Nine years ago, Joey Evans broke his back in a motorbike race. Now he is preparing to race against able-bodied riders in the Dakar Rally in January. CLAIRE RENCKEN met this indomitable character.
On October 13, 2007, Joey lined up at the start of the Heidelberg Harescramble with about 20 other riders. “I had a bad start there the year before and sat 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 around me. Later I was told that, going into the first corner about 100 m after the start, another rider crashed into my swing arm and I was catapulted off the bike, landed on my head and got ridden over by other riders,” he recalls.
After the initial relief when Joey regained consciousness and joked “Did I win?” the gravity of his injuries became apparent when he realised he could not feel his legs. “To top it off, I thought my mouth was full of dirt and stones and I was spitting them out – it turned out I had broken 12 teeth, some were completely shattered.”
To cut an amazing story short (do yourself a favour and read his full account of events on his website, cleverly named From Para to Dakar, at www.fromparatodakar.co.za), Joey was told by doctors that he would never walk again and that he was completely paralysed from the chest down. However, he started regaining limited sensation and was determined to get back on his feet. As time went on, he then grew determined to get back on a motorbike and once he had accomplished that, he started riding in rallies again and set his sights on the Dakar Rally for 2017.
Says Joey: “So here I am in 2016. I can now walk quite well and sometimes people don’t even notice I have a problem. However, my legs still don’t work properly; they are much weaker and slower than before and spasm a lot when I’m tired or when my adrenaline 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-catheterise several times daily, which is a challenge in race conditions.
“But, I can ride a bike okay and know that Dakar is (after a long time) within my reach. So this year I entered the Merzouga Rally in Morocco in May. This rally is owned by ASO, the same company that owns the Dakar, and is an official qualifier for the Dakar 2017. I needed just to finish in the pro class at this six-day rally and I would automatically qualify for Dakar 2017. It wasn’t easy but after the six days I managed to cross the finish in 39th position, thus earning my place at Dakar in January 2017!”
Now the hard work of fundraising, sacrifice and training has really started. We will be rooting for you in January, Joey. Best of luck from the Rolling Inspiration team!