This is the second installment of a two-part feature story on paraplegic motocross-turned-off road driver George Hammel.
To read part one, click here.
TUCSON, Ariz. — After a vicious and frightening crash in 1998, George Hammel’s promising motocross career was put on hold and his life was turned on its head, with a broken back paralyzing him from the waist down and changing everything he thought he knew.
But Hammel’s lesson to those who knew his was simple: never give up.
He came back from his injuries over a seven-year period to race again, working his way from bicycle riding all the way back into motocross before competing in the 2009 Motocross Extremity Games and winning a gold medal, as well as appearing in the 2009 X Games.
It was a long journey back, but the journey was one that Hammel described as “filled with tests of strength.”
“I’ve always had the strength and the mind-set to never give up and to always be better, but I think it also comes back to being young,” Hammel told the Performance Motorsports Network recently regarding his experience after the accident that paralyzed him.
“I was 19 when it happened, so I was a little naïve, and maybe I didn’t understand the actual, really intense portion of the situation. I thought, ‘Ehh, whatever they’re telling me, I don’t want to listen to them,’ like the typical teenager, and that gave me the opportunity to kinda just bypass them and say, ‘No, you know, I don’t believe you. You’re not right. I’m going to be able to do it my way.'”
“That’s what gave me the strength to be able to do it and come back from everything they said I couldn’t come back from. I didn’t understand how big of a journey it was going to be, I just knew I wasn’t going to quit.”
After his X Games appearance, Hammel returned to motocross training, but broke his back for the third time in a training accident in 2010.
While neurosurgeon Dr. Eric Sipos was able rebuild Hammel’s burst T11 vertebrae without having to insert extra metal or fusions, avoiding any interference with the previous 1998 surgeries, Hammel was told he would be unable to return to motocross again because of the weakness of the vertebrae.
Despite that setback, Hammel turned down a different path and strengthened his focus on road bicycle-riding, competing on bikes without any modifications and racing in the both the 111 mile El Tour De Tucson and the Ironman 70.3 California in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
That road brought back Hammel’s competitive edge with full force.
“Man, I’m a competitor. I always have been,” said Hammel. “After the X Games, I was training to be better at dirt bike racing again, but when I ended up breaking my back the third time and the doctor said if I did any more damage to it that it wouldn’t be repairable, I made a conscious decision to look into the off-road racing stuff and said, ‘Okay, well I’m not going to be able to afford this, so what am I going to do?’”
“That’s when I thought, ‘Okay, well I’ll start riding bicycles and making an impact, and hopefully I can show people what’s possible and that even if you have setbacks, you can achieve your goals as long as you try hard.’”
Continued on the next page…