Mo­tor­cy­cle pro comes full cir­cle in Hamil­ton

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - TERI PECOSKIE


IM­POS­SI­BLE to un­der­stand why Bruce Cook’s re­turn to Hamil­ton is a big deal if you don’t know the back story. So let’s get that out of the way. It’s a frigid night in Jan­uary and a 26-year-old Cook rides onto the floor of then-Copps Col­i­seum, revs his en­gine and ac­cel­er­ates to­ward a ramp. He leans for­ward and tight­ens his grip on his han­dle­bars as he and his mo­tor­cy­cle are cat­a­pulted into the air. They ro­tate in tan­dem — once, not quite twice.

He is still fac­ing the arena ceil­ing when his back wheel slams into the land­ing strip and launches him from the ma­chine. His body jack­knifes back­ward and tum­bles like a rag doll to the base of the in­cline. There, as he skids to a stop, some­thing oc­curs to him. He can’t feel his legs.

“I def­i­nitely knew right off the bat,” he says in ret­ro­spect. “You’re hop­ing not. You’re hop­ing it’s a tem­po­rary thing, but we’re pretty good at self-di­ag­no­sis th­ese days.”

It’s al­most four years later and Cook, a freestyle mo­tocross pro from Kelowna, is back for the first time since the grue­some ac­ci­dent that par­a­lyzed him from the waist down. Every­thing has changed, and noth­ing. He’s still on tour with Ni­tro Cir­cus Live —

“I def­i­nitely knew right off the bat. You’re hop­ing not. You’re hop­ing it’s a tem­po­rary thing.” BRUCE COOK MO­TOCROSS PRO AF­TER SUF­FER­ING A CRASH THAT LEFT HIM PAR­A­LYZED

Travis Pas­trana’s so-called ac­tion sports col­lec­tive takes over Tim Hor­tons Field Friday — and he’s still risk­ing his life in pur­suit of the high that comes with pulling off a death-de­fy­ing stunt.

He’s ex­cited, he says, to be here and “kind of come full cir­cle.” He’s also ex­cited “to get it done.”

When he crashed, Cook was try­ing to land a dou­ble front flip — a dan­ger­ous ma­noeu­vre that had been at­tempted just once be­fore by rider Paris Rosen. Rosen didn’t pull it off, ei­ther, but he also wasn’t badly hurt. Not so for Cook. When his body ric­o­cheted down that ramp, the im­pact cleaved his spinal cord and crushed his spinal col­umn. He was rushed into surgery at the Gen­eral, where doc­tors worked for three hours to re­pair a bro­ken ver­te­bra. They couldn’t fix his spinal cord. The dam­age was too se­vere.

A day af­ter his ac­ci­dent, Cook posted a photo of him­self on Face­book giv­ing the thumbs-up in his hos­pi­tal bed. Even then, he knew he wanted to get back on his bike as soon as pos­si­ble.

The next nine months were a blur of re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and ther­apy, some at home in B.C., some at Project Walk in California and some at a buddy’s place in Lon­don, where he had his 450 Kawasaki, the same one he rode in Hamil­ton, re­worked. It’s also where he went for his first post-crash ride.

His par­ents, un­der­stand­ably, were less than thrilled.

“I def­i­nitely gave it a lit­tle time be­fore bring­ing it up with them,” he says. “They watched me grow up on two wheels and they know that’s what I’m ex­tremely pas­sion­ate about and that’s what makes me happy, so as ap­pre­hen­sive as they were, they were still sup­port­ive and want to see me do­ing what I love.

“At the same time, it still is dan­ger­ous and, yeah, it’s, umm, what? Hes­i­tant sup­port is what I’ll call it.”

Ac­tu­ally, it is more dan­ger­ous. Be­cause now, when Cook at­tempts a trick, he is at­tached to his bike by a seat­belt — a ne­ces­sity when you no longer have much con­trol over your core. That means if it goes down, he goes down with it. Even worse, he could get injured in the process and not even know.

When asked if any­thing like that has hap­pened since his ac­ci­dent, Cook hikes up his shorts to re­veal a pair of red, pit­ted burn scars on the tops of his thighs. Is it from ex­haust? A hot en­gine?

“No,” he smiles. “A leaf blower, of all things.”

In spite of the risks, Cook made his come­back of­fi­cial in Oc­to­ber 2015 when, at a Ni­tro Cir­cus show in Toronto, he be­came the first para­plegic rider to land a back flip — the same stunt he’ll at­tempt in Hamil­ton.

Less than two weeks later, he was in­tro­duced to a friend of Pas­trana’s, Leah Bauer, at a stop in Minnesota. They’ve been to­gether since.

Bauer, who even­tu­ally quit her full­time job as graphic de­signer to go on the road with Cook, ad­mits watch­ing her boyfriend work is some­times tough.

Still, she doesn’t spend a lot of time wor­ry­ing about the po­ten­tial con­se­quences. “I try to just push it away, but it does go through my mind — what if he crashes again or what if he gets hurt? What would hap­pen? It’s just he’s very con­fi­dent and I’m very con­fi­dent in what he does and I just know that he’s got it.”

Cook, mean­while, is prag­matic about his per­ilous choice of ca­reer. This is how he ra­tio­nal­izes re­turn­ing to the sport that al­most killed him:

“It’s just a cal­cu­lated risk. Be­fore, do­ing a back flip, you know, your worst case is you want to bail off and get away from the bike. I can’t do that now, so prac­tice in the foam pit is a lot more se­ri­ous and cru­cial than be­fore ... It’s just get­ting that rep­e­ti­tion and just fo­cus­ing and tak­ing it a lot more se­ri­ously be­cause ev­ery one has got to be per­fect.” And they have been — so far. As a con­se­quence, Cook, now 30, has achieved a level of fame un­usual for many ex­treme ath­letes. He has nearly 50,000 fol­low­ers on In­sta­gram and is the sub­ject of an NBC doc­u­men­tary. The me­dia flocks to tell his story pretty much wher­ever he goes.

It’s all a bit weird, he says, but if it means he has a plat­form he can use to in­spire the masses — some­thing he seems gen­uinely and un­selfishly com­mit­ted to do­ing — he’ll take it.

“I’m try­ing to, I don’t know, not in­form peo­ple be­cause they al­ready know, but just kind of re­mind peo­ple how much we take for granted,” he adds.

“I think peo­ple are just hun­gry for in­spi­ra­tion and mo­ti­va­tion in kind of a dif­fer­ent way and that’s what I’m try­ing to do, turn this neg­a­tive thing into some­thing pos­i­tive.”

That’s not to say there aren’t chal­lenges.

Cook gets tired and burned out and frus­trated with the bar­ri­ers he bumps up against now that he can’t use his legs. He’s also still strug­gling with nerve pain — “that’s probably the tough­est thing.”

But the agony re­minds him he’s alive, and that’s bet­ter than the al­ter­na­tive.

It’s what al­lows Cook to get back on his bike and speed to­ward that ramp and risk it all, all over again.

They watched me grow up on two wheels and they know that’s what I’m ex­tremely pas­sion­ate about … BRUCE COOK STUNT MO­TOR­CY­CLIST SPEAK­ING OF HIS PAR­ENTS’ SUP­PORT

Ni­tro Cir­cus mo­tor­cy­cle rider Bruce Cook broke his back dur­ing a show in Hamil­ton two years ago.


Bruce Cook be­came the first para­plegic rider to land a back flip in Oc­to­ber 2015. He plans to try the same stunt in Hamil­ton.

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