CHULA VISTA, Calif. — It started off as a routine warm-up on an Olympic training center track that two-time BMX world champion Sam Willoughby had ridden around 700 times over four years.
Willoughby remembers losing his balance and flipping his bike, falling upside down and then landing on the top of head. He was in no pain. But panic began to set in as he realized he couldn’t feel his legs, and then shortly after he lost feeling in his arms. The Australian Olympic rider broke the C5, C6 and C7 vertebrae in his neck, putting severe pressure on his spinal cord to where he initially had no movement below his chest. He was airlifted to San Diego for an emergency surgery.
Willoughby felt like he lost his identity in 2016 when the doctor used a term he wasn’t ready to hear.
Willoughby’s accident illuminates the risks of bicycle motocross, a growing sport in which specialized bikes are used for daring jumps on dirt and pavement racing courses. BMX became an Olympic sport in 2008’s Beijing Games, and Willoughby was a poster child for BMX as a 2012 silver medalist at the London Games.