The Will to Win

Chris Ridgway has aspirations to one day become a motivational speaker. Not one to approach a task lightly, there is no doubt he will find a way to succeed. He certainly will not be hard-pressed for material. Ridgway, a 36-year-old motocross rider living in Monmouth, Ore., does not seem to know the definition of the word “quit.”

O&P Extremity Games

Growing up in southern California, Ridgway began riding motorcycles as early as 6 years old and started riding seriously when he was 14. He turned professional at 20 years old and quickly rose through the ranks of competitive motocross, culminating in 1999, when he finished third overall in the U.S. Hot Rod Off-Road Championship Series. Ridgway said he would have finished first had he not broken his leg in the next to last race of the series.

Broken bones and motocross (an event where riders compete on a hilly, rough-terrained course, sometimes over a mile long) go hand-in-hand, and Ridgway will be the first to admit this. One particular injury that Ridgway suffered led to a series of surgeries and subsequent broken bones, eventually leading to the amputation of his left leg below the knee in 2002.

A life-changing injury

During a practice run in 1995, Ridgway went off a double jump, which involves going off one hill, soaring over a gap (a 110-foot gap in Ridgway’s case), and landing on the down-slope of the next hill. While going 50 mph, Ridgway lost control of his motorcycle mid-air, fell 40 feet to the ground and “landed” feet-first into the face of the upslope of the second hill. The landing caused compound fractures in both legs and his left ankle would never fully recover. Although he continued to race professionally for 7 years following the injury, enjoying success along the way, the constant stream of pain killers to combat his surgically reconstructed ankle caused Ridgway to explore the possibility of amputation. Ridgway’s strong desire to win and his tendency to race with an almost reckless abandon were both trumped by the pain in his leg.

Making an unpopular decision

Chris Ridgway racing“In 1999, I was racing in Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix and I saw this guy working for Budweiser who was a double amputee. He was carrying a keg of beer over his shoulder and walking up a flight of stairs better than I could. I just thought, ‘you know what, I have to do something.’ I had to change the way I lived. I was pretty crazy without being on any [painkillers]. They just made me not care about myself,” Ridgway said.

Against the advice of numerous doctors, as well as his family, Ridgway had the surgery in 2002 and set out to become “the world’s fastest motorcycle racer with one leg.” The motivation for wanting to become the best, Ridgway said, was to drum up publicity for the newest thrill ride he had undertaken – racing cars.

“My motocross skills have allowed me to adapt well into the car. From the first day I was in the car I was really fast. You learn a lot about vehicle control when you race motorcycles your whole life,” Ridgway said.

Ridgway, who also considers himself an avid off-roader (he owns a rock buggy and several Jeeps), is currently racing Porsches in the Grand-Am Rolex Series, along with riding his motorcycle.

Being the best

Ridgway’s current success racing cars has opened his eyes to the possibility of finding a new audience for his motocross skills. So when he heard that there would be a motocross event at the O&P Extremity Games by College Park, to be held in Orlando, Fla. in July, he jumped at the chance. Motocross will be the first event held in Orlando at this year’s games, classified as an advanced-only competition. For Ridgway, the opportunity to race against other amputee riders has caused his undeniable competitive drive to resurface when it comes to motocross.

“I just have to be the fastest guy. … I think that I have something to show everybody. If I was wearing a boot on that side, then people would have no idea that I was an amputee,” Ridgway said. “I have sacrificed so much of my life to be a fast motorcycle racer and I don’t have much to show for it. I would like to have something to show for it. I have worked really hard and I am working now to get back up to speed. I don’t know how else to explain it. I just want to win.”

Motivating younger riders

Chris Ridgway
Image reprinted with permission of Chris Ridgway.
© Burke; 2007,, JupiterImages Corporation

Ridgway hopes that when spectators see him race, and more importantly when younger amputees watch him, they will realize that anything is possible. Wanting to win and the intensity level brought on by competition does not need to be quelled, according to Ridgway. He hopes that by racing at the Extremity Games, the visibility of disabled athletes will improve, especially within motocross and car racing circles.

“I want to show people that you can get to that level even if you are missing a leg. When I go to the local practices, I have tons of people around me all the time because I am faster than just about everyone there. They all want to know how I do it. If I can help someone out, especially an amputee, who might not realize what the possibilities are, [then] I want to be that guy.”

Helping people has always been part of Ridgway’s life. The Extremity Games will allow Ridgway the opportunity to combine the two strongest desires in his life: the chance to showcase his motocross abilities, coupled with the prospect of helping young athletes see riding as a viable option for an amputee. He may even get the chance to work on his public speaking while in Orlando. If history is any indicator, drawing a crowd surely will not be an issue.

Andrew Kelly is the assistant editor of O&P Business News.

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