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Offline T9ER

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From "Para" to Dakar.
« on: May 03, 2016, 02:55:27 pm »
OK, the short version is in 2007 I was paralized and now I've recovered a lot and want to race Dakar in January. Here's most of the story, sorry it's a bit long....

A bit about me - Joey Evans

I have always loved bikes. It started for me with my first second-hand bicycle I got for Christmas one year as a kid. My brothers and I would make ramps in the garden from bricks and pieces of wood and a track that would go through most of the flower beds, much to my Mom's despair.

Later I saved up money from my newspaper rounds and birthday money from grandparents and bought my first BMX - a gold and black Raleigh Racing. Now the tracks started to move into the veldt over the road from where we lived and onto building sites with big mounds of dirt. We would ride down the road and meet up with buddies at the back of the old tennis courts and ride tracks and jumps we made in the dirt. Along the way there were scrapes and bruises as well as skinless shins from the pedals. I always wanted a motorbike but growing up second eldest in a family of six children, it was never going to happen. My buddy in high school, Sheldon, raced motocross and let me ride his KX125 a couple of times in the veldt and it was incredible.

Only at 26 years old could I eventually afford my first motorbike, a second-hand Honda CR250 two stroke motocross bike. I started learning to ride in the veldt and then moved to motocross tracks in the beginning, followed in the coming years by a bit of freestyle and then onto enduro and hare scrambles where I found my passion. I dreamed of racing in the Dakar Rally after watching it on TV and made it my goal to compete one day. I went on to race a number of races both regional and national in 2006 and 2007. I finished the Roof of Africa and Mafikeng Desert race (500km) in 2006 also finishing the year in 2nd place in open pro in the northern region harescramble series.
My dream of racing the Dakar across North Africa lead me to start finding out more information … which brought the realisation of what a massive financial and time consuming commitment it would be. With a young family and the financial commitments that come with it, the rally was simply out of reach financially. I continued to ride often and raced local and some national races, with the dream of Dakar on the back shelf for the time being.

“I Can’t Feel my Legs”

Then at 32 years old on the 13th of October 2007 I lined up at the start of the Heidelberg Harescramble with about 20 other riders. I had got a bad start there the year before which saw me sitting in the dust for ages, unable to pass. This time I was determined to get a good start. And that's all I can remember until I woke up facing the sky with paramedics and spectators standing round me.
Later I was told that going into the first corner just 100 metres after the start, another rider had crashed into my swing arm and I was catapulted off the bike, landed on my head and was ridden over by other riders. The next thing I remember is lying in the dirt looking up at all the faces and realising clearly I had crashed and been unconscious. I joked "did I win?" They all laughed and were clearly relieved … but then my buddy Tristam’s wife, Tiffany, who had been standing next to me with my bent knees resting on her, moved back. My legs just dropped to the floor like two big pieces of dead meat.

I whispered to the paramedic, not wanting Meredith (my wife) who was near me to hear, that I could not feel my legs. She heard and suddenly we all realised that this was serious. To top it off I thought my mouth had been full of dirt and stones which I was spitting out; it turned out to be my teeth. I had broken 12 teeth, some completely shattered. There were many complications with the treatment I got that day. First they tried to get a helicopter evacuation, which is normally standard practise for spinal injuries, but there was a problem and the helicopter couldn't come. Next the ambulance on site was not equipped to transport a spinal injury.
Eventually they called in another ambulance and after lying in the dirt for more than 3 hours, I was transported by ambulance to the nearest hospital … more than 60km away, partly via dirt roads.

Never Walk Again

I saw several specialists and was transferred to two different hospitals before ending up in Meulmed Spinal Unit in Pretoria. It turned out I had broken my T8 and T9 vertebrae, breaking them off the ribs and crushing my spinal cord, leaving me completely paralyzed from just below the chest, down. I also had head trauma and had been unconscious, and had broken 12 teeth amongst various other smaller injuries. At that point we had absolutely no idea what challenges the future would hold for us.

I was told by the two previous hospital specialists that I would never walk again in light of my spinal cord injury that appeared to be "complete". A few days later after many X-rays and CT scans the doctor recommended that we fuse my T8 and T9 vertebrae to stabilise my back and attempt to relieve pressure off my spinal cord. This was a big decision to make as other doctors had recommended that we leave the area to ensure no further damage. I had a small "flicker" in my right big toe which gave us some sort of hope, but the doctor said that would more than likely be lost after the fusion. He said if the operation was successful I had at best a 10% chance of ever walking again and if I did I would walk badly and with serious difficulty.

After some serious thought going back and forth, although Meredith was still unsure, I decided to go for it in the hope that the fusion would offer the best possible long term possibilities, and she backed my decision. I didn't have too much to lose but it was still incredibly scary being wheeled into theatre wondering if we had made the right decision. The next thing I knew I woke up after surgery in the most pain I could ever have imagined. I had a morphine button that I was pressing like a Nintendo game but it seemed to make no difference.

The Fight of My Life

In the days that followed the flicker in my toe had gone and my legs were really wasting away. I would look down at a body I couldn't feel or even recognise. My legs were so skinny and the little flesh that was on them just hung on the bones almost like saggy bags of water. Things were really tough and every day was a fight to stay positive and "keep it together". Lying in that hospital bed I decided that this was not going to beat me; that I would work as hard as I possibly could to walk again. I had so much support from Meredith, my family and friends. Everyone kept pushing me to keep going and always full of encouragement. I had visitors for most of the day, every day, week after week. Family, friends, fellow riders and guys from the biking community rallied around me. I was in for the fight of my life but I was not alone.

Looking back I had no idea of the real challenges that lay ahead for me, Meredith and my four daughters. It was probably for the best as it would have been too much to bear at the time. I thought about my dream to race in the Dakar and how awesome it would be to come back from this to achieve it, but it seemed at the time that that was now too far and too impossible to even contemplate. Just to be able to feel something or move my legs was beyond almost all hope.

Then over the next few days the flicker in my toe came back, followed by some slight weak movement in my left ankle in the following weeks. Later I also started to feel something slight in my quads. After six weeks in hospital I came home in my own wheelchair to find ramps put up in my house to help me get around. There was a realisation that life was going to be very different from now on.
And it was. The next year, 2008, was by far the most difficult year of my life. My body from below my chest downwards was completely wasted away and my skin would just hang from the bones. I could now feel touch, but not any hot and cold or pain sensation on the skin below the injury. My feet and legs constantly felt like pins and needles. My back was very painful and I had lost all proper bowel and bladder function making daily life very difficult for me and my family. I would get spasms in my legs and struggled to digest which meant a constant struggle to balance laxatives and diet. Not a fun game with limited bowel control. There were also lots of trips to the dentist to fix my teeth as best they could.

The Miracle

There was constant physiotherapy and I took these sessions very seriously. Whatever they told me to do, I did double of. I refused to accept that my legs would not work and I spent hours daily digging to the depths of my soul, urging my body and begging Heavenly Father to get some response. So when I eventually started to get some tiny movement in my legs, it was like I had won the biggest lottery ever. There was hope and my determination was supercharged.
This was the beginning of a long process of painstakingly learning to stand and then slowly and very painfully I went on to start to try and walk again. I went from walking in parallel bars with back-slabs on my legs, to crutches, then to one crutch and finally walking without aids. There were more setbacks along the way than I care to remember and very often I ended up in a heap on the ground. It was a constant struggle and often embarrassing as I'm sure most people just thought I was drunk most of the time. It was like fighting a fight I was never supposed to win – half a step forward and ten backwards. However I was determined this would not be my fate forever, so when my unseen opponent threw me down, I clawed my way back up and pushed back harder. I banished the picture of me in a wheelchair with atrophied legs that kept trying to lodge itself in my mind.

I would walk through the mall with my wife and kids, dragging my feet and losing balance but insisting on not being in the wheelchair despite the fact that it would have been much easier at the time. There were countless unforeseen physical complications, stuff that you always took for granted that you now couldn't do. Simple things like picking up your kids, kicking a ball or driving your car. But with the huge support from my amazing wife Meredith, family, friends and the riding community, I persisted with my recovery. The Enduro World Magazine lead by Gary and Lynne Franks and supported by many bikers and friends raised money to help with additional therapy not covered by my medical aid. Many people called round and helped to encourage me.

But while there were times I was bullet proof and would work so hard on recovery, optimistic and pumped to succeed and beat this, there were also many times I would lie in bed at night and just cry. It all seemed just too much to bear. One thing I do know for sure is that there is no way I would have got through it without Meredith. She would encourage me and help me get through those times.
Less frequently she would struggle with the enormous added strain on her and I would be the one comforting her and telling her it was all going to be OK. Other times we would lie holding each other and just cry together. All the stupid things we had thought to be important before the accident, now seemed so trivial.

Getting Back on a Bike

About two years after the accident I was determined to try get back on a bike. The first time I tried to throw my leg over I could not support my weight and the bike on one leg and ended up falling over with the bike on top of me. My buddy Neal helped me up with the usual friendly mocking and banter. My legs were shaking with the spasms and I felt physically sick but with help I got on and rode about 100 metres, coming to a stop next to my mates who would help me off again.

Then my mate Tristam Davies and some friends of mine organised a day where we would head out on a small ride together. Many of my friends and fellow riders came out to support me. Words could never describe the feeling of being back on the bike again. Alone in my helmet I felt my eyes well up knowing that this was truly a miracle to have come what seemed full circle and be back on a bike again. This was never supposed to happen. Not being able to run or jump or play other sports, being on the bike and having the ability to ride flowing paths and move with ease was incredible. It was such a feeling of freedom. I was filled with gratitude, excitement and emotion.

I was still going to physiotherapy every week and I told my physiotherapist, Sharne, that I wanted to learn to swing my leg over a bike without falling over. She would build a "fake" bike out of gym equipment and I would train to lift my leg and pivot on the other, slowly learning and training the muscles needed. We would work a lot on core strength and balance constantly trying to become more and more functional. Everything just takes so much longer and so much more concentration when you can’t feel and have such limited control of your muscles and movement. It was (and still is) a constant battle against the overpowering urge to just throw the towel in.

Next I bought a second-hand bike and had the suspension lowered and the seat cut down to help with my weak legs. I began to ride more and more but always needed a friend to be there to lift the bike off me and help me up when I fell over … which I invariably did do.

Racing Again

After a long time I entered my first enduro race at Arrows Rest organised by Enduro World. I managed one lap of about 8km’s shadowed by two good mates, Tristam and Johan. That one lap took me several hours to complete. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I had wanted to quit so many times and my legs would constantly spasm. At the finish I had to fight back the tears as my mate Neal helped me take my boots off. I was completely worn out physically and emotionally. It felt like my own personal Dakar even though it was nothing special to the average rider. I realised that day I was racing against my injury from now on and no one else. It took more time and a few more races before I managed to finish my first race.

Then in June 2012 I entered the silver class (500km) in the Botswana Desert Race and managed to finish 3rd in the open class and 1st in seniors. The next year, 2013, I entered the full 1000km - unfortunately I was time barred on the last lap after having to start at the back on both days since I didn't have national ranking. It was frustrating as I had trained hard but having to start in row 28 both days when no one after row 8 made the time bar, it was simply impossible. However I had managed to ride 750km’s which encouraged me to continue knowing that I was able to ride long distances on back-to-back days.

sorry had to split the post, rest to follow...

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Offline T9ER

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Re: From "Para" to Dakar.
« Reply #1 on: May 03, 2016, 03:00:13 pm »
Reaching Goals.

I continued with weekly physiotherapy even though it had been more than five years since the accident. I constantly worked towards being as able-bodied as possible. I would like to say I was always positive and worked like a machine, but the truth is that while there were times like that, there were also times I gave up hope and let things slide. It was tough to always be positive and to give 100% every day.

So having goals to work for was crucial. In September 2013 I entered the Amageza Rally, my first "Dakar style" road book rally. Nearly 2000km from Cape Town touching over into Namibia and finishing in Kakamas in the Northern Cape over 3 days of racing. This was a race that would leave a lasting impression on me, a challenge to say the least. There were 46 starters and only 17 finishers. I managed to finish in 5th overall in what was the best riding experience of my life to date. Riding in wide open places without a soul in sight for mile upon mile was truly special. I raced it without any support "Malle Moto" style living out of my steel trunk, servicing my own bike and sleeping in my pop up tent. I knew after this race that rally racing was my passion and was what I wanted to do.

Amageza re-awakened my dream to race in the Dakar and there seemed to be a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, this might just be possible. So I decided that if my dream was ever going to be reached, I needed to get serious about it. I spent a lot of time researching what was needed and what it was going to cost. This was going to be a huge sacrifice in every way for not only me but for my wife and family too. Dare I even think of asking that of them, after they had gone through so much already?

A lot of people would comment how foolish and selfish I was to be riding again after such a serious injury. However Meredith understands me better than anyone and she could see how riding and setting goals gave me the freedom and motivation that I needed to continue to fight my injury. She supported me all the way - make no mistake she would worry and be concerned especially after being there and witnessing the accident herself - it was never going to be easy. But the goal was set and there was a lot that had to happen so I started to set specific goals. I decided that 2016 would be enough time to prepare yet not too far away that I would lose focus.

Firstly I needed to get stronger and fitter so I put together a training program and focused on riding longer distances and more technical terrain. Secondly I needed to have more racing and specifically rally racing experience not only to ensure my best chances of finishing but also to ensure that my application to the Dakar would be accepted. Not living in Europe, Australia or South America made it incredibly expensive to race any of the big rallies and this was a challenge. Then the Namaqua African Rally was announced to be ridden over 7 days in the Cape and promised to be an international standard rally, so I entered that.

Unfortunately it cost a lot of money and I felt very let down as the organisers shortened it because of logistical problems to 5 days and the distances were nowhere near those promised. I had some challenges on top of that with my bike losing oil and had to carry oil and constantly stop to top up. Nevertheless I still managed to finish the rally in 16th overall in bikes and 2nd in my class - M2.2. I again rode the rally Malle Moto style servicing my own bike each night and living out of my tent.

Back to Hospital

I also continued to race several other off road races in 2014. My plan was to race my third rally, the Amageza 2014, which was about 3000km over 5 days. My training was going great; I was riding every week and had done some good road book training organised by Mark Campbell. My navigation had improved massively from the previous year and my bike fitness was better. In preparation I entered Dallie Terblanche's Pongola 500, staged near the Swaziland, SA and Mozambique border to be ridden over 500 km as one of my final big training rides.
It started out well and the bike felt great but fate was to hand me another challenge. Not far into the ride I was following behind some other riders when I hit a cow while riding at somewhere near 100km/h. I didn't see it as it ran out in front of me and I didn't even have time to brake. I was a mess, suffering concussion and torn ligaments separating my collar bone from my shoulder. I had fractured a rib and broken another one off, torn my tricep tendon, had an avulsion fracture on my elbow, lacerations down to the bone on my forearm and bruised up pretty badly all over.

Several other riders including Toti and Brian Bontekoning stopped and took great care of me as well as the organisers who were brilliant in organising the ambulance and getting me to the nearest hospital over 150km away. It took two operations to sort out my arm and six months of healing without being able to ride, which ended my Amageza Rally plans for the year and once again put the Dakar dream out of reach. Missing out on the Amageza Rally was particularly frustrating. The second half of 2014 and the first few months of 2015 were really difficult working through the injuries and not being able to ride.
At the end of February I decided to do a solo off road trip from Johannesburg to Cape Town, about 2700km over about 5 days. A sort of “get my head right” trip. My wife and I love spending time together but after the last few months since the cow deal she was basically begging me to go ride. The ride was fantastic, I got my head right and I was pumped to keep loving life and chasing my Dakar dream.

My next goal for 2015 was the Amageza Rallye - this year a 5000km race over 7 days. Training was difficult as my elbow was still healing and very painful after each ride. As a last training ride I decided to do the Pongola 500 just 14 days before the Amageza Rallye. Perhaps tempting fate a bit after the cow incident last year, but it went really well. I rode it smoothly and at a safer speed. I really found a good pace and flow, a bit slower than I would usually race but I made a lot less mistakes and never hit any cows. Make no mistake though, it was tough. There was lots of riverbeds and thick sand which turned out to be great training for the Amageza. It also helped me get my head right for Amageza. I had also tried a new bash plate with the water required for Amageza in it. I realised that with my limited ankle movement I would sometimes use the back brake with my right heal. Using the bash plate made this difficult so I made another plan for the Amageza.

Eventually the Amageza arrived, two years of waiting and I was ready and relatively speaking, injury free. I was like a kid counting sleeps before Christmas. I had chosen to enter it Malle Moto again for a few reasons. Firstly it was cheaper which suited my budget. Secondly it would be more about survival and less about speed which I figured would help me stay injury free, something that I had clearly struggled to do up until this point! I didn't want to be risking it all with the guys up front. And lastly there is something really cool about finishing a rallye "Malle Moto" style, I love the whole “suck-it-up-and-tough-it-out” style of it.
So in September 2015 nearly 8 years after breaking my back, I headed off to Kimberley to race in the Amageza Rally, seven days and 5000km through Botswana and the Northern Cape. I was pumped!

The race was a challenge, it included going through a fence and later fixing a destroyed tyre with elbow guards and a Liqui Fruit carton, but I finished and to top it off I won the Malle Moto class and received the "Yamadoda Amadoda" award. An unexpected and great result for me and best of all … no major injuries!

Things got really hectic at work after Amageza and I rode very little over the next few months, but now the Dakar was eating at me. I can do this I thought!

Next I raced and finished the Amageza Baja up in Port Nolloth. A two day rally race with a super special prologue the day before. About 800 km in total of thick Kalahari sand combined with incredible mountain sections through the Richtersveld. It was a challenge and I had numerous problems with the ICO and road book which was frustrating at the time but made for good training as I learnt some important lessons. I managed to get the finish and some more rally training under my belt which is what I was there for, so another step towards Dakar was completed.

The Road Ahead – Could Dakar be Possible?

So here I am in 2016. Physically I can now walk quite well and sometimes people don't even notice I have a problem. My legs still don't work properly, they are a lot weaker and slower than “normal legs” and spasm a lot when I'm tired or when my adrenalin is going. I can't run properly or jump but I can do a bit of a dodgy looking jog. I can feel touch but still can't feel any hot, cold or pain sensation from below my chest. I still take medication to help digestion and need to self-catheter several times daily. This is a real challenge in race conditions.

BUT … I can walk and I’m extremely grateful to have been blessed with such a recovery, for the amazing wife and daughters I have, the great friends and countless other blessings in my life.
What’s more is I can ride a bike ok, and know that great dream of Dakar that has helped me get here, could possibly be within my reach. So this year I have entered the Merzouga Rally in Morocco to be held in May. This rally is now owned by ASO, the company that owns the Dakar, and is an official qualifier for Dakar. If I finish the pro class at this six day rally I automatically qualify for Dakar 2017. I have also rented a Rally Replica and joined the France-based Nomade Racing Team for assistance in Merzouga. My goal is to finish this rally and, if I do, then I intend to register, hopefully raise enough money, and race the Dakar in South America in January 2017 ..... and FINISH.


It would be awesome to share my adventure with you guys as I go along. Naturally it's Dakar so anything can happen and I don't know how this thread will end. But I figure fortune favors the brave so I'm all in.
I'll try to keep you in the loop with all my plans, challenges and progress and post pictures and stuff. I'm more than happy to answer any questions and any advice or positive criticism is more than welcome. Naturally I'm no "pro" rider and so I will need to foot the bill for most of this but I will try to raise some funds and sponsership once I finish Merzouga and know I have a definite entry for Dakar in January.
I hope you all join me for the ride. :thumleft:
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Offline Kortbroek

Re: From "Para" to Dakar.
« Reply #2 on: May 03, 2016, 03:24:46 pm »
Joh Dude! This is astounding, I just read this twice with my mouth hanging open. Inspirational stuff  :thumleft: :thumleft:

I look forward to following your journey at the Merzouga and hopefully Dakar 2017.
Ride on  :ricky:
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Offline SteveD

Re: From "Para" to Dakar.
« Reply #3 on: May 03, 2016, 03:26:23 pm »
I'm in  :thumleft:

I've been following Dakar for a while now, and have concluded that what you need to finish includes:
  • 1. Genuine riding ability, national level or at least close to that
  • 2. A bloody minded refusal to give up
  • 3. Luck, lots of it
  • 4. Money, even more of that

1 and 2 you have.
3 I hope you have. With all the kak that you have gone through, surely Lady Luck must be moeg of rolling stones (or cows) in your way.
Sort out 4, and you are good to go.

Well done Joey, it takes balls to commit to this.
I will be following with interest.

Offline T9ER

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Re: From "Para" to Dakar.
« Reply #4 on: May 03, 2016, 03:35:07 pm »
Thanks guys, really appreciate the support. A couple more old pics. I'll post more once I figure out how to shrink them easily.
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Offline ClimbingTurtle

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Re: From "Para" to Dakar.
« Reply #5 on: May 03, 2016, 03:42:01 pm »
Yoh!!  :o  :o  :o


 :thumleft: :thumleft:
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Offline Minxy

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Re: From "Para" to Dakar.
« Reply #6 on: May 03, 2016, 03:50:53 pm »
Thank you for sharing your story with us Joey :thumleft:
Will be supporting you all the way.
When are you leaving for Merzouga by the way? :)
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Offline Kenzogs

Re: From "Para" to Dakar.
« Reply #7 on: May 03, 2016, 03:51:37 pm »
Absolutely motivational and makes me feel bad for the excuses I have made at times to avoid real challenges. Will follow your progress closely.
You can never get lost - you just reach a different destination.
Every road has to lead somewhere - even if it is a dead-end.

Offline Black_Hawk

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Re: From "Para" to Dakar.
« Reply #8 on: May 03, 2016, 03:54:35 pm »
What a touching story. Shows you.... where there is a will...there is a way.

I'll definitely be following you on this one. all of the best  :thumleft:
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Offline ChrisMann

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Re: From "Para" to Dakar.
« Reply #9 on: May 03, 2016, 04:00:25 pm »
Joey, you are my hero mate.
Take my advice; I don't use it anyway.

Online RrP

Re: From "Para" to Dakar.
« Reply #10 on: May 03, 2016, 05:21:48 pm »
 :o  :o You Sir have balls. Good luck


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Re: From "Para" to Dakar.
« Reply #11 on: May 03, 2016, 05:27:43 pm »
Reading your story a lot of emotions of the last 15 years goes through my mind.
Me I have spinal damage and fusion at T6-7-8. As i get older stuff like not peeing in your pants or not getting to the toilet in time for a no 2 is very worrying. Yet one fights with the mind every day. You argue with this fuckup body that some days just does not want cooperate. :biggrin:

I wish you the best of luck with your Dakar dream. It is people like you and Dave Barr that keeps us positive and on our bikes. :deal: :thumleft:

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Re: From "Para" to Dakar.
« Reply #12 on: May 03, 2016, 05:45:19 pm »

Goodluck. I'll certainly help where I can, opening gates and loading GPS's and stuff!

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Re: From "Para" to Dakar.
« Reply #13 on: May 03, 2016, 06:09:24 pm »

Amazing journey. All the best with your plans for the Dakar.
As you have proven, with the right attitude, you can do anything!  :thumleft:

Offline Ganjora

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Re: From "Para" to Dakar.
« Reply #14 on: May 03, 2016, 06:14:37 pm »
Not sure if sponsorship is needed,  but i'd happily buy a suporters shirt.

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Re: From "Para" to Dakar.
« Reply #15 on: May 03, 2016, 06:43:58 pm »
Jassaaaaass Man.
Now that is an awesome story of bravery and utter determination.

You my good man are an inspiration to many many folk.

This I want to followc :thumleft: :thumleft: :thumleft: :thumleft: :thumleft: :thumleft: :thumleft:
I dont want to ride fast, But I want to ride FAR
Past Bikes...Honda XR250 Tornado,Honda XR650L
Honda XL1000V Varadero
BMW 1200 GSA, 800GSA

Offline Parkinoff

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Re: From "Para" to Dakar.
« Reply #16 on: May 03, 2016, 06:55:29 pm »
What a story! You're a winner!!!
My rides:

Super Hex TTI Alexithymia with completely unnecessary, but very expensive Nemophilistic suspension. Electroflux Gogglemaster Oenophilia Edition. 1983 (very rare) Yonderly Bawhair with heated grips.

Offline BMWPE

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Re: From "Para" to Dakar.
« Reply #17 on: May 03, 2016, 07:05:58 pm »
With your determination and attitude
you WILL do the Dakar


Offline Bill the Bong

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Re: From "Para" to Dakar.
« Reply #18 on: May 03, 2016, 07:16:04 pm »

Offline DEE 1150

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Re: From "Para" to Dakar.
« Reply #19 on: May 03, 2016, 07:30:54 pm »
Speechless . . . . just speechless