Clinging to hope
After accident paralyzed him, GJ motocross rider hopes to walk again
It was a normal jump, an easy one for veteran motocross riders such as Doug Simon, and Simon was having some fun, engaged in a little battle with a buddy during a Sports Riders Association of Colorado motocross event May 13 at Grand Junction Motor Speedway.
He was on the final lap of a four-lap race and ready to pass his friend by taking a new line up the jump. But on a part of the course that he said should have been nice and smooth, he encountered a jagged edge that sent him and his bike end over end, resulting in a landing that turned his world upside down.
“I hit it too fast,” Simon said Wednesday evening from Craig Hospital in Denver, his home of the past two weeks and likely for the next two months. “I took too much of a chance. … I landed on my head, basically.”
While in the air, he realized, “This is real bad.” But he’d crashed before. All motocross riders have crashed before. Many, many times. From most spills, they walk away, brushing off the dirt, ready to ride again.
Simon didn’t walk away. He didn’t get up. He couldn’t. He was paralyzed from the chest down.
A friend and co-worker of his at All-Terrain Motorsports, Cliff Allen, saw the accident and went to his aid.
“I saw the bike rag-dolling down the hill. … It was a bad crash,” Allen said, adding he was amazed at how calmly Simon took it in. “Instead of yelling and screaming bloody murder, he was cracking jokes.”
The severity of the situation didn’t hit Simon immediately, but the picture slowly came into focus.
Medical personnel touched his feet, his lower legs, his thighs, his waist, and asked him every time, “Can you feel this?” And as the answer kept coming back, “No,” Simon said it started to dawn on him what might be in store.
He was taken by ambulance to St. Mary’s Hospital, where he finally saw X-rays of his spine.
“That’s when I knew it was real bad,” Simon said.
His spinal cord was severed. He had surgery, which Simon said required an incision from his neck down to his waistline, fusing of his spinal column from the T3 to the T10 vertebra, and 39 staples to close it.
After a week at St. Mary’s, he took another ambulance ride, the one that put him at Craig Hospital, where he has been rehabilitating and will continue to do so at least until the end of July. There, he tries to remain positive, because, “They said people who stay positive come out better.”
Doctors also are telling him every spinal-cord injury patient is different. Little is certain. But he gets positive signs. Loud noises, Simon said, trigger a sensation in his legs. That’s good, right?
“I feel like I’m getting a little bit back,” he said. “I can almost use my stomach muscles a little bit.”
But he can’t feel those muscles. Still, the strength it requires to be a motocross racer may help him. With that and a positive attitude and the support of loved ones, “Hopefully a miracle will happen,” Simon said.
That’s why he speaks of walking again one day. No one said he will. No one said he won’t.
“I know the odds are against me,” he said. “I just think that I will again one day.”
And if not walking, maybe he’ll ride again. There’s precedent. A young man whom Simon used to race against, Aaron Hill, has visited him a couple of times at the Denver hospital. Hill, who is paralyzed from the waist down, has a bike specially outfitted that holds his lower body in place on the bike and allows him to operate it with hand controls. So, he rides.
So, there’s hope. And Simon will cling to it, and he asks others to do the same: “Have faith.”
That theme will be at the heart of an event Saturday to raise funds to help Simon.
Friends, family and co-workers are putting on a freestyle motocross event from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the parking lot next to All-Terrain Motorsports, 3080 Interstate 70 Business. Several pro motocross riders, such as Hal Straus and Toby Whittington, will be on hand to do some freestyle motocross, backflips and such.
Hot dogs and soda will be provided free. In return, people are asked to buy raffle tickets and spend $5 on stickers and lime-green wristbands or $25 on T-shirts that say “Doug Simon 159 Have Faith.” His bike number is 159.
All proceeds will go toward helping Simon pay his medical bills and meet the needs he will encounter, such as wheelchair accessibility for his home. Or, as co-worker James Wells wrote in an email: “to help him get back to living a life he deserves.”
Simon’s friends say he didn’t deserve the accident that left him paralyzed from the chest down.
He’s a good man, a good co-worker, a good motocross competitor, a good friend, a good uncle to his nieces.
“Doug is one of the friendliest people I’ve ever met,” Allen said.
“He doesn’t have any enemies at all,” Wells said, even on the race track.
Money and items already have been raised, about $25,000 worth, but Wells said Simon will need much more.
Wells marvels at Simon’s positive attitude. It’s not that Simon hasn’t gotten down or upset during all of this. Wells said he witnessed a moment Simon had with his dog, Stomper, telling him he’s sorry he won’t be able to take him for walks anymore.
“Things like that started getting to him,” Wells said.
If a full recovery can be made from this injury, Wells believes Simon will achieve it. If not, he said, “We want him to have the best life possible.”
That includes returning to his job at All-Terrain Motorsports when Simon is ready.
Wells expects about 1,000 people will show up for Saturday’s fundraiser. Simon is grateful. And awed.
Support is coming from the expected places: family, friends, co-workers, the motocross community. And it’s coming from unexpected places, “people I don’t even know, people who don’t even ride dirt bikes. I’d say, like, Mesa County,” Simon said.
“Every local shop is coming together for this,” Wells said, mentioning Simon’s former employer, Grand Valley Powersports, among them.
Being a competing business doesn’t matter for a situation like Simon’s.
“It’s cool to see the racing community around here, how tight-knit it is, the way people have stepped up,” Allen said. “All of the local racers call me and text me and ask how Doug’s doing, ‘What can I do to help?’ The people we race and ride with are a good bunch of people.”
As someone who once broke both of his ankles and found Simon there to help him through it, Allen said, “I want to do as much as I can for the guy.”