TUCSON, Ariz. — In 1998, George Hammel was an up-and-coming Supercross and Pro Motocross racer with aspirations of stardom on two wheels.
But in one moment, his life was turned on its head and his career was seemingly dashed before it had a chance to truly begin.
Hammel was competing in his first-ever professional national at Glen Helen Raceway in San Bernadino, California when he hit a large jump coming down a high-speed hill, all while carrying too much speed in the process.
The sheer force ejected him off the bike and he landed on his feet, compressing his body and causing a myriad of injuries, including shattering his L1 vertebrae, breaking both lower portions of his legs, breaking both his arms, breaking his pelvis and fracturing his skull.
Hammel recounted the huge incident during the interview, an experience he admitted was “impossible to forget.”
“We were coming down the hill on the course called Mount St. Helen’s, and it’s one of the biggest hills on a motorcross track in the United States, and it gets what’s called braking bumps at the bottom of the hill … these big whoop-de-doo’s,” Hammel recalled.
“I came down the hill, and was in fourth gear,which was wide open on the dirt bikes at the time … and I ended up just kinda falling off the back of the bike, giving it full throttle and hitting a jump at the bottom of the hill way too fast. It bucked me off like a bucking bronco, threw me up in the air, and I flew through the air for 70 or 80 feet and landed on my legs. It broke both my legs, my tailbone, my back, both of my arms and fractured a little piece of my skull just because it was such a hard impact, flying through the air and landing on your feet like I did.”
Hammel was also paralyzed from the waist down as a result of the accident, and diagnosed as a paraplegic, was told he would never walk — or race — again.
And yet, that’s where Hammel’s story began. Unable to take no for an answer, he dedicated his passion and his energy to finding a way back from the horrific crash, vowing to prove the medical experts wrong and compete again.
“I used to be a professional dirt bike racer,” Hammel said during a recent episode of The Stock Car Show on the Performance Motorsports Network. “I grew up in Arizona, out in the dirt, so it was just natural (to end up in motorcycle racing). Everybody out there liked riding dirt bikes and quads, and those types of things, and it ended up being a profession for me.”
“I tell people all the time — it’s the nature of the beast when you’re riding dirt bikes, to break bones. To date, I’ve broken 58 bones, I’ve broken my back three times, and the second time I broke my back was what ended up paralyzing me from the waist down. But I wasn’t about to let it beat me. I’ve been able to work really hard … and start walking around again. I got out of the wheelchair after five years, man. I wasn’t going to let that part of my story be the end.”
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