BORN SUR­VIVORS

Ryan Far­quhar and Jamie Hamil­ton are two of the lucky ones. Here’s how they’re re­build­ing their futures af­ter road racing brought them per­ilously close to the edge

Performance Bikes (UK) - - Contents - Words & Photography Stephen Dav­i­son

Ryan Far­quhar and Jamie Hamil­ton are lucky to be alive. PB speaks to the road racing sur­vivors about the fu­ture

In 2012 Ryan Far­quhar, one of Ire­land’s most suc­cess­ful mo­tor­cy­cle road rac­ers, re­tired from the sport fol­low­ing the death of his un­cle at the Manx Grand Prix. The 41-year-old may have quit racing but he had been men­tor­ing promis­ing young­ster Jamie Hamil­ton, who con­tin­ued to ride in his KMR Kawasaki team’s bright or­ange liv­ery.

Hamil­ton, a for­mer Bri­tish short cir­cuit cham­pion, won races and set lap records in road events un­der Far­quhar’s tute­lage. The suc­cess­ful part­ner­ship con­tin­ued un­til the Dun­gan­non vet­eran de­cided to re­turn to the sport in 2014. Hamil­ton, then 22 years old, moved on to new a team and the pair con­tin­ued to race against each other al­most ev­ery week­end – un­til dis­as­ter struck in June 2015. On the open­ing lap of the Se­nior TT on the Isle of Man, the young Bal­ly­clare rider lost con­trol of his GSX-R1000 at 170mph and crashed into a line of trees.

Less than a year later, his for­mer men­tor suf­fered a sim­i­lar ac­ci­dent when he slid off his Kawasaki dur­ing the Su­per­twins race at the 2016 North West 200. The for­mer master and pupil have both suf­fered and sur­vived life-threat­en­ing in­juries and fought their way back from the brink.

Ryan Far­quhar re­mem­bers ev­ery sec­ond of the crash that brought his road racing ca­reer to a pre­ma­ture end.

“From the mo­ment you feel the front wheel slid­ing away un­til you hit the road seems like 30 sec­onds, but in re­al­ity it’s only a split sec­ond,” he re­calls.

The for­mer TT win­ner had bro­ken six ribs, smashed two bones in one foot and three in the other. More se­ri­ously, his lung had been punc­tured and his liver lac­er­ated by his bro­ken ribs. Only the speed with which he was taken to a Belfast hospi­tal by he­li­copter saved his life, as doc­tors stemmed the in­ter­nal bleed­ing.

Hamil­ton had also been fer­ried to hospi­tal by he­li­copter af­ter his hor­rific smash in the open­ing lap of the Se­nior TT al­most a year

ear­lier. The brain in­jury he suf­fered in the 170mph im­pact en­sured he re­mem­bered noth­ing of the crash in the af­ter­math.

“I re­mem­ber wak­ing in hospi­tal and not be­ing able to move my arm or leg,” the young racer ex­plains. “I looked up and saw my mum at the end of the bed.”

That was three weeks af­ter the ac­ci­dent and Hamil­ton’s mother, He­len, was to con­tinue her un­bro­ken bed­side vigil for an­other six weeks.

“She came in at 9.30am and wouldn’t leave un­til 10pm,” he says. “At the start she had to do ev­ery­thing for me, I couldn’t even feed my­self.”

The 25-year-old suf­fered ap­palling in­juries to his right arm and leg.

“Both my tibia and fibula were smashed,” he ex­plains. “My fibula will never join again and I had 63cm smashed out of my tibia, but that has grown back again now. I also broke two ribs and I did the humerus bone in my up­per arm.”

The leg in­jury was so se­vere that Jamie is still wear­ing a cage more than a year and half af­ter the ac­ci­dent. So far he has en­dured nine op­er­a­tions and faced nu­mer­ous set­backs as doc­tors try to piece his shat­tered limbs back to­gether again.

“There were plates and a bone graft put in my arm.” he says. “I have no feel­ing in my fin­gers be­cause of nerve dam­age in my arm.”

Hamil­ton’s right foot re­mains hor­ri­bly con­torted and he says the doc­tors have told him he will have to have his foot and an­kle fused to­gether.

But Jamie’s con­tin­ued mem­ory loss is prov­ing the most frus­trat­ing is­sue.

“At the start I could re­mem­ber noth­ing at all; I was call­ing my mum my dog’s name!” he smiles. “It has come round slowly but surely and I have found that the more I come back to nor­mal­ity the bet­ter it gets. But if I get very stressed or if I am in a lot of pain for a few days my mem­ory be­comes ter­ri­ble. It’s an­noy­ing be­cause peo­ple don’t see it. It’s not as ob­vi­ous as the cage on my leg.”

In spite of their suf­fer­ing, both men try to play it down with black hu­mour.

Far­quhar teases Jamie that his mem­ory loss could be use­ful in some cir­cum­stances and his for­mer pro­tege re­torts that Ryan’s snooker skills are only im­prov­ing be­cause he has so much time to prac­tice.

But the re­stric­tions their in­juries im­pose on their day-to-day lives are be­gin­ning to grate.

“I have been in theatre four times and they are go­ing to do some­thing with my an­kle, so by the time they have me sorted it will be five op­er­a­tions,” Far­quhar says.

“The pain over the last year has been un­real. I strug­gle to sleep and I have ab­so­lutely no stam­ina. It has just taken so much out of me.”

“I’m struggling a bit with the leg at the minute be­cause the cage has been on for a year and seven months,” Hamil­ton adds.

“I got it off in July for two days and then the leg broke again. I just re­ally want to get back to nor­mal­ity, to get up ev­ery day and go to work.”

The psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pact of life-chang­ing in­juries on two men who have spent their lives com­pet­ing and win­ning in racing has been trau­matic.

“There have def­i­nitely been times when I have been re­ally down,” Far­quhar ad­mits. “Ini­tially, when I got out of hospi­tal, I was so de­pen­dent on my wife Karen to do ev­ery­thing for me. I wasn’t even able to walk to the bath­room or turn round in bed. There are times when, if it hadn’t been for her and my two girls, Kee­ley and Mya, I was so low I al­most wished I had died.”

It was when they were at their low­est ebb that both Hamil­ton and Far­quhar say they be­gan to re­alise how for­tu­nate they were to have es­caped with their lives and have their fam­i­lies and friends around them.

“It’s when­ever things like this hap­pen that you re­alise who your true friends are,” Jamie says. “Who the peo­ple are who don’t just care about you be­cause you are a mo­tor­bike racer and be­cause they get to stand be­side you when you are on the podium.”

“You learn how im­por­tant it is to have peo­ple like that in your life,” Ryan agrees.

‘My fibula will never join again, and I had 63cm smashed out of my tibia’

“When I started to get a bit stronger there were things that I started to look for­ward to and I started think­ing to my­self, ‘I am so lucky to be here’.”

“Be­fore now, ev­ery­thing re­volved around mo­tor­bikes,” Jamie re­flects. “When I got up in the morn­ing I was only think­ing about what I had to do to win the next race. I ap­pre­ci­ate what I have a lot more now. I ap­pre­ci­ate the good times, laugh­ing and go­ing out and hav­ing a bit of fun.”

Both Ryan and Jamie say the death of Malachi Mitchell Thomas in 2016 had a pro­found ef­fect on both of them. The fa­tal crash of the charis­matic 21-year-old English new­comer at the same spot on the North West 200 course where Far­quhar had fallen in a race just two days ear­lier sent shock waves through a sport that is only too fa­mil­iar with dan­ger and death.

“Malachi crashed and he didn’t make it,” Ryan says qui­etly. “He would love to be in my sit­u­a­tion. I just kept telling my­self that over and over again.”

Jamie grew close to Malachi as the young English­man re­placed him in the Bur­rows En­gi­neer­ing race squad af­ter his TT crash. Hamil­ton tried to of­fer the young new­comer the ben­e­fit of his cir­cuit knowl­edge when he first came to Ire­land.

“We were go­ing out driv­ing round race tracks and I was try­ing to tell Malachi what I re­mem­bered,” Jamie ex­plains. “I thought at the start that I wouldn’t be able to tell him any­thing but then, when we got to the track, things started com­ing back.”

Of­fer­ing his guid­ance to the young new­comer had lifted Hamil­ton’s spir­its, mak­ing Malachi’s death espe­cially trau­matic for the Bal­ly­clare rider.

“Af­ter Malachi was killed and I went to a race I felt there was no rea­son to be there,” he says. “I wasn’t fit to push a mo­tor­bike to the start line, I wasn’t fit to put tyre warm­ers on. When I was racing, I al­ways talked about hang­ers-on, peo­ple who just came and stood around the awning to be seen, and that’s ex­actly how I felt – like I was only there to get some glory. I hated that.”

De­spite this, both Jamie and Ryan see mo­tor­bikes as a ma­jor part of their futures.

If I do go to races I want to muck in and get my hands dirty again,” Jamie says. Will he con­sider racing again him­self? “I haven’t ruled any­thing out,” he smiles.

“I have no feel­ing in a cou­ple of my fin­gers but the feel­ing might come back. But if I do race again I am not go­ing back to make up the num­bers. I have won Ir­ish cham­pi­onships, Ul­ster cham­pi­onships, Bri­tish cham­pi­onships. When­ever I was hav­ing a good day and ev­ery­one else was hav­ing a bad day I beat the best there was, so I’m not go­ing back un­less I can be on the podium at the TT.”

Far­quhar has al­ready made a quiet re­turn, run­ning other riders on his race bikes last year. He ad­mits he is still too weak to com­pete him­self, but he says he has other am­bi­tions

out­side mo­tor­cy­cle racing.

“I would love to get on to the North­ern Ire­land shoot­ing team,” he ex­plains.

“I like shoot­ing clay birds. Af­ter the crash, a friend took me shoot­ing again. I had to be car­ried from the car be­cause I wasn’t fit to walk or stand but they brought the gun and I was fit to shoot. Once I did that and sat down again, the re­lief was like a big weight lifted off my shoul­ders. I was fit to do some­thing that I en­joyed do­ing.”

Nowa­days, Far­quhar is try­ing to re­fo­cus his fierce com­pet­i­tive na­ture.

“I think a lot of road rac­ers strug­gle with re­tir­ing.” he says. “They are used to be­ing com­pet­i­tive and if that’s taken away then you need some­thing to fill that big hole. Shoot­ing clay tar­gets is a com­pletely dif­fer­ent thing from road racing but it gets that com­pet­i­tive thing out of my sys­tem and it has helped me a lot.”

Far­quhar also has a new ap­pre­ci­a­tion of his road racing achieve­ments now re­tire­ment has been forced upon him.

“Racing will be a part of my fu­ture, but in a small way,” he says. “My life, and the lives of my wife and daugh­ters, has re­volved around mo­tor­bikes. But that’s not go­ing to be the case any more.”

Far­quhar takes com­fort from be­ing able to re­flect on his suc­cess in a way that other riders who have lost their lives in this most un­for­giv­ing of sports have not been able to.

“I feel great riders like Robert and Joey Dun­lop have been robbed in a way be­cause they never got to sit down, look back and say they had done this or that in their ca­reers and it had been great. They were al­ways racing, and while you are racing you are al­ways think­ing of the next race. You can’t rest on your lau­rels.

“Once you get hurt and you think, ‘This isn’t go­ing to hap­pen for me any more,’ you can look back and ap­pre­ci­ate what you have achieved.”

But Far­quhar is adamant he has no re­grets about be­com­ing a road racer. Rather than ques­tion­ing the wis­dom of his ca­reer choice it is the things that blighted his op­por­tu­nity to have even greater suc­cess that most pain the rider who has en­joyed more race wins than any other Ir­ish­man in the his­tory of the sport. Los­ing out on a sec­ond bite at the cherry with Philip Neill’s TAS team on a com­pet­i­tive su­per­bike par­tic­u­larly vexes the Dun­gan­non man.

“The thing that I am most dis­ap­pointed about is that in 2006 I had the op­por­tu­nity to ride with TAS Suzuki and I got badly hurt at the Cook­stown. And then it was the same thing with the Tyco BMW,” he gri­maces.

“I felt that I was do­ing re­ally well with the com­pany I was run­ning with, and the same thing hap­pened again and I never got the op­por­tu­nity. That’s the one thing that will prob­a­bly keep eat­ing at me in years to come when I look back at my ca­reer.”

The 41-year-old also ad­mits he has fears for the fu­ture of the sport in Ire­land.

“Ev­ery­body knows the dan­gers, and there are things that I would like to see changed with re­gard to safety, but whether those things will ever hap­pen or not I don’t know. There are a lot of im­prove­ments that could be made. Peo­ple in Ire­land don’t ap­pre­ci­ate what they have in road racing and they won’t miss it un­til it’s not there. I can see that hap­pen­ing. No mat­ter where I go in the world, peo­ple tell me they would love to be able to go to see a road race in their own coun­try, but they can’t. Peo­ple in Ire­land don’t know how lucky they are to have such a unique sport in this coun­try.”

Jamie Hamil­ton may not have reached the heights in his bike racing ca­reer that Far­quhar did but he still main­tains he has no re­grets.

“You re­gret more the things you didn’t try than the things you tried to and failed at,” he smiles. “I’m glad I raced mo­tor­bikes. I played foot­ball be­fore, for Le­ices­ter City and Bolton Wan­der­ers. I was good, but my heart wasn’t in it. My heart was in mo­tor­bike racing and it’s taken me a long way.”

Af­ter all he has been through, and still has in front of him, Jamie says that he has no bit­ter­ness to­wards the sport, and re­mains amaz­ingly up­beat.

“I knew how dan­ger­ous it was and what to ex­pect if it all went wrong,” he says. “I’m just un­lucky that it all went wrong for me, but I’m lucky to have come out the other side of it. I got a big in­jury from it and I knew that was a pos­si­bil­ity. I just deal with it and there are no re­grets what­so­ever. I’m too stupid to re­alise when I am beat; maybe too stupid to re­alise that I should be feel­ing sad about this.”

“Some­body said, ‘A man’s tough­ness is not de­fined by how hard he can hit but about how hard he can get hit and keep mov­ing on.’ How many peo­ple can come off a mo­tor­bike at 170mph and still be here to talk about it?”

“I still have plans for the fu­ture, things I want to do, so how bad is it re­ally?”

Malachi Mitchell-Thomas (left) cel­e­brates with Hamil­ton af­ter win­ning the su­per­bike race at the Mid Antrim 150 Hamil­ton gets his KMR Kawasaki side­ways at the Walder­stown road races in July 2012

Far­quhar leads the group at the start of the North West 200 Su­per­twin race

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