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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, he’s 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, he’s 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 who’ll do it up for you.” He held on to it for about two months without doing a thing. “You know, I don’t really want to build you this bike,” he told me. He didn’t want to be responsible for me getting hurt again. Then I met Brad Meinzer through David Bailey, and I saw the downhill mountain bike he’d 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. Brad’s 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 it’s 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. That’s when I knew I had to ride, so I’d sit in the garage and my dad was like, “If you really want to ride it, let’s do it now.” That’s when he got out the roll of duct tape and secured me to the same bike that I’d 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 I’ve 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 and braking?

James: There’s a hand back brake where my clutch used to be, and I have an automatic clutch that’s centrifugal. I give it gas and it feeds the clutch out for me, and then I have an electronic gearshift—basically two little tabs with buttons that shift between gears, while engaging the transmission. And that’s about it for the motor.

Cooper: You say “thumbs” plural, so it’s on both sides?

James: Yeah, there’s down shifting on the gas (throttle) side, and acceleration on the other side. So there’s 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. That’s 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 he’ll come out and get me, or help me if I need to stop. He can catch me and put my kickstand down. I’m working on an automatic kickstand, where I push a button and it flips down. I’ve been working on it, but it’s not perfected, and like I said, at a Motocross track I don’t really need to stop. When I’m done, I’m done.

Navigating Recovery

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. I’ve 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. He’s 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 I’m still good friends with Jesse and the whole Life Rolls On crew.

Cooper: Tell me about your dad?

James: He’s awesome.

Cooper: It’s pretty cool that he’s dealt with his fears and still let’s you be who you are.

James: He knew I was capable of riding again. I’m a pretty smart rider. I know what I can do and what I can’t. There are some double jumps out here today that I probably could have done, but it wouldn’t be worth it to push things too far. If I do certain moves, it’s going to hurt.

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 that’s what’s fun about it. You’ve got to scare yourself a little bit to make it fun.
.... continued in ABILITY Magazine

ABILITY Magazine
Other articles in the Laura Innes issue include Headlines — CVS, Red Cross, AT&T Foundation; Humor Therapy — It’s Sad Not Being Happy; George Covington — When Life’s 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 (Here’s How); ABILITY's Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences...subscribe

Dec/Jan 2007-08

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More excerpts 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)


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