Ricky James: Perseverance Knows No Boundaries


By Ed Martinez
January 29, 2010

Published in the winter 2010 issue of MyLIFE magazine


Ricky James has become one of the most recognized figures in off-road racing. His accomplishments are an example of boundless perseverance.

We caught up with James at the 2009 Lucas Oil Off- Road Racing Series in Surprise, Ariz., last October.

Ricky James has become one of the most recognized figures in off-road racing. His accomplishments are an example of boundless perseverance.

We caught up with James at the 2009 Lucas Oil Off- Road Racing Series in Surprise, Ariz., last October.

From the moment you meet the 21-year-old, it is apparent that he is living his dream. “I have been wanting to race since I was 5 years old,” James said. “I started with dirt bikes and kept on riding throughout my childhood.”

James became a talented rider as he grew up. His desire to become a professional motocross rider surfaced during his early teenage years. “My dad held me back from racing … to keep me away from injuries, but he knew I wanted to race … it’s what I wanted to do for a living,” he added.

When James turned 13, his father allowed him to participate in motocross racing. Once he got going, he didn’t stop. He asked his parents to be home-schooled, so he could focus on riding. He’d take cycling classes in the morning, ride most of the day, take another cycling class at night, and still manage to find time for his school work. It was a hectic schedule, but in his mind, he was on his way to fulfilling his dream.

Ricky James was injured in a motocross accident at the largest amateur national motocross race in the country.

In 2005, James received a sponsorship from Honda to ride in the amateur motocross nationals at Lake Whitney, Tex. This championship event is the premier amateur national series in the United States and proving grounds for America’s future professional motocross riders. During the first two days of competition, James performed well and proved that he was a force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, as the race continued, another rider’s bike became tangled with his. He fell to the ground and his bike landed on his back. The blow to his vertebrae left him paralyzed from the sternum down.

“After that, I spent most of my time trying to figure out how I was going to race, being paralyzed and in a wheel chair … what I could race in and still be competitive,” James noted. The injury didn’t slow him down. On the contrary—he became more competitive.

About two years ago, James and his father bought a West Coast Pro Truck, customized it and started racing. The truck was wheelchair-adapted, which allowed James to operate the truck.

In his first year of truck racing, James won the Coast Pro Truck series at Toyota Speedway of Irwindale and stunned his competitors. It was a remarkable accomplishment, which also earned him Rookie of the Year honors.

Shortly after, SoCal SuperTrucks took notice of James’ talent and offered to be his main sponsor. The new Super Lite race truck they provided for him was outfitted with special hand controls. “I had never jumped a truck 70 feet through the air before, so I just pointed the truck at the jump, pushed the hand control throttle to the full position and hoped for the best,” James said.

“I love the truck. It’s as close to motocross as I am going to get. You can be paralyzed and be competitive … just like the other guys out there,” he added.

The truck’s hand control system allows James to control the throttle, brake, clutch and shift with his left hand while leaving his right hand free to steer. “My hand never leaves the controls. There’s a lot going on, but I can manipulate the tools, just like everybody else can manipulate their feet. It feels pretty natural.”

An engine loaned by fellow competitors, Speed Technologies, got the truck race-ready just before the Super Lite start. James eventually took the victory by a 25 truck-length margin in Surprise last October.

But James’ competitive drive does not stop there. In 2008, he won the 70.3 Ironman World Championship triathlon in Hawaii. “I have a great trainer. His name is David Bailey. He did the triathlon three years in a row. He’s a good friend of mine.” Bailey is a former professional motocross racer who was also injured in a motocross crash that left him paralyzed in 1987. “He taught me how to swim, ride my bike and push my chair,” added James. Bailey was inducted in the American Motorcyclist Association Hall of fame in 1999.

It was inevitable that James would ride his bike again. He designed adaptive components for his motorcycle that have allowed him to enjoy the sport he loves so much. In 2008, he became a silver medalist at the x Games Adaptive Motocross Championship. His component designs have also inspired other motocross racers with spinal cord injuries.

In Surprise last October, James proved once again that he is a great racer. He placed first in round 9 and second in round 10. This was after a mishap that caused him to roll his truck during qualifying, and also having his engine blown with just two laps to go.

James embodies perseverance, determination and a never-quit spirit that will continue to inspire others. His passion for racing is sure to bring him many more victories in the future.

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