OFF-ROAD WAR­RIOR

FOR DAKAR RALLY CHAM­PION TOBY PRICE THERE’S NO THRILL WITH­OUT FEAR. USE HIS LES­SONS TO RE­DE­FINE YOUR LIM­ITS

Mens Health (Australia) - - State Of Mind - BY BEN JHOTY

Toby Price tosses a pair of crutches on the ground as he low­ers him­self onto the seat of a pic­nic ta­ble at a café in in­ner Syd­ney. He’s re­cov­er­ing from a bro­ken leg suf­fered in this year’s Dakar Rally. In­juries are for Price what crowded com­mutes or elec­tric­ity bills are for you and me: a fact of life. He’s got a fixed nail and five screws in his leg to go along with the eight screws and three bits of rod in his ver­te­brae. “I can lit­er­ally say I’ve got my head screwed on,” he jokes. Does he though? You have to won­der about a bloke who’s 30 years old and had 29 bro­ken bones. Price doesn’t know a lot about the ac­ci­dent that led to this lat­est in­jury. It was day 4 of this year’s Dakar and Price was push­ing hard to make up the seven min­utes he’d been told he was trail­ing by. “I thought seven min­utes is a lit­tle too much to be giv­ing away in one day so I started rid­ing at the 95 per cent mark,” he says. He re­mem­bers gun­ning down into a dried-up riverbed, feel­ing a hard, dull thud and then sail­ing through the air. And that’s it. He woke up the next day in hos­pi­tal. “I had a very good head knock, good con­cus­sion, bro­ken fe­mur and some good pain med­i­ca­tion,” says Price, as if he’s reel­ing off last night’s lotto num­bers.

It’s not the first time Price has wo­ken up in hos­pi­tal. You hope it’ll be the last but you never know. None of us do if we’re hon­est. “There’s a risk in­volved in any­thing you do,” says Price. “Driv­ing to work ev­ery­day is risky.”

But that doesn’t stop you from pulling out of your garage each morn­ing and fear won’t stop Price from rid­ing at 95 or even 100 per

cent next time he feels the need. “The most en­joy­able things are al­ways on the other side of fear,” he says. “We only have a short life. You’ve got to make it count.”

That doesn’t mean you throw cau­tion to the wind. But there are prob­a­bly ar­eas in your life where you can be bolder, braver and maybe even a lit­tle cra­zier. Be­cause the truth is, if you don’t, life and risk-tak­ers like Price are likely to pass you by.

JUMP INTO THE UN­KNOWN

Price can’t re­mem­ber his first che­quered flag. He’s been rid­ing so long he was sim­ply too young to re­call it. For the record it was in the NSW town of Con­dobolin and he was four years old. “Dad said I al­most lapped the field,” he says. Af­ter that he went to a race in Al­bury with the best young rid­ers in the state. “Ap­par­ently I smashed it there as well,” he laughs.

Grow­ing up on a farm at Hill­ston, a town of a thou­sand peo­ple, eight hours west of Syd­ney, Price first rode a dirt bike at two years of age and was driv­ing cars by six.

His first bike was a Suzuki JR50. That lasted a cou­ple of months be­fore he’d busted the wheels on it. Price’s old man traded it in for a QR50 with steel wheels, con­fi­dent it would stand up to what­ever pun­ish­ment his son could mete out. Price promptly broke the frame. That led to a Pee­wee 50, sup­pos­edly stronger again. He snapped that too. “In the end dad just welded a whole new frame for it and it never broke again,” Price laughs.

Week­end dirt-bike meets on tracks scat­tered across ru­ral NSW are the gold­en­hewed mem­o­ries of Price’s child­hood. “As a kid all you want to do is have a ride on the bike then a meat pie af­ter to warm your­self up,” he says.

But get­ting to the races took money, some­thing the Prices didn’t have a whole lot of. Both his par­ents took on mul­ti­ple jobs to al­low Price and his brother to race and when that wasn’t enough the fam­ily took to hunt­ing and sell­ing goats. “We’d take out the quad bikes and get as many goats as we could in a day,” Price re­calls. “You could sell those for $15-20 a billy-goat. We were kind of liv­ing off the land to fund my rac­ing.”

If it sounds like an idyl­lic way to grow up, it was also a rather hair-rais­ing one. At the heart of it all was Price’s in­sa­tiable drive to jump over things. And by things he means ev­ery­thing from barbed-wire fences to bat­shit crazy friends. “You’d get on your dirt bike and get your mates to lie down and see how >

THE MOST EN­JOY­ABLE THINGS ARE AL­WAYS ON THE OTHER SIDE OF FEAR

many of them you could clear,” he laughs.

So el­e­men­tal and en­dur­ing was that de­sire to jump it’s be­come a metaphor Price ex­tends to life as a whole. “You’re al­ways try­ing to chal­lenge your­self to go that bit fur­ther or bit higher,” he ex­plains. “You set a goal that’s just ahead of you, then when you reach that you set another goal that’s fur­ther again. It makes you think noth­ing is im­pos­si­ble. Ev­ery­thing that seems out of reach can be grasped.”

There’s a catch, of course, be­cause un­less you’re a com­plete ice-veined so­ciopath, there’s a point when you’ve got half a dozen cow­er­ing kids or a yawn­ing chasm of baked-hard dirt to clear, that fear en­ters the equa­tion.

“You sit there and look at a jump that’s 30m long and know that if you don’t ex­e­cute it per­fectly you could get se­ri­ously hurt,” Price con­cedes. “But that’s what fu­els me, that feel­ing of con­se­quences. If you get it right that buzz sends tin­gles through your body. That feel­ing never goes away and it never gets old.”

There is an ob­vi­ous flip­side to this devil-may-care, full-throt­tle ap­proach to life that Price has a ten­dency to gloss over. You prob­a­bly would too if your liveli­hood de­pended on keep­ing your fears tamped tight in a bot­tle. Price can’t af­ford to open the door to doubt, even just a crack. But the fact is, one day all of us will try to jump one too many kids or we’ll hit one of life’s hair­pin bends just that lit­tle bit too fast. As Price was to find, it’s af­ter one of those that you re­ally dis­cover what you’re made of.

COME BACK BET­TER

When Price woke up in a hos­pi­tal bed in Cal­i­for­nia in 2013 af­ter break­ing his neck in the Hare and Hound Na­tional Cham­pi­onship there was a mo­ment of panic when he feared the worst. For­tu­nately, when he opened his eyes, he had feel­ing. “I could still move ev­ery­thing,” he says. “I got ex­tremely close to be­ing a para­plegic but luck­ily I didn’t get dealt that card. It was very tough and very test­ing on the mind.”

For most of us such a close call would at least tem­per our in­stincts. You vow to learn from your mis­takes but in do­ing so you per­haps lose the edge that makes you who you are. It’s nat­u­ral. It’s hu­man. It’s not Price. “I set my­self the goal that the in­jury was not go­ing to beat me, no mat­ter what it threw at me, even on the dark­est days, I just said, it’s not go­ing to beat me.” He pauses, look­ing down at his in­jured leg. “I love to come back from a de­cent in­jury big­ger and stronger. That’s what I’ve done since I was four years old. I just don’t slow down and I al­ways want to be bet­ter when I re­turn.”

You could call it in­dom­i­nat­able will. Some might call it sheer bloody stu­pid­ity. It’s your call. But Price doesn’t stop there. The thing about a life­time spent striv­ing to sur­pass your lim­its is that it means you be­come equally adept at re­fash­ion­ing calami­ties into mere set­backs, find­ing pos­i­tives in blood-soaked earth and per­haps most im­por­tantly, dis­till­ing your fo­cus down to a sin­gu­lar pur­pose. “Some­times in­juries are a good thing be­cause they show you the other side of the ta­ble,” says Price. “They make you re­alise what you’ve got and what you want to chase.”

For Price that was vic­tory in the Holy Grail of mo­tor­sports, the Dakar Rally. Af­ter switch­ing from mo­tocross to the longer form En­duro rac­ing in 2009, Price shocked many by how eas­ily he adapted, quickly be­com­ing one of the top five rac­ers on the cir­cuit.

The truth is he was made for it. Price’s child­hood was ba­si­cally an En­duro train­ing camp. “I think be­cause of that coun­try boy life­style where I rode through the bush to get to mo­tocross tracks I was ready for it,” he says. “It was kind of in­built.”

At first he missed the end­less jump­ing of mo­tocross but pur­su­ing sheer speed in treach­er­ous ter­rain, he says, just about makes up for it. “Any­thing over 145km/h is where I come alive.”

Price won the Aus­tralian Off-road Cham­pi­onship in his first year in 2009. Dakar though was another beast en­tirely. A 13-day odyssey, which since 2009 has tracked var­i­ous routes the length of South Amer­ica, com­peti­tors cover up to a thou­sand kilo­me­tres a day in con­di­tions that can vary from 50° in the desert to mi­nus 10 with thin, low oxy­genated-air at the top of the An­des. “We ride through some of the dri­est deserts in the world,” Price says. “You cross into Bo­livia and into the salt flats there. It cor­rodes the bike’s parts like noth­ing else.”

If the phys­i­cal con­di­tions aren’t daunt­ing enough, it’s up to rid­ers to nav­i­gate their way through the ter­rain with a road book that’s in French. “There’s no GPS, no Siri telling you which way to go. It’s all up to you,” Price says.

EV­ERY­THING THAT SEEMS OUT OF REACH CAN BE GRASPED

“When you leave your crew each morn­ing you’ve got to be­come a me­chanic, elec­tri­cian, mo­tor­cy­cle rider, en­durance ath­lete and nav­i­ga­tor all rolled into one.”

In pre­vi­ous Dakars Price lost 9kg over 13 days. He’s learned to go into the race car­ry­ing an ex­tra 10kg just to com­pen­sate. Fac­tor in the con­cen­tra­tion re­quired to ride at speed for 10 hours a day and you have one of the sternest phys­i­cal and men­tal tests in all of sports. “Any­time you lose fo­cus you’ll either end up get­ting lost or mak­ing a mis­take and get­ting se­ri­ously hurt.”

Per­haps that’s why when go­ing into the last day of the event in 2016 with a 26-minute lead, Price couldn’t re­lax right un­til the fi­nal kilo­me­tre. “Lit­er­ally any­thing can pop up at Dakar and de­stroy your whole race in the blink of an eye,” he says. “We’re deal­ing with cars on the road, pub­lic ev­ery­where. I knew when I was about a kay out that if any­thing se­ri­ous went wrong with the bike I could at least push it to the line in those 26 min­utes.”

If you wanted a gauge of ex­actly how tough, how brave and how crazy Price is, con­sider this: his rise to the pin­na­cle of mo­tor­sport came less than three years af­ter the crash that nearly ended his ca­reer. He did as he promised. He came back bet­ter.

The vic­tory was sweet. It meant ev­ery­thing for a while. But just as he never got bogged down in the de­spair of in­jury, he didn’t bask in the glory of vic­tory too long either. Be­cause in Price’s mind the next jump, the next ob­sta­cle and the next chal­lenge is al­ways loom­ing, just ahead of your front wheel. It’s up to you to squeeze the throt­tle and meet it.

Rais­ing the bar: each time Price gets hurt he comes back stronger.

En­ter Sand­man: Price carves up the dunes in Morocco.

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