By Karl “Kiwi” Whitcombe
So I am that guy, the one you have heard of, or perhaps even know. The guy who (fill in the blank), suffered a spinal cord injury, and ended up in a wheelchair or worse.
November 2011 I was testing a new dirt bike, when I got loose in a set of whoops, was thrown over the bars, and the next thing I know I am face down unable to move from the chin down. Without writing a novel, I was airlifted to a trauma hospital, and after two weeks of attempted surgery they finally got in and removed parts of my spine and screwed my C3-C4 vertebrae together. I was told that the chance of walking again was a stretch and that a wheel chair maybe the future of my mobility. Needless to say I am stubborn, and don't like to be told what to do. With the support of my family and friends I first spent three months in inpatient rehab, then another three months in outpatient and gone was the chair, then the walker, and onto a cane. I regained the use of my arms and legs, although I lack over 50% of sensation in my feet and hands which makes riding a bike entertaining to say the least.
This is where I started trying to figure what was “next” and after some discussions with my wife and my spinal cord doctor it was decided I could try to get back on wheels of some sort, road bike at first then I was released to ride mountain bikes. I set my goal on first entering an enduro mountain bike race. With the support of my friends, within 18 months of my accident we had accomplished that goal. From there I decided that I would not only continue to attempt to “ride” in enduros around the mid-south, but also compete in them, which has been challenging at times, but so rewarding.
Over time my goals have evolved and I decided I wanted to give back, but had no idea how. For the past four years I have been in contact with several organizations, trying to find a way in which, for lack of better description, to give back. I finally came across The Challenged Athlete Foundation, whose goal is to provide assistance to people with physical disabilities and the support to pursue active lifestyles and competitive athletics. C.A.F provides mentors, grants, and support to try to help people with disabilities return to an active lifestyle that appeals to them. Their support, and connections I continue to make because of it, is hugely beneficial to me as a mountain biker, as there are a very limited avenues of support if you are looking outside of what is considered mainstream in the world of challenged athletes. This is how my relationship with Fly Racing developed, and with the support I received I have been fortunate to be able to attend numerous regional and national events through spring and summer, racing, having the opportunity to still pursue my love of riding, and to push myself mentally and physically.
My vision as an ambassador for the Challenged Athlete Foundation is to represent Team CAF at as many future events as possible, with the long term goal of assisting people to become active again in a way that appeals to them. In my case this is Mountain Biking, it is my “happy place” that gives me an outlet and an avenue to be outside with a smile on my face, all of which I would like to be able to pass on. At this point in time I have already met people at events that have contacted me or had friends contact me, and we have gotten people back on bikes, swimming, training for 5ks, and even triathlons. Most important is mentoring people who are new to their “disability,” as I know that there is a lot that you need help understanding at times.
Learn more about The Challenged Athlete Foundation.