Over the past few weeks, we’ve had the opportunity to interview the four man all-star lineup of past motocross champions who are teaming up to compete in the bicycle relay race The Race Across America.
Calling themselves Legends of the Road, multi-time motocross champions David Bailey, Doug Henry, Micky Dymond, and Jeff Ward will be pedaling non-stop for nearly nine days. Their goal is to make it from San Diego, California, to Annapolis, Maryland, and to win their respective class, while also raising money for injured riders and action sports athletes.
The race is a massive undertaking, and requires both a significant logistical push and a big financial commitment. The man behind the scenes who is helping to make this a reality is Jimmy Button, through his charitable organization, the Road 2 Recovery. Button is a former professional racer and is no stranger to overcoming adversity and injury.
The team is racing to raise money for Road 2 Recovery, which assists injured professional action sports athletes. You can donate here.
Racer X: Jimmy Button, you are the man behind the Road 2 Recovery, and you guys are supporting this massive Legends of the Road effort. I also know you did a similar ride yourself a few years back.
Jimmy Button: Well, yes and no. I did ride my bicycle across America, but RAAM is a relay race, and I just did the whole thing by myself. I did it at my own pace and my own schedule. These guys have a time limit of nine days, and let me tell you, it is all kinds of crazy to make it in nine days. So, it’s a completely different thing. But that said, I did it to raise money for spinal cord research, and I raised $250,000. It seemed like in each and every town we went through, we had people come out and support us. So it was easier to raise money, as we could stop and stay the night or whatever and meet with people. But the way I see it, these guys are going to be riding to help others who have gotten hurt and are dealing with life altering injuries.
Tell me a little bit about the Road 2 Recovery?
We started the foundation after I got hurt, over a decade ago. We started it because we knew that more guys would come along and face what I went through. There is so much to a big injury, and it’s not just about giving out money. I was lucky, I had good insurance, but there was just so much more that I had to deal with. So we founded the organization to help injured riders navigate the entire process, which can be really hard, both from an emotional level to a business level, and dealing with the long-term recovery. When you have a career ending injury, there are so many things that can be massive pitfalls, and a single person might have no idea what direction to go. We can provide the support and direction for those people. We have been at it for 17 years and are always working toward raising money and helping out as many as we can.
Can you give some specifics as to what type of help you guys can provide?
You know, often times people don’t understand what we do, or where our money goes. It is a lot more than cash support—we pay bills, we pay hospital bills, we fly out family members to hospitals where someone might be, we pay for their food, whatever it might be. And for one thing, we are really good at negotiating with insurance [companies] and hospitals. When you have a serious injury, you can have millions in medical bills in just a few weeks. We can help figure out ways to negotiate or lower those costs and remove some of the stress that it can cause to a rider or family. We also have relationships with every rehab [center] in the U.S., so we can help get someone into the best rehab available. It is way more than just providing financial support, but that is part of it. The biggest thing is helping to navigate the process.
Over the years, do you know how many people you have helped out?
Oh wow, no idea! But right now, at this moment in time, we are raising money for 27 injured riders and athletes. I do know that we have raised over $5 million since we started. For us, the biggest thing is about what life brings after racing, and helping with that. We want to give these injured athletes a bridge from being one of the best racers in the world, to the next day, you are done and then have to figure out internally, what you do in life. When you are no longer the guy who wakes up and trains and goes to races on weekends, what is the next step? How do you even get there? Everyone who gets hurt, they have to go through that grieving process and that internal journey, and that’s where you can figure out in life where you are going. We see this program as way to show that you can build goals in life and have something else to dedicate yourself to. Also, our program is run really lean, the board members are all volunteers, and we have only a few employees, and they barely get paid—though they are all dedicated to helping others.
Going back to the RAAM, you guys are funding this effort—how does that work?
We have gone out and gotten a few sponsors, but we don’t have enough yet. And then there is a fan component. We have lots of smaller donations, but we have a month until the race, so there is still a big sponsor hunt, and we will be doing as much fundraising as we can. The little donations, they all add up, we are hopeful to come up with shortfall. We do want to make it so the foundation is not out of pocket, but if it is, so be it. This is the first year of a program and if that’s what it takes, so it will be. We want to get the first one done, and then year two, we are hoping Jessy Nelson [who was injured last year at the Unadilla National and is currently paralyzed from the mid-lower chest down]can do the race, and maybe [Johnny] O’Mara might come and do it as well. But at the end of the day, I am committed to pay, and the cost of this is well into the six figures, with all the chase vehicles and staff and logistics. But it is worth it.
So, this is basically going to be an ongoing therapeutic program for injured riders?
Yes, 100 percent. That is the goal. Often times, I am talking to guys that are hurt, and perception is reality. A lot of people in the industry see me, and they think I’m healed up, and that’s great. I can walk around and it looks normal. No one sees what goes on at home when I am dealing with pain or other problems. The guys in chairs, you have no idea what hurdles they have to deal with, things are not easy. They go through massive highs and lows. I got lucky and got most of my feeling back, but the guys in chairs, they have issues you can’t imagine. This program will give those future guys that are hurt something to work toward.
What about your injury? How is daily life for you?
Well, I am really lucky in that I got most of my movement back. But I can’t run—like, not at all. I am super lucky that I can pedal a bike, but running, or even walking fast is out of the question. I can swim enough to keep my head above water, but that’s about it. There are tons of things that are really hard for me. I am lucky in that I can pickup my kids, but I can’t throw them up in the air. I am basically just slow and a little decrepit, or at least that’s how I walk around. Then there are all sorts of little things I deal with. For example, I don’t sweat. So I can’t regulate my body temperature. That wreaks havoc when you are out in either the cold weather or the really hot weather. With spinal injuries, people can’t always see it, but it is still very real for me.
Outside of the R2R, what are you up to?
Well, I am still working as a rider and athlete agent with Wasserman Media Group (WMG). I have been with them since 2001, and mainly just managing riders. I do have some other clients outside of moto, but everything is motorsports related. Motorsports are my passion, and I am lucky that I could continue doing it after my racing career was over. My current riders are Dylan Ferrandis and Justin Bogle, as well as several freestyle guys. Also, one of my auto racers is J.R. Hildebrand, he almost won the Indy 500 a few years back.
And on the personal side of your life?
Well, right after I was injured, I married my girlfriend Kristi, we have been married now for 14 years. We have two kids, our son Phoenix is just turning six in June, and our daughter, Halston, she is 15 months old. Life is good, I have an awesome family, and being able to watch the kids grow up is awesome. And then last December, we recently moved home to Chandler, Arizona. That was mainly for the kid’s schools, but also so we can be closer to family.
You had a career for 11 years as a professional racer, which included several wins and factory rides, as well as a stint in Europe. Without going too deep, what are some of the things that you recall from that era?
It was an amazing time for me. I had a couple of things that happened along the way, so it didn’t fast track my career the way I would have hoped. But once I got the factory spot with Yamaha, it was going in the right direction. I feel like I was just catching my stride when I got hurt. I had finished the outdoors well, won my first 450 overall, and finished on the podium the last five races. Supercross started off pretty strong as well. Then a stupid little practice crash changed everything. But overall, I had lots of years that were great, but probably the best was winning a bunch of 125 races. But it was a great experience, and racing in Europe was also something special. Although it was a bummer at the time, I couldn’t get a ride in the U.S. and wanted to race supercross. But now with hindsight, it was really awesome to race a world championship, and to say I did that. I finished fourth in the series and raced against a lot of interesting and different guys, and in different places.
Last question: the sport has some potential changes coming. As an advocate for the athletes, what’s your view of what is going on?
Well, it is like anything, the top 10 percent makes 90 percent of the money. But I think a lot depends on the next five to 10 [years] on how much traction the sport gets in the media. Supercross is going to lead the story on how it all works out. Motocross gets tucked in, there behind supercross. There is lots of talk about what is going on, but if supercross does go into this building mode, then there is no way to do all those races and then 12 outdoor races. Those 450 guys, their bodies are destroyed by end of the season. Now if there are 36 races, well, it’s just not possible. However it works together will hopefully be the best for the sport, but sometimes those choices are made for profit and not always in the best interests of the riders. That is just the way things work, but hopefully it all comes around and there will be more money for the riders. I do think that a guy who is making main events should be able to make fair money, but we are not there yet.