Originally published in Arthur No. 1 (October 2002). Cover photograph by Spike Jonze. Art direction by W.T. Nelson.
THE SOUND OF THE BONE DRILL
BMX superstardom didn’t come cheap, says Mat Hoffman
Excerpted from The Ride of My Life, BMX madman Mat Hoffman’s new autobiography written with Mark Lewman. Hoffman came out of retirement at the 2002 X Games and made history, pulling a no-handed 900 air.
I’ve broken one wrist five times. The other wrist, three times. Between my ankles, I’ve had five breaks. I’ve snapped four fingers, my thumbs four times, my hand twice, busted my feet three times, and broken three toes. (You don’t think a broken toe would hurt that much, but your entire body weight is on it.) I’ve busted my collar bones five times, snapped my pelvis, my fibula, my elbow, cracked three ribs and separated a couple from my sternum. (Breaking ribs off the sternum sucks—just about every movement you can think of is centered in your chest.) Then there’s my head: one skull fracture, two broken jaws, two broken noses, a mouthful of teeth, and a partridge in a pear tree.
Every choice you make can be traced back to the instinctual need to seek pleasure, and avoid pain. These two forces are interconnected, different sides to the same coin. Since I started bike riding, I wanted more than anything to experience the highest highs. To get there, I was willing to accept the consequences. My medical records contain more than four hundred pages documenting my injuries. I’ve put myself in a coma, had over fifty knockouts and concussions, been sewn up with over two hundred stitches, dislocated my shoulder more than twenty times, broken about fifty bones, and had over a dozen different surgeries. I’ve torn ligaments, bruised tissue, severed arteries, spilled blood, and left hunks of my skin stuck to plywood, concrete, dirt, and bicycle components. I’ve had to endure not just physical pain, but the mental anguish of re-learning how to walk, ride my bike, or even remember who I was. I’ve dealt with mountains of health insurance red tape, and condescending doctors who took it upon themselves to lecture me before they treated my injuries, as if they needed to save me from myself.
Not everyone understands that I’ve asked for it, accepted it, and willingly volunteered. Not to sound sadistic, but I consider each of my injuries a tax I had to pay for learning what I could do on my bike. I wanted it all, and wouldn’t take any of it back if I could. Yes, I will be sore and broken when I’m older. I can feel it already, the aches and pains of a body that has been beyond and back. I’ve given up as much of myself as I could, because I love bike riding that much.
My insurance companies have always hated me, having paid hospital bills totaling more than a million dollars over the years. I’ve had to rely on surgery to keep me going. You know it’s getting serious when you start letting people take knives to your body to make you healthy.
Here are my patient notes.
Number 1: Collarbone Crush
November, 1986. It was immediately following a Mountain Dew Trick Team show. I’d just learned 360 drop-ins, and was uncorking them all day. We finished our demo, but I still wanted to ride. I took my chest protector off, figuring I’d just do easy stuff. I lined up parallel to the coping to do a simple hop drop-in, like Eddie Fiola used to do. I stalled in position for a second and went for it. For some reason my brain told my body to react as if I was doing a 360 drop-in. I fell straight to the cement and took the hit on my head and shoulder. My friend Paige said it made a sound like a helmet being thrown off the ramp with nothing in it—a loud, hollow snap. That was my grand finale. I didn’t just break my collarbone, I shattered it. I knocked myself unconscious too. The show was right next door to a hospital, of all places, with two of the best surgeons in Oklahoma City on duty that day. In surgical terms, Dr. Grana and Dr. Yates performed a fourth degree AC joint separation procedure, provided reconstruction of the coracoclavicular ligament, and did a partial removal of my left collarbone.
Number 2: Right Leg, Wrong Move
February, 1988. The 540 is a trick that makes you earn it to learn it. The price is a lot of slams. I finally thought I had them just about dialed in, and did one and looped out. My leg got caught behind me and I sat on it. There was a snapping sound and a blast wave of heat, pain, and nausea. Broken bones have a dull, throbby kind of ache to them. I got into Steve’s car to go to the hospital. Every time he hit a bump my leg would sway between my knee and ankle. My body was in shock, and the pain began to subside. We started chuckling every time it swayed, and then started laughing harder about what the hell we were laughing at. Dark humor helps. The doctor I encountered in the ER had very little humor. My first question to him was, “how long before I can ride again?” He told me I would be lucky to walk without a limp and would never ride a bike again. “Okay, thanks…bye,” was the next thing out of my mouth. I left that doctor as fast as I could, and my dad got me in to see Dr. Yates. Yates put in a titanium plate (the body rejects steel) and ten screws in my fibula to repair the complete syndesmotic disruption and fibular fracture of my right leg. I missed the first King of Vert in Paris because of this injury.Continue reading