There’s no reason to give up on your dreams when you have the desire to challenge yourself
Story by Misti Hurst
Photos by: William Snow
In December 2014, Kris Bergthorson, an avid motorcyclist, was riding arenacross at the Red Barn Heritage Park in Chilliwack, B.C., when he lost control. He caught a jump slightly crooked, tried to recover, clipped another jump and crashed. “I went straight down on my head,” he says, “and popped my spine. Just like that, I broke my back.” From that moment on, he was paralyzed from the chest down.
Four years later, Bergthorson was back on a motorcycle and racing with the Pacific Coast Mini Roadracing Club (PCMRC) at Chilliwack’s Greg Moore Raceway (GMR) on an adapted Husqvarna. I was lucky enough to be there to watch the emotionally charged moment and to meet the inspiring man inside the helmet.
The energy in the pits was positive and upbeat as racers and spectators gathered to watch Bergthorson being lifted out of his wheelchair and onto his supermotard, which was fitted with custom “landing gear” – like training wheels and a kickstand all in one. His feet were put into some creatively moulded PVC piping that held them in place on the foot pegs, and his legs were stuck to the bike with some attached Velcro on his pants and on the seat.
Because it was his first trial race, Bergthorson started from the hot pits, and after the flag dropped and the rest of the racers went by, he rolled out after them. He began slowly at first, making sure the landing gear retracted as he merged onto the track, and continued tentatively around the first few corners.
The other spectators and I were grinning in awe as we watched him gradually pick up the pace. I was standing right next to his girlfriend, Greetje Wilderjans, who was literally jumping up and down grinning and shouting, “He needed this so badly. I’m so excited for him! This is great. This is so great!”
As his pace picked up, Bergthorson smoothly rode around the track for several laps as his confidence grew. I could see how he was adapting his riding to work best with what his body was able to do. He looked one with the bike, and everyone could tell that he was riding happy. Even though I had yet to meet him, I was touched by his dedication and bravery – as was fellow racer Scott Borthwick, who was watching beside me. “I mean, wow,” he said. “It makes me think, would I be that strong? The amount of willpower that is flowing through his veins, it’s so impressive.”
After a few laps, another rider, Mike Inosay, crashed, and as Bergthorson passed him, he got back on his bike and rejoined the race. From the sidelines, we thought that Bergthorson might just move over and let Inosay pass, but as soon as he heard the bike behind him, he picked up the pace. We could see the change in his body. He stiffened up a little bit, put his head down and rolled on the gas harder. “He’s racing!” I said excitedly. “He’s in race mode again. He’s not letting Mike get by without a fight.”
The energy was building as we looked on, watching Bergthorson not only riding again, but actually racing. Half the spectators had tears of excitement in their eyes, myself included. As he passed the checkered flag, he gave a little wiggle of happiness and a small fist pump, and pulled into the hot pits, where several people had gathered to congratulate him and help him back into his chair.
Bergthorson was grinning from ear to ear, as was everyone else in the area. “It felt amazing to get out there,” he told everyone. “Emotional . . . pretty incredible, really. It’s hard to even explain after wanting to do this for so long and having motorcycles be such a huge part of my life before the accident.”
Searching for Options
It wasn’t easy for Bergthorson to make that dream a reality, either. Adapting his bike and getting ready for that moment was two years in the making. Initially, he had been looking into sit-skiing for paraplegics. “I’m a T4,” Bergthorson explains, “which means I’m paralyzed from the chest down, no abs, no core, no lower back, so I thought I’d just tip right over.” He wondered if T4s could sit-ski very well, and during his research came across a European champion in sit-skiing, Talan Skeels-Piggins, who just so happened to also have a motorcycle race team.
Bergthorson investigated further and found out that the FIM (Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme) was working with two organizations, the Handi Free Riders and Diversamente Disabili to support a motorcycle race…