It was just a dumb crash — hitting a hole going 2 miles an hour — but it would change his life.
Motocross champ Jimmy Button was warming up for the third round of the Supercross Championships at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium when his front wheel dipped into a hole, pitching him off the bike at an awkward angle.
“Everything went cold and numb. I was paralyzed instantly,” Button said.
Button was completely paralyzed for eight weeks, and doctors were telling him to prepare for life in a wheelchair, when one day he willed a single finger to barely move.
Today, Button is training to ride from California to Florida to raise money for spinal cord research.
Button came up with the idea for the cross-country ride last Thanksgiving. Thanks to a successful 11-year motocross career, Button had the financial resources to pay for his extensive medical bills. Other injured riders, particularly younger guys just starting out, aren’t always so fortunate. To help them, Button had formed a charity years before, called the Road 2 Recovery Foundation. Still, he thought he could so something more.
“I was sitting around the house last Thanksgiving with my family, thinking I’m so blessed. There’s just something more that I need to do since I got this second chance with my body,” said Button. “I hadn’t been on a cycle since I got hurt. The next morning I pulled the Schwinn Johnny G spin bike out of the closet. I made it 15 minutes before the muscle spasms in my legs got so bad I couldn’t continue. It wiped me out for a couple of days.”
Button’s trainer Cory Worf stuck with him throughout. Worf, who came to motocross after working with the Volvo-Cannondale and Schwinn-Toyota mountain bike teams, will also be joining Button on the cross-country ride.
“By December I could do 40 minutes,” said Button, who still walks with a limp. “Then I got a road bike, put it on a trainer. After months of that, in August I got outside for first time in 11 years. I did a 20-mile ride with some friends. I was thinking I may have to do this thing on a trike.”
Now, Button does weekday rides of 30-35 miles, and puts in 50- and 60-mile rides on the weekends.
It wasn’t the first slow road to recovery for Button. After his accident, Button lay in the hospital bed for eight weeks. Nothing moved.
“The doctors had kind of written me off, telling me ‘you’re going to drink out of a straw the rest of your life. Get used to this bed,’” Button said. “I just couldn’t believe that that was the situation. One day I started staring at my left hand for three hours straight. Just trying to move something. I finally got one finger to work. That was it. I figured if I made something work with a lot of work and determination, I should be able to make the rest work.”
“I just went on this hell-bent mission to make my body work again. I did eight hours of therapy, seven days a week. I did that for a year straight,” he said. “There were some hills and valleys in between, and some scary moments. I still have a bruise on my spinal cord. I don’t sweat. I can’t feel temperature from my chest down. I have a hard time regulating a lot of things. If you see me walk around you’d think I have a sprained ankle. But I’d gladly take these issues over sitting in a wheelchair.”
In addition to his work with the charity, Button has worked as a rider agent for the past decade with Action Sports Management, which he helped form.
On February 22, Button and Worf will embark on their ride from San Diego to Daytona Beach to raise money for spinal cord research.
“There are a number of ways you can help,” Button said. “If you want to join us on the ride, you can raise money like you do for a cancer fundraisers or an MS 150. You can buy a full kit from Pearl Izumi like we’ll wear. Or you can just support as you see fit — donate a buck or $1,000 online.”
You can find out more and track the ride’s progress at milesformiraclestoday.com.
Editor’s note: Delaney is editor in chief for VeloNews. A journalism graduate of the University of New Mexico, Delaney is responsible for all editorial content online and in the magazine. Delaney joined VeloNews in 2005 as managing editor, having worked previously for The Santa Fe New Mexican, Bicycle Retailer & Industry News and as a freelance writer for various titles. He’s a former (but never very good) Cat. 1 racer. He lives in Boulder, Colorado, with his wife and two children.