Former pro motocross rider owes his life to LifeFlight
Joining his first motocross club at the age of 14, Bryan Fleming finally had an appropriate outlet for his love of motorbikes, cars and racing.
From as far back as he can remember, Bryan’s dad and older brothers brought cars home every few months for the whole family to work both on, and under.
“Cars and motorbikes have been a huge passion,” recalls Bryan, who believes it’s something that has always been in his genes.
“Motor, power and exhilaration is in your blood. I thought I could get rid of it but it’s like a drug. A healthy drug that makes you focused, work hard and stay fit.”
It was this passion that drove Bryan to join the competitive motocross circuit and start racing at the local Toowoomba motocross park, Echo Valley.
Bryan was one of the first to compete in its inaugural Mountain Man motocross events in 1975. In his first ever competitive race, albeit in the lowest division, Bryan took home first place.
This would mark the beginning of a long career in the motocross industry.
Joining the professional circuit, Bryan remembers these as the ‘glory days’ - a time when he was sponsored by a number of popular motorbike racing companies and flown around the country to race in competitions.
“Life was fantastic back then,” remembers Bryan, who looks back on this time as a separate era in his life.
Bryan remained active in the motocross scene, continuing to compete and help run the Mountain Man event up until 2009.
That was until his life was turned upside down.
On the 19th of January 2009, the 45 year old was slowly phasing out of competitive racing and had started to transition into a coaching role at the local club.
Bryan was mentoring a young boy at Echo Park when he miscalculated a small jump, putting his bike into neutral instead of third gear. As the bike stalled mid-approach, Bryan’s bike flipped and he was thrown over his handlebars.
“I remember thinking I was going to land on my feet, but the bike flipped upside down. I went, bang, over the handlebars and broke my neck,” said Bryan.
The high-cervical nerves responsible for movement and feeling in the arms and legs had been severed. Bryan was paralysed from the shoulders down.
“I tried to sit up but I couldn’t. I immediately went into shock,” recalls Bryan.
Due to the location of Echo Park and the severity of Bryan’s injuries, the Toowoomba RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter arrived on the scene to airlift him for specialist treatment at the Spinal Injuries Unit at the Princess Alexander Hospital (PA) in Brisbane.
Bryan remembers the sense of relief he felt as soon as he saw the iconic blue and yellow rescue chopper.
“As soon as I saw the helicopter I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I’m saved’. Up until that point you’re so anxious for yourself, you don’t know what’s happening,” said Bryan.
“As soon as LifeFlight arrived I remember thinking, ‘It’s in their hands now and I’m going to be alright.’ And I was. It was amazing.”
Bryan was taken to the PA by RACQ LifeFlight Rescue where it was confirmed he had suffered an extensive spinal cord injury which rendered him a quadriplegic.
Losing the ability to move his arms and legs, Bryan has had to adjust to a completely new way of life.
“It was a whole new learning experience for the first five months. I came home from hospital and there was no button to push for a nurse if I needed something,” he said.
“I’m still learning new stuff every day. It’s baby steps, I feel like I’m seven years old again.”
While each day brings new challenges for Bryan, it’s the little wins that make him feel like a champion again.
“Just last week I was trying to teach myself how to make a coffee for my wife. I made some alterations to the machine but I succeeded,” he said.
While Bryan has seen many bike champions come and go, he’s also seen his own fair share of injuries take place on the race track.
Rescue helicopters such as RACQ LifeFlight Rescue have become an integral part of the motocross community and Bryan knows without the service he wouldn’t be alive.
“Every time I see the helicopter fly overhead, my heart goes out to the people it’s racing to save,” Bryan said.
“I look up and think how lucky we are to have this service. It can happen to anyone.”
While Bryan can no longer compete, he loves to watch his two daughters take part in competitive mountain bike racing and cheer on from the sidelines.
This weekend he will once again be helping out at the annual Mountain Man motocross event, staffing the memorabilia tent.
In support of the helicopter service that helped save his life, RACQ LifeFlight Rescue will also be at the event selling merchandise and raffle tickets.
The annual Mountain Man motocross event will be held this weekend at Echo Park outside of Toowoomba.