Blind Motocross driver tries to set a record! Article
Like the avatar on his custom helmet, Englishman Matt Wadsworth is blind.
Hearing him describe the sensation, the accomplished lutenist sees only vague impressions of light when looking at the sun. Yet he is determined to set a world record for distance jumping by clearing 100 feet on his Honda CRF450R. He and his trainer, two-time AMA motocross champion Micky Dymond, have developed a simple system of communication that already has Wadsworth reaching just over 60 feet. There are no training wheels, no fancy balancing devices, no computer-assisted guidance system. Just Matt and Micky on a two-way radio. Watching all of this from a few feet away as they practiced, I felt like a kid in the 1960s witnessing some strange guy named Evel do the impossible for the first time.
“I’ve loved motorcycles since I was a kid,” Wadsworth says. “I loved the sound of them. Right from as early as I can remember, I used to sit on them in the street and all I wanted was to have a minibike. I was lucky enough to get one when I was six.”
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“My first bike was a Puch Magnum X,” Wadworth says. “It was an automatic and I could go about 30 mph. We had a big field at the end of our road that was perfect for zipping around. It had a hill on one side and a concrete playground on the other. I got around by feeling the concrete area and then I could feel the bank of the hill. That’s how I got to know the distances, the same as if I were walking somewhere. I’d navigate my way around the field with this incredible sense of freedom. I rode for four years, non-stop. I was invincible.
“I started playing guitar at that time as well. The motorbike and guitar were my two childhood passions. The guitar carried on, the motorbike stopped. But it never left my blood. It was always in there.
“Then, last year, someone asked, ‘Have you thought about going on a motorbike again, or about doing something with speed?’ I didn’t know anyone in the speed industry, but I knew people who jumped.”
“We found Micky through a contact and it came together,” Wadsworth says. “We had been searching around to find someone who might be interested in seeing if jumping was even possible for me. I didn’t know if it was possible or not and neither did Micky when we found him. But, we met up and had a test day. After that, we agreed to go for it.
“It’s been a huge project and I’ve learned a lot — things to do, things not to do. We’re not done yet. This is a glimpse. It’s the first time we’ve let the public come in to look at what we’re doing. I still want to attain my 100-foot goal. I hurt my shoulder, but it takes as long as it takes.”
“I think jumping is the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do. And I have tried to do some pretty difficult stuff. We started with a pretty big jump, but just riding over it slowly. We had to work so hard on going in a straight line and finding ways to do just that. We put rumble strips on the sides of the runway, but that didn’t work because I’d hit the strips and not know whether I should turn left or right. We don’t know until we try it.
“We found that it’s just a lot do with throttle control and balance and also the surface. Ideally, the whole runway would be concrete. We’ve tried it at the dry lake bed and that surface works really well, but it’s always a question of resources. We’re using what we’ve got and we can’t put things off until they’re perfect. We work hard, we overcome and we don’t take any massive risks. We just go out and ride the jump a little slower, back and forth, then we go a little faster.”
“I don’t count the breaths, it’s more about the timing: ‘Braappp, bum, braaappp.’ I’m going by rhythm. ‘Braappp’ off the jump, then a little throttle check and then I land.”
“Going by rhythm is not something most would think of and it is difficult. But, I have to overcome my own fears. Once I take off, I have to commit to hitting the jump. I’ve gotta do it, there’s no going back once I start. It’s all about commitment and having a screw loose. I wouldn’t do this if I was normal.”
“I keep coming to California and training with Micky. He guides me through the headset, but all he’s saying is, ‘Left, right, straight.’ And all I want to hear is, ‘Straight.’ If I hear, ‘Left’ or ‘Right’ I know we’re going to miss the jump. As long as I’m hearing ‘Straight,’ it’s all good.”
“The stakes are higher as I get older. I’m more aware of pain and what can happen when something goes wrong. And, it is a ‘when’ because things will go wrong. I’m going to fall off the bike.”
“We try to minimize risks and there’s been a lot of challenges to deal with. The hardest thing, for me, is going straight. We’ve laid a concrete strip over dirt for the launch and that really helps. The rest just requires practice.”
“I hear pitch and I feel the vibration of the bike. I feel the wind on my face to judge my speed. Micky keeps saying, ‘Straight, straight, straight, straight, straight.’ We’ve trained and talked through how the jump should be, but keeping the bike going straight, my body position right, controlling the throttle — everything is down to me. Micky is my pair of eyes.”
“Going through the jump, knowing when I’m going to hit it and knowing when I’m going to land. We’ve had to figure all this stuff out. Of course landing, I can only practice by doing it. I can only practice that by being in the air. That’s the scarier bit, cause I don’t quite know how I’m going to land.”
“Riding a motorcycle, if I panic, I pay for it. So, I’ve go to try and be one step ahead and, if in doubt, let the throttle get me out. I landed hard the other day, I hit the throttle wrong and my feet came off. I think my hand just gripped the throttle too much for some reason and I went all the way up the bank, into the fence, fell off and rolled down the hill.”
“Then I got back on and did it some more.”
Photos: Grant Ray/Hell for Leather
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