Ava Seccuro staff writer
A hobby that was once a product of seeing his father ride dirt bikes has evolved into a zealous passion for motocross for senior John Paul Austin. After a victory in his first race in that left him with a killer adrenaline rush and a fascination for the sport, Austin’s thirst for more wins soon came to a screeching halt when he suffered a 10-foot down into a canyon and broke his elbow.
“I decided that because of [my] first race I was really good and I felt really great about racing, [so] I’m going to go on to race a bigger race. There was this national competition at the same track and you have to qualify to get in the race and eventually I qualified,” Austin said. “I got really nervous because it was the biggest race I’ve ever raced in my life…Halfway through the race, there was this big jump on the track. I had been making it all practice, this 50-foot jump. I went for it. I’m just soaring through the air and I just get really scared. All the nerves in my body stopped working and I just let go of the bike.”
John Paul’s father, John Austin, knew something wasn’t right when he could no longer see his son’s bike on the track. Left in the unknown, John was left to stir his restlessness until he saw the paramedics and was informed that John Paul was not fatally hurt.
“I saw him leave, he went out of my sight and I saw the group of motorcycles come around and he wasn’t in it…that feeling, it’s a very worrisome feeling,” John said. “I didn’t know how bad he was hurt, if he was hurt, and I saw him there and he had the paramedics around him. I couldn’t get to him because there was a race still going on…They gave me a thumbs up, so that caused a big sigh of relief. But in motocross, if they say you’re alright, it just means that you’re not gravely injured.”
His Road to Recovery
Shortly after his crash, John Paul remarked being in such a state of shock that the unfamiliarity of his experience had clouded his conscience with fear and thoughts of quitting. But within a day, those worries quickly dissipated.
“I was nervous and scared. My girlfriend was there, and I was telling the [paramedic to] take me to [her], my mom and my dad,” John Paul said. “In the back of my mind, I was [thinking], ‘this is crazy, I don’t want to race anymore.’ I was debating on whether to stop, but the next morning I woke up and I wanted to go ride. That day was the closest I’ve gotten to [wanting to quit].”
After seeing one of his best friend, Adam Heapy, involved in a serious crash, John Paul couldn’t help but reflect on that vicarious experience and connect it to his own. But yet again, the enjoyment, friendship and sense of belonging John Paul gained from motocross kept his mind from wandering too far into the possibility of potential risks in the sport.
“I [remembered seeing Adam get injured] and I was thinking of myself and was thinking that this might not be worth it, but then I was just like, I can’t kill this passion,” John Paul said. “I really like this sport. It’s something I’ve been doing for a long time. I’ve met my best friend doing it, it keeps me in check with myself and I was thinking [that] it might be worth the risk.”
Although he was in “the worst pain [he’s] ever felt in his life,” his family and friends were one of the main contributors toward his mental recovery.
“My friends were always there. The night I got home from surgery, my girlfriend came to visit. The weekend came and my friend who had previously gotten injured came and saw me…he [told] me, ‘It’s okay, once you [get better] we’ll go riding, you’ll heal’,’’ John Paul said. “Now I’m alright. The doctors told me that we can’t really exert the arm until six months and it’s been seven so I’m okay now, but that was definitely a life-changing thing. I think family had a lot to do with [my recovery] more than friends because my mom was always there taking care of me and watching my arm.”
John Paul’s girlfriend, junior Liza Zacharias, maintained a positive outlook to insight optimism for the future in his recovery process.
“He was pretty bummed and I was trying to just be positive about it. I was just reminding him that in ‘x’ amount of time, it would be behind him and we wouldn’t even have to think about it, because [the doctors] told him, ‘You’re going to heal fine,’ so I was just trying to keep that in his mind,” Zacharias said.
Heapy, who had experienced a serious injury before John Paul, kept him company along with Zacharias.
“I went over to his house a lot and spent a lot of time with him. We always just talked about whatever he wanted to talk about and it made him feel a lot better,” Heapy said. “He’s slowly getting back into it, but I can tell he’s getting more comfortable on the bike now. Now that he knows what can happen, he knows his limits which is good.”
His Experience Back on the Track
According to Zacharias, John Paul’s riding style has stayed that same but is out of practice. She continues to try to ease his feelings of regret, but now that he is back on the bike and healed, he is beginning to put the whole experience behind him.
“He’s the same, riding wise. He’s still silly, he’s still good, but he’s out of practice now. I think a lot of the time he thinks, ‘What could I have done differently’ and [I say,] ‘You [can’t] because there is nothing you can do now.’ Overall, I think he’s better with it and it healed well,” Zacharias said.
After a sixth-month hiatus, John Paul describes getting back on the track as a foreign experience. Since his injury, his riding style has changed from intrepid to cautious; however, he is working on regaining his confidence on the bike.
“There’s still a lot of barriers that I have to overcome, like fear of jumps. I used to be fearless. There was one time where me and my friends were messing around and they shoveled this jump…and I jumped it. It was [around] a 100-foot jump and I did it, without even thinking about it,” John Paul said. “[Now] I can barely jump a 50-foot jump. It’s scary to me, I don’t want that to happen to me again. Whenever I come up to a jump it’s in the back of my mind; what I saw that day, what I felt that day. I’m trying to break that barrier down and train myself to not be afraid, but at the same time, [I should] realize what can happen.”
John Paul continues to practice and progress periodically in order to prepare for his next race sometime around March of next year. Although he is still wary on the track, at the end of the day, his passion for the sport overrides any doubt in his mind.
“You chase your passions and you have to weigh whether the risks are worth doing what you love to do. His love of the sport is something that, I guess in some ways [outweighs the risks],” Austin said. “He really loves it. It’s unusual, you go to these motocross tracks and you see these guys out there, and they all have this passion for riding.”