his way to fulfilling a childhood dream of becoming a Supercross champion,
when life took a drastic turn. Two and a half years ago, at just 16 years
old, he was injured in a Motocross accident on the track. The blow to
his T7 vertebrae left him paralyzed from his mid-chest down. Today at
19, hes deftly navigating the new terrain of his life.
Mere days after the accident, James declared that he would ride again.
But first he had to redesign his motorcycle. After he did that, he was
determined to compete in the 2007 Tecate SCORE Baja 500, which he did.
On the heels of those victories, he set his sights on performing a back
flip on his newly modified motorcycle. He licked that too, and now has
set his sights on NASCAR racing. In the meantime, hes shifting out
of his teen years into the higher gear of independent adult living. ABILITY
Magazine, editor-in-chief, Chet Cooper recently caught up with James and
idled alongside him for an hour or so to talk about his accident, his
recovery and his plans for the future.
Cooper looks over James modified motorcycle
Cooper: Pretty nice, Ricky.
James: Yeah. When I got hurt, I took it to my suspension guy and he was
like, Yeah, I know wholl do it up for you. He held on
to it for about two months without doing a thing. You know, I dont
really want to build you this bike, he told me. He didnt want
to be responsible for me getting hurt again. Then I met Brad Meinzer through
David Bailey, and I saw the downhill mountain bike hed designed
for paraplegics, and I was like, Dude, you could make me some Nerf
Bars, which are basically crash bars to protect my legs. He made
it happen. Brads awesome.
Cooper: Being in a chair, he knew exactly what you needed.
James: Exactly. The bars used to go all the way underneath the bike, which
was a little bit wider. But now its more streamlined. This is as
simple as it can get.
Cooper: How long did it take you to come up with the idea?
James: About six months. But I started riding my smaller motorcycle just
four months after I got hurt. I would get duct-taped to it, and ride around
with buddies, like my friend Jason Lawrence. Thats when I knew I
had to ride, so Id sit in the garage and my dad was like, If
you really want to ride it, lets do it now. Thats when
he got out the roll of duct tape and secured me to the same bike that
Id crashed on. At first, I just went up and down my driveway. But
my hips were sliding off, so I knew that the seat was the key part that
kept me on the bike. Everything else Ive added is basically to go
faster or protect my legs, like the electronic shifting gear.
Cooper: Tell me more about the controls? How exactly are you shifting
James: Theres a hand back brake where my clutch used to be, and
I have an automatic clutch thats centrifugal. I give it gas and
it feeds the clutch out for me, and then I have an electronic gearshiftbasically
two little tabs with buttons that shift between gears, while engaging
the transmission. And thats about it for the motor.
Cooper: You say thumbs plural, so its on both sides?
James: Yeah, theres down shifting on the gas (throttle) side, and
acceleration on the other side. So theres only one button for me
to push on each side. We modified that, along with the seat to keep me
on, the crash bars to protect my legs, and the foot trays to keep my feet
in place. Thats what it took for me to ride again.
Cooper: So when you stop, you basically have to look for a tree to prop
yourself up against or
James: Or my friends catch me. I have to have someone with me to load
and unload my bike as well as to get me on it. I probably could get on
it myself, but I have to have one guy to go out to the track with me in
case I crash. Then hell come out and get me, or help me if I need
to stop. He can catch me and put my kickstand down. Im working on
an automatic kickstand, where I push a button and it flips down. Ive
been working on it, but its not perfected, and like I said, at a
Motocross track I dont really need to stop. When Im done,
Cooper: Do you have siblings?
James: I have two sisters; one is 24 and the other is 28.
Cooper: How did your family deal with your injury?
James: Afterwards, they were on the computer 24 hours a day, looking into
treatment options and what life might be like after a spinal cord injury.
They told me more than the doctors did. Ive become really close
with my sisters. They call me to hang out, and I love being with them
and my two little nieces. My younger sister actually dated Jesse Billauer,
the guy who started Life Rolls On, for about a year.
Cooper: Before or after his injury?
James: After. Hes been hurt for about 10 years. He came and visited
me in rehab.
Cooper: Small world.
James: He came and visited me in rehab, and my sister sent him an email
that said, Thanks for coming to visit my brother, and he was
like, Hey, are you single? So they started talking and dated
for a year or so. It was cool. They broke up, but Im still good
friends with Jesse and the whole Life Rolls On crew.
Cooper: Tell me about your dad?
James: Hes awesome.
Cooper: Its pretty cool that hes dealt with his fears and
still lets you be who you are.
James: He knew I was capable of riding again. Im a pretty smart
rider. I know what I can do and what I cant. There are some double
jumps out here today that I probably could have done, but it wouldnt
be worth it to push things too far. If I do certain moves, its going
Cooper: And yet you dropped it twice out there.
James: Yeah, I crash probably once or twice every time I go riding. I
push it just beyond the low level, and thats whats fun about
it. Youve got to scare yourself a little bit to make it fun.....
continued in ABILITY Magazine
Other articles in the Laura Innes issue include Headlines CVS,
Red Cross, AT&T Foundation; Humor Therapy Its Sad Not
Being Happy; George Covington When Lifes A Blur; Humor Therapy;
Senator Letter Ben Nelson; DRLC Is Your Health Care System
Accessible?; Allen Rucker Thoughts on the Writers Strike; Green
Pages Save Bucks in the Bathroom; Betsy Valnes Sticks and
Stones; Deaf Cruise Partiers of the Caribbean; ChairKrazy
The Marcus Ingram Story; Dr. Hans Keirstead Stem Cell Pioneer;
Richard Pimentel Get A Job (Heres How); ABILITY's Crossword
Puzzle; Events and Conferences...subscribe
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from the Laura Innes issue:
Laura Innes -- Interview
Ricky James Still Zooming Ahead
Hans Keirstead — Stem Cell Pioneer
Call Me Chairkrazy: The Marcus Ingram Story
Will Downing -- Will Power
UCP Life Without Limits
Raytheon Rhodes To Independence
Betsy Valnes Sticks and Stones
Richard Pimental Get A Job (Here's How)