Read these opening lines and then read them again, especially if you have a young family of your own. Imagine the scenario in your mind, life’s good in general with family life on the farm requiring all hands on deck at times. Andy Smith, along with his wife Sally and children Kacey and Nikita love motorcycle trials. The eldest daughter, Nikita, asks for a moped for her sixteenth birthday which she excitedly receives. Based around the North Yorkshire Moors with many small lanes, father Andy gets a phone call he never expected. He is informed that his daughter has been involved in a collision with a car whilst riding her moped on a country lane. When the Air Ambulance arrived at the scene her heartbeat was only four per minute and the Paramedics were concerned she would not survive the helicopter trip to the hospital. The rest of the story is one of sheer guts and determination as the ‘eye of the tiger’ shone through in a remarkable young lady, Nikita Smith, with support from her family and friends.
Andy and Sally Smith are the proud parents of two young ladies, Kacey and Nikita. Living on a farm environment near Fryup on the North Yorkshire Moors, they are, shall we say, adventurous, as the outdoors offer so much more than just sitting in front of the television. Whilst the youngest daughter Kacey is not as interested in trials as Nikita, the family holidays started to evolve around the motorhome and trips initially to the Ladies British Championship rounds before, as a family, they ventured into Europe for the World Championship rounds.
Tell us about growing up on the farm.
Growing up on the farm was great fun. From a very young age I would be with dad on the tractors or on the quad getting all the cows in ready to milk. My mum would take me in my pushchair to my uncle’s farm where my dad milked and he would bring me back home sat on the front of his Yamaha TY 250.
The Cleveland National trial ran right above our farm so, before I can even remember, trials motorcycles had already caught my eye. At the age of five, I started judo at Glaisdale Judo Club. It stopped after a few years but then my mum took me to train at a karate club where she trained in Whitby when I was seven. I enjoyed learning how to use self-defense and the discipline it took to get through the grades.
Was your father interested in trials?
Yes, my dad was interested in trials even when he was young and he would cycle around parts of the Cleveland trial with his friends. His eldest brother, Robert, competed regularly in trials on a 348 Montesa. Dad watched until his late teens when he got a trials machine and started riding himself. My dad said that growing up on the farm there was always some motorcycle kicking around, my grandad would even take my granny to the cinema on the back of his motorcycle.
When did you get your first motorcycle?
I was very fortunate that my nan and grandad bought me battery operated bikes but I can remember getting my first motorcycle for my sixth birthday — a Honda QR50. It always grounded out on the moor and would never have enough power to pull me up the hills. I had a few crashes but nothing enough to really hurt myself. I would regularly ride it to the end of our lane to catch the school bus then my mum would bring it back home.
After getting the motorcycle how long was it before you rode it in a trial? Do you remember your first trial?
For my seventh birthday I got a Yamaha TY80 but it took me a while to get used to the clutch. I had a lot more crashes on this, even breaking my elbow at one point. I loved it and, seven months later, I rode my first trial at Harwood Dale run by Scarborough and District Motor Club, dropping 118 marks but I enjoyed it. My older cousin James also had a TY80 so we would head off to many trials together as well as practice on the moor.
How old were you when you enterd your first Ladies BTC round?
I was nine when I entered my first British round on a Beta 80. Kate Hunter and I would regularly ride trials together and the ACU had just brought a C Class route to the Ladies rounds so it was a good opportunity for us both to have a go. It was held at Lincoln in Metheringham Quarry.
How did the first BTC go?
It went really well and I enjoyed the day, even though I was really nervous at the start. The trial was set out really well with some tricky sections and I finished second behind Chloe Richardson. I watched her ride through some sections and she was cleaning most of them so I was very happy to finish where I did.
Obviously improving you attracted the attention of the Ace Trials Team.
I was so fortunate to get the chance to be in the Ace Trials Team. The Kilhams family were really supportive the whole time I was there. I remember going to pick the 125cc Gas Gas up with all the ‘Ace’ stickers on and all the kit they gave me, it was like Christmas day. I soon got used to the 125cc as I went on Ian Austermules training days with the Peace brothers — Dan and Jack — and this brought me on as Ian taught me a lot. The Kilhams showed me how everything worked in the European rounds which were a fantastic experience.
What was your first year in the Ladies World Championship like?
My first year was all about learning, but I wanted to do well but getting timed in the sections and walking them the day before was all new to me. My family was very fortunate to be able to borrow my dad’s cousin’s camper van for the trip to Germany and the Czech Republic. My first World rounds were in Grossheubach, Germany and the following weekend in the Czech Republic. In Germany it was 40ºC so it was a challenge to ride in the heat but the place was great, it was set out so well. I finished 25th and felt I could have rode better in a lot of the sections.
One week later you improved to take 11th and score your first points in the Czech Republic at Tanvald.
I had previously ridden in Czech for the European round so I knew what it was like. I was still nervous at the start and made a few mistakes throughout the day. At the end, looking back, I felt I could have saved many points but was really happy with 11th and getting my first few points.
Over the next couple of years your riding continued to improve resulting in finishing ninth in the 2013 Championship.
When I came back from doing the World rounds in 2012, I was motivated to try harder and improve for the World Championship rounds the following year. I was fortunate enough to have a few lorry loads of rocks from Paul who owns the local quarry and dad built sections for me to practice on.
By 2013 we were heading to Andorra for a two day World round. After the first day finishing in 15th was very disappointing and we also struggled with the time allowance. Emma (Bristow) also had trouble with time allowance so we were both disappointed in our tent. Afterwards, mum gave me a firm talking to and it must have worked because I had my best result so far in sixth position and Emma took the win.
Were you looking at the podium in the 2014 Ladies WTC?
Yes I was as I never felt I rode my best in any of the World rounds so I was looking for a podium finish especially in 2014. I continued to practice throughout the winter doing as many trials as I could and moved from a 125cc to a 250cc Gas Gas. It took a while to get used to the power but I started to feel more confident as the British rounds were approaching. Throughout the beginning of 2014, I felt like I was improving all the time on the 250. I felt the podium was in my reach but it wasn’t meant to be.
In early June you were involved in the road traffic accident that would change your life forever.
I got my moped before my 16th birthday; it was great knowing I had the freedom to make my own way to work, college and seeing my friends. My mum and dad have helped me to write this as I don’t remember the few days before my accident.
I practiced on my trials machine on the morning of the 18th June before I set off to college — ironically after I had watched the Rocky film! I was involved in a head-on crash with a car around a blind corner about a mile from home. This was very unlucky — however, the next few moments were ‘lucky’.
The Air Ambulance doctor, Mike Davison, said that the next 100 things went my way. Directly after the crash there just happened to be a retired fireman out walking with his wife who started CPR and kept me alive until the Great North Air Ambulance arrived. The Air Ambulance arrived within minutes of the accident but as they got to me my heart beat was four beats per minute. They took half an hour to stabilise me as both my lungs had collapsed so drains were put in. I had a compound fracture of my left femur and my patella (knee) had also shattered into many pieces. My crash helmet was ripped off with the force of the crash leaving me with severe head injuries so I was put into a coma at the scene.
You were airlifted to the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesborough where you put up a tremendous fight for life which pulled you through the most difficult period despite the injuries.
The Great North Air Ambulance people were excellent and got me there alive in just seven minutes despite my heart stopping twice on the way. As soon as I got to the James Cook Hospital, I was rushed in for scans but more important were the brain scans which revealed two bleeds, two fractures to the skull and my brain was swelling fast. The neurosurgeons actually said that they weren’t going to operate as it was inoperable brain damage and there was nothing they could do. Luckily, a trauma nurse and a doctor pushed the neurosurgeons to have a look at my condition and thankfully they did. My parents were told that if they did operate there was a chance I would die but if they didn’t then I would die. I was taken to theatre for a craniotomy where they took a side of my skull out to allow room for my brain to swell and they also placed a bolt in my head to measure the pressure in my brain. It all went well until it came to stapling the skin up and my heart stopped again — they said it took five minutes to restart it.
I had other injuries like a broken wrist, vertebra and pelvis and collapsed lungs. I was kept in Intensive Care in a coma where my heart stopped a further time.
After a week-and-a-half, they took me off all pain medication to see how bad the damage to my brain affected me but my heart rate went up and my blood pressure went low so I was put back in a coma for a few days when they tried again. After just over two weeks in Intensive Care, I was transferred to Paediatric Intensive Care where I just improved every day and the medical staff were amazed at how well I could function given the scars and damage to my brain.
Once you left hospital the months ahead must have appeared tough?
Yes, it was challenging with a ‘pot’ being on my leg and it was very painful to go on car journeys so I spent most of the time at home. I couldn’t do many things on my own with having so little energy and my balance was very poor on crutches so my mum and dad had to help me with everything. I struggled to watch films as I just couldn’t get into them and had no concentration so I mainly listened to music.
I still had a lot of appointments at the hospital as I had the infection in my leg and my skull wasn’t sitting right in my head. I had to learn some things again especially with having no co-ordination, like catching a ball. I struggled with telling the time and writing but with a little practice over time it all came back. It wasn’t an easy process, especially leaving the hospital after two months but my friends regularly messaged me. It was nice to have Dominic Feaks message me as he was also going through a tough time. We would talk about how we always competed together and hopefully one day we could ride again. He was really positive and I hope we kept each other going.
Tell us about the recovery process.
I’ve had a lot of help with my recovery and I have so many people to thank. Saul Black in Whitby is using cold laser therapy on my leg almost every week. Jake Miller who contacted ‘Woody’ Hole at Hope for a road bike which is an excellent way to build up my knee. Family, friends and many people have helped me with my recovery. There are too many to name but I can’t thank you all enough for your support and prayers.
I would also like to thank Gas Gas and the whole trials community. They were so supportive to all of my family throughout my recovery which has made it easier. My family is also very thankful especially to the Intensive Care unit in James Cook and the Great North Air Ambulance who are entirely funded by the public.
Life is returning back to normal as I have finally been fit enough to pass my driving test and have been discharged from hospital. Physio is slowly declining as I am building the muscles up on the Hope pushbike and in the gym. Throughout my recovery the local vicar and his wife would always be in touch saying prayers throughout my time in hospital and my recovery and I would go to church often.
What are your plans for the future?
I plan to continue to ride in trials and hope to be back competing in both the British and World rounds in 2017 but we will see how it all goes. I still have physio for my leg and will continue building it up throughout the winter. The recovery is still ongoing and I have to thank my surgeon for the latest operation which all other surgeons said was impossible to do. He was Nick London from Harrogate Hospital and he was recommended by my sponsor, Graham Peacock.
THE SMITH FAMILY:
“This has been a very difficult time for all the family as at one point we had to come to terms with the fact that we could have lost Nikita. Despite the severe nature of the injuries she has shown an incredible will to survive and is now on her way to recovery and the path back to competing in motorcycle trials once again. The support from the world of trials has touched the whole family and we would like to thank everyone who has shown their support for our daughter.”
JOHN HULME, TRIAL MAGAZINE:
“I knew the Smith family well before the accident and we had Nikita on the radar as a challenger for the podium in the Ladies WTC in 2014. The news of the accident was very upsetting and I made the journey to see Nikita in hospital in the early days of her recovery. I expected a very sad day but the first thing I saw was a smile from this remarkable young lady. Despite her body being broken, the humour and smile was still there. Over the coming months and then years I have kept my eye on her progress until I was travelling to the British Championship round this year near Castleton and the home of Nikita’s family.
“My wife commented that we had just passed a cyclist who looked like Nikita; we were in the middle of nowhere on the open moors, ‘Never’ was my reply. On the day of the event I saw Andy and Sally Smith and commented on our sighting and they replied: “Yes that will be Nikita”. The ‘eye of the tiger’ was shining though in this very determined and likeable young lady once again”.
2014: The James Cook Hospital became home. The road to recovery was a long one. Step by step. 2015: It’s August at the BTC near their home at Fryup on the North Yorkshire Moors. Learning to walk again. 2016: Dedication on the road to fitness and trials...
2012: Getting more confident all the time. 2013: Looking good in the early part of the season at Seymour’s Arena BTC. 2013: In Andorra on day two at the WTC. All the hard work was rewarded with a 6th place finish. 2014: The extra power after the move...
2012: Working on the technique.
2008: Competing on the Beta 80 near Matlock.
2010: On the Ace Trials Team Gas Gas in the Ladies BTC at Cheadle.
62 October 2016 International Dirt Bike Show: It’s all smiles from Nikita here on the left with her sister Kacey.
July 2014: Mum Sally and dad Andy keep an eye on their daughter in the James Cook Hospital in the early days after the accident.
2016: A return to trials and the podium with 3rd position at the North Berks Supertrial. 2016: It’s a radiant Nikita Smith with Gas Gas UK importer and family friend John Shirt Jnr.