"I Separated My Spine from my Pelvis": Beating The Odds With Travis Pastrana

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Of all the sports you do, which gives you the biggest adrenaline surge?

Whichever one I’m doing at the time. Freestyle motocross is super fun but takes a lot of time in terms of planning and thinking about what could go wrong. If you don’t do that and something does go wrong you can end up broken for a long time. Right now though, my focus is on NASCAR.

What motocross tricks do you find most rewarding?

Creatively, I really liked what we did on Nitro Circus. We had a fairly big budget to look at things that had been outside the realm of possibility before and think about how we could make them possible, which I really enjoyed. As far as specific tricks go, to be able to do a double backflip was amazing.

What’s the easiest way to facilitate those kinds of massive tricks?

The foam-pit is great, but even though it’s a lot safer than dirt it still hurts! In the Nitro Circus show you can set up the ramp and the landing exactly how you want – you can even put pads in the landing – so that helps you get over the initial fear factor. You know that if you land a little bit off you’ll probably be fine, as opposed to a setting like the X Games where you can fall 30ft [9m] onto dirt packed so hard it’s basically like concrete.

Talking of getting broken, what’s the single worst injury you’ve sustained?

My ankle injury two years ago was the longest duration I’ve been out. I was able to start walking in just under a year, but I didn’t ride for 18 months – it was pretty life-altering! For a month the doctors wouldn’t let me have my ankle down below my heart as I had 40 fractures and wiring all through my foot and they said if it swelled it would shift the bones and fuse that way. 

Was there any possibility of it being cut off? 

The doctors did say I might have to lose the whole thing. But it slowly got better and they took the pins and wires out and everything was OK. I always just thought it would be fine and didn’t want to hear about that alternative.

Have there been times when you’ve been injured that you’ve considered quitting?

When I had just turned 15 I separated my spine from my pelvis. Basically my spinal cord shattered through my pelvis and pretty much went out my butt! I was the third known person to have suffered that injury and the other two were both paralysed – I was very lucky. I was in a wheelchair for five months and I bled out over half my body’s blood in the first week so I had to have multiple blood transfusions to stay alive. Even then I was thinking, ‘I can’t wait to get out of this wheelchair so I can go ride’.

Do you ever feel that your performance in some sports suffer because you’re focused on so many different challenges? 

Did I win all the championships in motocross I wanted to win? Probably not. If I didn’t get the injuries from karting, cars and other stuff then I would have been healthier and had more opportunities for success, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Are there other sports you want to move into within the motor racing sphere?

I’m just getting to grips with NASCAR. I’ve always been a dirt rider and haven’t been as good on the tarmac so this is a real challenge for me and something I’m really excited about.

What about formula one?

I’m not really that kind of driver. Those guys are very precise and calculated – not to say that I’m not calculated in what I do, but I like the freedom of being able to fly around. I do better in the worst-case scenarios whereas those guys are like machines. Honestly, I don’t have the desire to be that perfect.

Is there anything that you regularly eat to fuel yourself before a big stunt?

The night before is the most important for me. I always had pasta with a couple of cans of tuna fish and a little bit of ragu sauce the night before a big motocross event. It’s got protein and carbs and isn’t too heavy so you feel good the next morning and full of energy.

Do you do any gym training?

For me, core training is really helpful because it improves balance. We have a rock-climbing wall and we get to the top and just dive off into a foam-pit. It sounds like the dumbest thing ever because you’re basically giving yourself whiplash and spinal compression but it makes you super-durable.

Nick Hutchings worked for Men’s Fitness UK, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach. Nick worked as digital editor from 2008 to 2011, head of content until 2014, and finally editor-in-chief until 2015.