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by Seb Kemp

In part one we learned how Dan had created a psychological barrier in order to deal with the immediate aftermath of his neck-breaking accident while spending three long, excruciating months bed-ridden in the confines of his halo. This piece of medical equipment that is made to help his body heal, could be seen as a literal and metaphorical cage in which Dan attempted to mentally protect himself within.
     Once out of the halo, he had to start dealing with his physical short-comings, but more so, the mental element to his recovery.
In this portion of the interview, we talk about risk, benefits, control, vulnerability and future plans. Sister Rachel also talks about how her long list of recent injuries, and then Dan’s, have affected and changed her as a person and a racer.
PhotoLate November, 2010
Seb: How has this incident affected your racing or your outlook on riding in general?
Rach: Well when it happened I was hurt with my shoulder, Gee was away racing, so Dan and I chilled at home, watching Gee on Freecaster. It was a pretty weird moment to be watching Gee pinning it down Champery as fast as possible when nothing in the world seemed more dangerous. I felt that it would be so easy for someone to get injured and end it all. It was scary.
Dan: I remember watching TV a few weeks after my crash. Red Bull had freestyle X-Fighters in London. I distinctly remember thinking ‘How can the human body do it? How can people put themselves in that position?’ I felt so vulnerable. I didn’t want to drive a car. I remember driving back from the hospital, mum was driving and I was shitting myself. I twitched at every on-coming car. I felt so vulnerable. I felt if anything happened then I would die because my neck was so unstable.

Seb: How long did this vulnerability last?
Dan: I don’t know, I just stayed in the house for weeks. I couldn’t venture out.

Seb: So you cocooned yourself away, shielding yourself from any danger?
Dan: Yeah, definitely.

Seb: Did it make you reassess things? Do you still feel vulnerable or look at life being hazardous, like those early times of the injury?
Dan: No, I think I’ve forgotten.
Rach: You can’t live like that. You need to be able to live
Dan: I do remember thinking ‘Can I live my life like this?’ There was no way I could deal with everyday life with my mindset like that. I wouldn’t have done anything. I was just so scared.

Seb: Do you feel like you had an epiphany into other people's lives?
Dan: Something I’ve learned is that no matter what happens you just gotta carry on. You have to carry on. I look at Stephen Murray and Tara [Llanes] and I just think ‘How can they deal with that?’ but they don’t have a choice so that's how they just dig in and carry on.

Seb: You said you feel incredibly vulnerable in that state because you couldn't control things anymore. You come across, to me, as someone who needs to be able to control things in your daily life, not in an over-bearing way, but being able to be self-reliant and self-motivated. Do you feel a strong sense of having to control things around you?
Dan: Yes, when your whole life is spent controlling your own destiny, like if I want to go to the gym to get this big, or drive a car this fast, then I can do that. But then all of sudden I have no choice and no control so I just need to do this. The stuff immediately in front of me. It humbles you. It makes you realize where the edge is.

Seb: Staying with the control thing; a lot of people look at action sports as being risk sports, and I believe, sometimes they wrongly stereotype people like yourselves as having a death wish or incapable of fear. But my belief is these activities are all an outlet to exercise some peronsal control over ourselves.
Rach: I think it’s the most dangerous thing humans can do. I think its stupid.

Seb: Why do you do it? Because you feel like you have the skills to overcome it?
Rach: No, I feel scared shitless every time I get on my bike.

Seb: Is this a recent thing?
Rach: The more injuries you get, the more you see the other side of the winning. After Dan broke his neck and I was out with my shoulder, I remember thinking, ‘Is this worth it?’ I don’t know if the risk is worth it. Injuries risk your everyday life and your health.

Seb: Before your injuries, do you think you were naive to the negative consequences?
Dan: Yeah for sure, you have to ignore it. You block it out. Look at the top extreme athletes in the world, they are so confident, so egotistical, and so full of themselves because they block it out. They believe in themselves and that is what you have to do.
Rach: You have to believe you are invincible to get good enough to be the best.

Seb: So you block out negative connotations in order to succeed? Now you know the consequences, has it affected you as an athelete? How are you going to mentally train yourself?
Dan: I’m nervous for sure. About getting back on a bike...I don’t know if I’ll be able to or how i’ll process it. It's changed my outlook for sure. I’ve realized I can’t be a super human. I need to focus on what I can do rather than do everything. I think people are who they are and I’m not sure if people change.
     I remember one of my friends saying to me "are you an adrenalin junkie?” and I said no way! I thought it was the stupidest thing to say. Then after two months of being injured and not doing anything, not riding a bike, driving a car, nothing that was nerve-wracking, I did want to do something, anything that would give me that feeling. I’m not saying some people are adrenalin junkies but there is an element of it in there. Now I feel I couldn’t live my life like it is at the moment. Not like it is right now, because I don’t feel anything. I would rather have the lows of being injured with the highs of being who I am. The end.
Photo: Sven MartinSeb: Where to from here? What's the goal for recovery now and what do you have planned?
Dan: Getting back on my bike is next big step, and I did that the other day. The next step is to be able to ride off-road and be a little freer and go from day to day with less pain. By lunch time each day I am ready for bed, then by the evenings I’m good for nothing, my neck is so painful and stiff.
     I’m coming back out to Cali in the new year, then going to the same clinic till end of January until we go to New Zealand. They reckon I need another 30 days of full-time rehab with them before I am ready. Then go to NZ to train, hopefully get on a DH bike, then start racing again, but not competitively. Just get back on my bike and get to it, but not be on that edge and putting everything at risk for it. I just hope my head is still into it and wanting to race. I’m sure it will be.

Seb: I remember early on that I watched an episode of The Atherton Project (Episode 7, found here) in which you said the accident has made you re-evaluate your priorities because you have perhaps missed out on some things. Care to elaborate?
Dan: Well there are things I want to keep secret a little now. It does perhaps revolve around training other people.

Seb: So do you have a hunger to return to racing?
Dan: Yes. My perspective has changed a little though. I wanted to go to Olympics, be the best 4x rider and best downhiller. But I’ve realized I’m not invincible I can't do everything in the world. I just want to do what I love and that's downhill. F**k everything else. No more 4X, I’m over it. Straight up and down.

Seb: No 4X?
Dan: I don’t think 4X helps itself as a sport. They try to make money from it when its always going to be a side show, and people have lost sight of what it is. It’s too close to DH and BMX racing, and it’s really cool and we need it, but its not going to be some big time legit sport. It’s a fun little side show and that’s what it needs to be.

Seb: What was it like racing both DH and 4X?
Dan: I enjoyed it. I wanted to do BMX as well. I’m still pissed off and not a day goes by when I don’t think about wanting to being the best BMX, 4X and downhill rider in the world. It pisses me off that I’m not, but now I don’t want to put myself in a position where I injure myself so badly I can never ride downhill again.
     I’d love to find a younger rider who I could train to be the best BMX, 4X, and downhill rider in the world. I really strongly believe it can be done. It’s riding a bike, it’s not like being a shot putter and ballet dancer. With the right skill, training program and mental drive someone can do it.

Seb: You want to adopt a child and rear them to be your mutant child athlete?
Dan: Yeah [laughter]. I think Gee could have done it if he had wanted to do it.

Seb: Rach, you and Dan have spent more time together sharing in the woes as you have both been in pieces this year, meanwhile Gee has had a really good year...
Rach: He thrives when he is alone, when it is all about him. He is a top athlete you know, and every top athlete is a little bit self-centered and needing it to be all about them when they are racing or competing. So with us two gone, it was all about Gee. And I think he had a pretty big point to prove that he was an athlete and a person in his own right.
Dan got back on the bike...Photo: Sven MartinSeb: Yeah I suppose ever since I have known you, you have been such a solid family unit, everyone always talks about you all being an inseparable trifecta. Has it been good to have some time apart like this?
Dan: It’s been good to have a break and then you realize how good it is when you are together.

To be continued...I am traveling to New Zealand in March to catch up with the Athertons as they train for the 2011 World Cup season. It will be interesting to see where the physical recovery of both Dan and Rachel is, but especially comparing their mental outlooks between now and then. If there is anything you would like to know, as a reader, that I can ask them in March, please leave your question in the comments field below and I will see what we can do. Have fun.

Thanks for tuning in.

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