‘I’ll be back’
The Bingley Bullet vows to race at 2018 TT despite battling horrific leg injuries
‘It’s not nice, you have to do a millimetre every day’
Abadly broken leg is often reason enough for a motorcycle racer competing at the highest professional level to hang up their leathers. But not Ian Hutchinson. He has vowed to fight back to race fitness once again after a crash in this year’s Senior TT which left him with even more damage to the leg he almost lost a few years ago.
Last year, Hutchinson released a book entitled Miracle Man, detailing his excruciating journey back to the sharp end of racing after the 2010 Silverstone British Supersport accident that left his tibia shattered to the point where doctors wanted to remove his leg.
Before his return, he would go on to re-break that leg, prompting specialists to tell him he’d be lucky to walk again, let alone race. Yet he defied all of the odds to not only return to the most gruelling event on the planet, but to double his Isle of Man TT win tally in the process. Making an emotional return to the top step of the podium in the 2015 Supersport race to take his first TT win since his famous five-in-a-week in 2010, Hutchy re-established himself as one of the TT elite. This year, he notched up his 15th and 16th wins, making him the third most successful solo rider in history. And then disaster struck.
He now faces that uphill challenge once again, after a crash while leading this year’s Senior TT left him with a badly broken femur and ankle – all on the same leg he damaged so catastrophically back in 2010.
“The talus bone in my ankle dislocated as my ankle was pretty much fixed at 90 degrees from my last accident,” explained Hutchinson in one of his first interviews since the crash three months ago.
“The impact tried to bend it down, but there’s no movement so it popped the ankle clean out. That was a bit of a disaster as the talus bone doesn’t have anything attached to it other than blood vessels, so as soon as it’s dislocated it has no blood supply. They’ve had to remove it and fuse my ankle in place.
“My femur was broken cleanly above the knee, and then there was quite a nasty break in the middle of it too, it was in a few bits lengthways so it couldn’t be rodded or anything – they’ve put a plate down the side of it because it was in so many bits.”
‘It’s more painful than before’
With his ankle removed and femur in pieces, Hutchinson’s leg is a dramatic 45mm shorter than it was before, meaning his gruelling recovery process involves stretching his tibia to recover the lost length.
“The process basically involves me stretching my own leg using clickers
on my frame [external fixator]. It’s not very nice, you have to try and do a millimetre a day. To be honest, it’s incredibly painful.
“I think this time it’s worse than last time. Before, my tibia had been shortened with the break and we were bringing it back to a normal length, whereas this time we’re trying to make it longer than it was ever meant to be to compensate for the lost bone elsewhere.”
While the idea of doing even more damage to a leg that already wasn’t in the best condition may sound less than ideal to normal humans, Hutchinson says he’d rather suffer this process than have damaged his good right leg.
“Everyone was saying ‘oh no, not the bad leg!’ after the crash, but if it had happened to my right leg my career would be over,” he said frankly.
“I can still walk, probably with less of a limp than before as I got to choose what position they fixed my ankle in place during the surgery.”
‘I’ve already shown I can do it’
Having already come back from a similarly – if not more – horrific injury, Hutchinson isn’t fazed by the task ahead. In fact, he says that this time it’s easier as he’s already shown himself, and the world, what’s possible.
“Last time I only had my head telling me I’d be able to come back and win again, this time I actually know I can. When you’re going through the pain with the frame on your leg you think you can never get on a bike again, so it’s nice to know it is possible this time, whereas the first time I was just thinking it was possible without knowing.
“Of course, last time I had to learn the right-hand gear shift, thumb brake and adapt to the bike. Now I’m just going to jump back on and get on with it. Also, this time I’ve got a team that believes I can come back, because without having proven I could do it before I’d probably be struggling to find a ride for next year right now.”
The circumstances of the accident are something else that is motivating Hutchy to return. While he’s keen not to point fingers, he is adamant that the crash wasn’t his fault.
“As soon as I knew it had gone wrong I was in disbelief that I was falling off at the TT,” he explained. “I couldn’t understand it. You go to a short circuit race and expect at some point you might be skidding up the road. You don’t think like that at the TT. There you never expect to be skidding up the road, even if you have to lose a race. I’d rather finish 20th than fall off at the TT.”
‘I thought I’d won it’
The crash was even more of a surprise for the 16-time TT winner given that he didn’t feel he was particularly pushing hard, having just seen that he’d built up a two-second lead in a part of the race where he expected to struggle.
“I’m stronger at the end of a TT race than at the beginning, so when I came out of the Gooseneck on lap two and my mate held a board out saying I was P1 plus two seconds, I knew we were in a good position. With two laps under my belt, I had the best part of the circuit coming up for me over the mountain and the team had been brilliant with pit stops all week. If we were going to lose time on any two laps it would be the first two, so to be up at that point I thought to myself ‘I’ve got this race’.
“A smooth run over the mountain
‘All I know in my own head is that I didn’t fall off because I was trying 200%’
His leg in a cage, Hutchy opens up to MCN’S Oli Rushby
Hutchy’s 2017 TT had started off so well
Hutchy’s delight is plain to see as he tours the paddock at Silverstone