THE REAL CHAMPIONS
By Matt Cuddy
“And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As they carried me down the gangway.
And I looked at the place, where me legs use to be;
No more waltzin’ Matilda for me…”
The Pogues, Rum, Sodomy & the Lash cir. 1972.
About ten years ago I was sitting in front of the tube, watching a motocross race where David Bailey was doing the commentary. He was sitting at a table with two other guys (who obviously didn’t know an MX bike from a steam shovel) so you couldn’t see his wheelchair. I turned to my wife and said “See that guy on the far right hand side of the table? That’s David Bailey; he’s paralyzed, and is one tough S.O.B.”.
Little did I know that we would share the same fate a decade or so down the road.
See, I was never that good of an athlete, in school I was always one of the last guys to get picked for any team sport, I did have a good pitching arm, and played short-stop to some degree of decency, but spots for a skinny, be-speckled kid with braces, didn’t manifest themselves very often.
But I could ride a motorcycle like nobody’s business. And soon I graduated into a dirt bike freak of the highest order. By my senior year of High School I had a fleet of dirt bikes, most open class machines, and was one of the fastest riders in the neighborhood. And I had a lot of competition back then.
But I made the mistake of riding all the time, both on the street and in the dirt. Finally my luck ran out in December of ’06 when I got nailed on my new Buell City-X about a mile from home, by some road-rage case who actually ran me over, and broke about every bone in my body. My back’s T-12 vertebrae exploded, and wrapped up my spinal cord like a sting of linguini. And after a year in various hospitals, nursing homes and rehab places, I finally made it home, confined to a wheelchair.
Before my accident, when I looked back at my life on two wheels, I never had any hero’s who I worshiped on the alter of dirt bikes. Oh sure, I thought guys like David were amazingly fast and all that, but to me they were just other guys on dirt bikes, who were a lot faster than I was, and to tell you the truth, it kind of pissed me off, because I knew if I had the right equipment, and backing I might have been just as good. Or better. Something I’ll never know. But all that changed.
So now my hero’s are guys like David Bailey, Ricky James, the late great Danny Chandler, Wayne Rainey, Andre Malhebe, Mitch Mayes, Mitch Payton, Tony DiStefano, and the rest who have paid the ultimate price for their sport. Because only they know what it’s like.
First is the realization that you’re never going to walk again, never have normal sex, be able to pee without shoving a hose up your dick, or have a normal bowel movement without planning it like a military landing on an unfriendly beach.
That everything you once took for grated is now a colossal task, taking a shower, what you can and can’t eat. Dressing yourself, driving. Relaxing with a beer without timing yourself to avoid peeing in your pants. The skin breakdowns, the infections. The constant re-positioning to avoid pressure sores, the feelings of loss. The constant pain for those of us with a low injury.
All these things that make being paralyzed a daunting task. But for some, Like David Bailey, it becomes a challenge, to prove to yourself, and the world that you are not defeated, not in the least. David became an accomplished tri-athlete AFTER becoming paralyzed, and passed this on to Ricky James, another amazing man, who just happens to be a dirt rider. These guys are true hero’s in anyone book.
I wish I had a 10% of what they have. And I pray every morning when I face another day of uncertainty for God to give me their strength to move forward, and not get bogged down in old memories of the way things use to be. Because the past is gone. And all the trophies and finisher pins on my wall don’t mean a thing now.
And I can’t forget Rick Sieman and his wife Tina, who are my other biggest hero’s. They are quite a pair. When all my so-called friends disappeared after my accident, Rick and Tina stuck by my like the true friends they are.
My wife Amparo, is my other biggest hero who stayed by my side through all the bad times that go along with being paralyzed. Amparo is recovering from Cancer, and still takes care of me like I am royalty. We’ve been married for 22 years, and they have been the best years of my life. It’ll be four years on the 21st of this month since being run over, and I’m not giving up. In fact, now I’m going to go out and adjust the valves on my wheelchair.
Larry & Al about to let me loose on the chair of death
And if any of your guys that I just mentioned read this, you are the real champions in my book, and stronger than any 4130 chrome moly. Truly unbreakable.
p.s. Oh and Turbo Al Lombardo & Larry Glenn have been my road dogs and fabricators of amazing gizmos to make my life easier. You guys rock.