10:47 AM, July 29, 2009
Chris Ridgway has become an unintentional inspiration to many.
But don't remind him of that. He's just doing what he enjoys, and if it motivates others, so be it.
It's not just his riding abilities that inspire people, but also his positive attitude.
Chris is an amputee, and competes wearing a prosthetic left leg.
The Apple Valley resident will be defending his title in the Moto X Super X Adaptive event Friday at the Home Depot Center as part of X Games 15. The final will be televised on ESPN between 5-8 p.m.
Sustaining severe injuries to both legs in 1995 after a motorcycle malfunction during a practice session, Chris was rushed to the emergency room.
"The doctors told me that they would have to amputate the first night I was in the hospital, and I begged them not to; to give me a chance because I heal well," Chris, 38, said.
He left the hospital with both legs, but still suffered.
"I was in tremendous pain and still racing," he said. "In 1999 I had the points lead in the U.S. Hot Rod Off-Road Series and my leg broke again. I ended up finishing third in points."
Chris was confined to a wheelchair for the better part of two years, except for when competing and wearing the riding boots that helped stabilize his leg. But he stayed positive.
"I never got down. I was racing and knew what I was getting into."
Doctors told Ridgway that he would have to change his lifestyle, as every step he took caused agonizing pain.
"I was sitting with a fellow racer and we saw this Budweiser delivery guy. My buddy points to him and says, 'That's what you need.' I thought he was talking about the keg of beer until I noticed he [the delivery man] was wearing a full prosthesis. It woke me up when I noticed that he was walking better than I had been in five years."
"I started asking doctors to amputate and they wouldn't. I basically was on the last doctor and threatened to take it off myself by shooting myself in the foot in their parking lot, because I didn't want to spend my life on pain medication."
The doctor agreed to do as Chris requested, without his resorting to the drastic measure. His left leg was amputated in 2002.
Ridgway continued racing, even though he didn't have the money to buy a prosthesis, landing a job racing cars for Emory Motorsports in Oregon. Team members did some research and told Chris about Limbs for Life, a nonprofit organization that buys prosthetic limbs for amputees who can't afford them.
"Thanks to Limbs for Life, I've been able to reach my goals both personally and professionally," Ridgway said.
"I spend time talking to people on the fence and try to help them out. I'd like to be more of a counselor to those who have also lost limbs. It's a very big mental hurdle, but motocross prepped me pretty well for it because it's like just another injury and not that big a deal."
Chris certainly sounds like a motivational speaker, but doesn't like lofty titles thrown his way.
"I get a little tired of the word 'inspirational' directed toward me, because I don't feel I should be put on a pedestal. I just want to help people get through it. My goal is to show doctors and others that it is a quality of life issue, and that they shouldn't be so hesitant to amputate."
Chris continues to be successful in his racing career. He just won the Extremity Games for the third consecutive year, and after the X Games he'll be racing for the Trent Fabrication team in an off-road truck race in Grand Junction, Colo.
Chris doesn't let anything slow him down, nor does he have any trepidation.
"Showering is the most dangerous thing I do these days."
Photos: Top: Chris Ridgway on his way to victory at last week's Extremity Games in Michigan. Credit: Corey Bixby. Bottom: Chris after winning gold at X Games 14. Courtesy of Limbs for Life