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HAIR-RAISING

After being in a coma for nearly a month and spending 43 days in the hospital, Hopkins recovery was far from over. He has endured months of grueling physical therapy and had to have his shattered skull hardened with titanium. (Courtesy photo/Hopkins)

After being in a coma for nearly a month and spending 43 days in the hospital, Hopkins recovery was far from over. He has endured months of grueling physical therapy and had to have his shattered skull hardened with titanium. (Courtesy photo/Hopkins)

Via e-mail -- Your article "Of Bikes and Brains" (Fall 2013 issue, page 8) really struck a chord with me. As I read it, the hair raised on the back of my neck because I knew that could have been me.

No, I didn't drive drunk. But I was drunk with power. I was a 15-year-old kid riding a dirt bike with no helmet or any other protective gear for that matter. Who needed a helmet? At 15 you are invulnerable and hard-headed -- unfortunately much more mentally than physically.

I remember riding my dirt bike down asphalt roads just to see how fast I could go. I wasn't supposed to be on the streets, nor was the bike ideally suited for the surface, but that didn't stop me. I would fashion jumps, and the more success I had, the more dangerous they got.

One day I was out riding alone (another no-no, but something I often did), and I saw some steep hills I just couldn't resist. I had to conquer them with my dirt bike.

I started climbing some of the small ones just to get my confidence up. But again, the more my confidence grew, the riskier my actions became.

I progressed until I came to the hill I'd had my eye on all day. Even at 15 and seemingly bulletproof, it made me swallow hard. It was steep, it was tall, it was unfamiliar, and I was ill-equipped -- both physically with lack of personal protective equipment and mentally with lack of experience -- to attempt such a climb. But I knew I was going to give it a try.

I was an adrenaline junky, and I was much more focused on the thrill of victory than the agony of defeat. I revved the engine and then attacked the hill with extreme prejudice. The fear that I'd started the climb with slowly dissipated as I made it about half way and still had plenty of speed. I was going to make it!

Then as I neared the top, I spotted what I couldn't see below. There was a lip at the top of the hill that arced backward. In horrifying realization I knew that when I hit it, it was going to flip the bike and send us careening down the hill. As the front tire hit the lip, my worst fears were realized. The bike flipped and I bailed.

I somehow managed to jump clear of the dirt bike as it tumbled and slid down the hill. I tumbled uncontrollably, sliding in dirt, hitting rocks and wondering when this "thrill ride" would end. As my body skidded to a stop toward the bottom of the hill, I could hear the engine revving on my dirt bike, which came to a halt halfway down.

I was bloodied, scraped and bruised, but I had avoided serious injury from such a crazy stupid stunt. It took me the better part of an hour to retrieve the bike and maneuver it down the slippery hill. Back then, I still didn't grasp all of the things that could have gone wrong for me. But older and wiser, the hair raises on the back of my neck as I realize how life could have been much different for me had I not been stupid lucky.

Eddie Renendez