The Race that Brought Him Back

Todd Thompson started riding motorcycles at 2 years old,
and has been racing since he was 5 years old. He has followed in the footsteps
of relatives on both sides of his family who have always raced motorcycles. He
already has begun preparing his 18-month-old son — by teaching him to make
motorcycle noises.

“It’s in our blood,” Thompson said.

He knows that it is a legacy he has to maintain. And he
has been filling his family members’ figurative shoes with one prosthetic

Course of events

May 2, 1998, the day of Thompson’s accident was
like any other day — except much worse.

“I was having a bad day — one of those days
where you wished you never got out of bed,” he said.

He crashed in his first race. In his second race, he
came off a jump sideways and his foot slipped off the peg. When he connected
with the ground, it drove his heel into the ground, and then his femur,
breaking his tibia and fibula and shattering his knee.

“The pain was so much that it didn’t really
hurt. It hurt so bad that I went numb,” he said.

In the absence of pain, he declined an ambulance ride
because he thought he just tore some ligaments, he said. On the way home,
however, he had to stop at the hospital, where MRIs revealed that 2 inches of
his femur and 2 and a half inches of the tibia and fibula were completely

  Todd Thompson took first place in the Adaptive Action Sports X Games Qualifier at Extremity Games 5.
  Todd Thompson took first place in
the Adaptive Action Sports X Games Qualifier at Extremity Games 5.
  Images: Athletes With Disabilities

“Like mush,” Thompson said.

He spent the next 14 days in the hospital, and had seven
surgeries to reduce the swelling. On the day he was scheduled to leave the
hospital, his surgeon revealed that there was still no circulation in his foot
— his femoral artery behind the knee cap had been pinched off because of
the swelling. He had another surgery to try and reduce the swelling, but after
a few days, the doctor realized that there still was still no pulse in
Thompson’s foot. Compartment syndrome had set in.

“The doctor gave me two options: keep fighting it
and risk getting infection, gangrene, and lose it above the knee — or we
fix it and you go on and live a happy normal life — or we amputate below
the knee and kill the infection right there and you recover and all that,”
he told O&P Business News. “As a 19-year-old kid,
you’re in a tough position. You’re an adult now. My parents
couldn’t make that decision for me. I had to absorb it and come to grips
with how I wanted to make that decision.”

His only concern, at that time, was being about to ride
his motorcycle again. On May 16, 1998, doctors amputated his right leg, below
his knee.

Recovery time

Thompson said he grew up fast while recovering over the
course of the next 8 ½ months. He went from a wheelchair to crutches,
but still could not walk, and his medical team was not able to say how long it
would take. Finally, the hospital’s orthopedics department took the pins
out of his leg and released him, referring him to a prosthetist for when he was
ready for a prosthetic leg.

Approximately 6 months after the amputation he met with
Jon Batzdorff to be fitted for his prosthesis.

  Todd Thompson supports the Extremity Games because of who they are and what they stand for.
  Todd Thompson supports the
Extremity Games because of who they are and what they stand for.

“I had no idea what to expect or what the process
was going be like. I had no idea what I was getting into. He walked me through
the process,” he said. “I owe a lot to him, because he taught me how
to get back to my normal activities.”

He attributes much of his success in life to Batzdorff.

“I learned a lot from him, and I’m a better
person because of it,” he said. “Getting back into regular life was
the best thing that happened to me.”

Both his tragedy and his ability to move past the trauma
were a testament to his large, supportive family. Thompson said he slowed down
as he realized what was important in life. And his situation was a reality
check for the rest of his family — his parents, brother and two sisters
— as well, and brought them even closer together. His family and friends
began fundraising to cover his medical expenses because he did not have
insurance at that time, and they raised $30,000 total.

“It changed the course, made me think of things
that I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t gotten hurt,” he said. “We
need to take advantage of the time we have with the people we love.”

Riding again

Thompson began working his way back to racing. At the
time, he was not aware of any special modifications for amputees, so he got
back on his bike with his everyday prosthesis.

“I rode for 11 years without a rear brake,” he
said. “That is nearly impossible, but I didn’t know any better. I
didn’t make any excuses and just rode.”

Eventually, he got a special clutch and put rear brake
on the handle bars, and now is able to ride better.

His first experience with the
Extremity Games was merely a stop on his way to the X Games.
He saw it only as a qualifier — then he won his first Extremity Games
medal. That first medal was silver and it won him a spot in the X Games. But
now, the Extremity Games have become the most important race for him,
“because of who they are, what they stand for and what they allow us.
Without them we would have no platform to do what we do,” Thompson said.
“It makes my situation as a below-the-knee amputee seem minute.”

For this reason, he always will always support the
Extremity Games.

“To have a guy wheelchairing around in the pit, and
then strap him to a bike and go is so amazing. You have to want to ride a bike
so bad to risk your life again,” he said. “It brings tears to my eyes
when I see them because I know what kind of heart they have. Some have even
broken bones during races and didn’t feel it. That says a lot about us as

He now uses his racing skills to bring light to the
cause, and make others aware that amputee athletes need just as much support as
able-bodied athletes — and should be seen on the same skill level.

In the future, Thompson wants to be the first adaptive athlete to
qualify for an outdoor national, which would “transcend adaptive sports
and move into the able-bodied arena,” he said. “I will do my best and
try my hardest to be the first adaptive athlete to break that barrier.”
— by Stephanie Z. Pavlou

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