In a sport like motocross, it’s almost a given that injuries will occur. You put 20-plus riders on a winding dirt track together, and collisions are bound to happen.
But is it crazy to keep getting up and coming back for more, just to suffer another bruising crash?
Ask racers like Daniel Maciariello, or Jim Hakkinen, or Jeremy Riddle. Each rider was on hand to compete in Saturday’s state motocross races at the Kenai Peninsula Racing Lions dirt course between Kenai and Soldotna.
All three have endured a myriad of bumps and bruises throughout their careers. Of course, these three aren’t the only racers in Alaska with a laundry list of ailments, but through it all, they get up, dust themselves off and keep on trucking.
“I’ve had two compound fractures in my right arm, I broke a vertebrae in my neck, fractured my tibia, cracked a rib, broke my thumb, broke my middle finger, broke three bones in my foot and got a hairline fracture in my elbow,” Maciariello said.
The 22-year-old racer from Kenai has compiled this list in a span of 10 years.
Six years ago, Maciariello was running in fifth place during an event, when he suffered one of his most gruesome crashes.
“The two guys in front of me bumped into each other, and dust flew up, and I thought I was in the berm, but I wasn’t,” he recounted. “I spun out, my back got ran over and I tried to roll over to the inside of the track and my arm got stuck in someone else’s tire, and it came around and broke over the swing arm.
“I tried rolling the other way, and my arm flipped and I got ran over again, and then I was able to get off the track. I ended up getting run over like five or six times.”
And for Maciariello, who goes by “Spike” at the KPRL track, there was also the time he was knocked unconscious when a bike tire hit his head after he had been thrown off his bike, which resulted in a broken helmet.
Jim Hakkinen, 45, was forced to take a number of years off from motocross racing due to an accident at age 16 that broke his back in three places.
“I didn’t ride again until two years ago,” Hakkinen said. “They couldn’t put a pin between my spinal cord and first vertebrae. I then became a diabetic, so to stay off medication I exercised and ran, but the best exercise there is is riding a motocross bike.”
Hakkinen is now the vice president of KPRL, and having been born and raised in Kenai, he was eventually lured back to the track.
Jeremy Riddle, age 33, is from Fairbanks, and he may have the biggest injury list of all.
“Off the top of my head, I’ve broken both my wrists twice, both my ankles, one ankle three times, the other one twice,” Riddle said. “Two herniated discs, four fractured vertebrae, pins in my back, pins in my wrists, shoulder surgery... just too many to count.”
Riddle has competed in motocross for 25 years of his life, and to him, it’s the competition and camaraderie that keeps him coming back.
“The adrenaline definitely takes over when the helmet straps go on,” Riddle said. “It’s pretty amazing how you can do it once you’re out here.”
Maciariello finished seventh — about midpack — in Saturday’s Pro race, in which he was riding a Honda that was sponsored by Hakkinen. Maciariello’s own bike had engine trouble earlier on Saturday.
“I love it. I live my life through a motorized vehicle,” Maciariello said. “I’m not going to stop just because of an injury. It’s called perseverance, I guess.”
Hakkinen ended up winning the Vet Intermediate division Saturday, onboard a Yamaha.
“When I’m out there it never crosses my mind,” he said. “When I’m on that line and the gate’s getting ready to drop, I’m 14 again. I’m a little kid. There’s not a drug out there that can give you the same feel.”
Sunday’s motocross events start at 10 a.m. at the KPRL dirt track, with the riders meeting beginning at 8:30 a.m.
Maciariello summed it up by saying it is just like any other passion in life that an individual may have.
“Every time I swing my leg over a bike, it crosses my mind,” he said. “But it’s just a matter of blocking the fear. It’s the feeling I get when I conquer my fear.
“I’ll ride ’til I can’t walk. I’ll ride ’til they bolt me to my wheelchair.”