At the age of 16, Aaron Ball was a typical kid in Colorado. He loved sports and played for the high school football team until that participation got in the way of his true passion — dirt bike racing. When his football coach asked him to choose, Ball did not hesitate to leave the field for good but he never anticipated dismounting his bike shortly thereafter.
Taking a risk
Now 36 years old, Ball recalls the car accident that led to his left transfemoral amputation without leaving out any of the details supplied by witnesses at the scene.
Driving too fast by his own admission, Ball thought he could pass the car in front of him. But the driver of the other vehicle sped up and the two raced side by side on a two-lane road.
“Then there was a car coming head on at us in the lane that I was in so I had to get off the road,” Ball told O&P Business News. “The car went out of control. The passenger side front tire blew and that yanked me to the right into a ditch and the car started flipping end over end. I got caught in the sunroof and the car rolled over on me once and then threw me. I remember hearing the tires squealing and the rocks flying.”
The other details were provided by the same person who called for help, a train worker at a nearby crossing.
Also as a result of injuries incurred to his right hip during the accident, Ball underwent a total hip replacement in 2000.
Following the accident and the amputation, Ball said he felt like his life was over but he was not willing to give up.
“Before I got out of the hospital and got a leg, I came home in a wheelchair for a weekend trial to make sure I was healthy enough to get out of the hospital,” Ball said. “I forced my friends to let me ride one of their motorcycles and I thought right away, ‘well my life has changed quite a bit now. There are things that I’m not going to be able to do like shift gears.’”
After his prosthetic fitting, he reclaimed an active lifestyle by hiking. His heart, however, still belonged to dirt bike racing. He tried again to return to the sport despite the dangers that came along with it.
“I tried to ride again but not being able to shift was limiting so I would reach down and shift with my hand and then I’d wind up leaving the bike in third gear and just did my best,” Ball said. “I got myself into some situations where I had some pretty good wrecks and so family and friends were pretty concerned that I was going to kill myself.”
Heeding the growing concern of friends and family, Ball tried once again to silence the desire to get back on a dirt bike. He graduated from the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in 1995 and began working on motorcycles.
“Most of the dealerships deal with street bikes and my passion was dirt bikes so I didn’t miss it so much,” Ball said. “Then 4 years ago, I started working at a KTM shop and KTMs are pretty much nothing but dirt bikes. After a couple of months, I couldn’t take it anymore and I figured I either had to look for another job or start riding again.”
As luck would have it, a used bike came into the shop for sale and, noticing Ball’s interest, his boss urged him to consider the purchase.
“I checked it out and of course I was interested and I started riding and I was back to reaching down to shift gears,” he said. “Leaving it in third gear was pretty good. I had plenty of torque to climb the hills and speed to go fast when I wanted to and I was getting better and better.”
As his performance improved, it became necessary to find an adaptive and safer method of shifting.
“I was locking the doors on my Chevy pickup to get a soda from the gas station and sat there hitting that lock button and locking and unlocking it and locking and unlocking it and I thought, “Forget the soda, I’m going to go home and tear my door apart and see what kind of motor’s in there,’” he said.
Ball was able to mount the remote entry system onto the dirt bike as a makeshift electric shifter. The system, he explained, worked well but did not last long because the components were made of plastic and could not withstand the wear and tear.
In working with other companies, he has created a solenoid shifter that mimics the same behavior as the one he crafted from the remote entry system. Now with the use of two buttons on his left handle bar, one for up and one for down, Ball can shift to maximum performance.
This year’s O&P Extremity Games will mark Ball’s debut at the motocross event. Much like his purchase of the bike and his discovery of the electric shifter system, his knowledge of the Games was happenstance.
While looking for prosthetists to sponsor him for upcoming races, one mentioned the Extremity Games and suggested he compete there.
“I’ve been competing with able-bodied competitors and the last couple races I had problems with my leg,” he said. “I am looking forward to riding with other amputees … and the camaraderie.”
As for the dangers associated with continuing to pursue motocross and the effects that races could have on his hip, Ball said, “you can’t quit living.”
Jennifer Hoydicz is a staff writer for O&P Business News.