The video shown in this article is a tough one to watch, especially for those close to Phil “Smagical” Smage—the man behind the wheel in this clip. In May, Smage attempted to break the world record for the longest distance jumped in a UTV. As the video shows, things did not go according to plan and since the accident Phil has undergone surgery and hours of rehabilitation in an attempt to regain proper function of his body.
I remember the day of Phil’s accident clear as crystal. We were texting back and forth about an upcoming visit to Pastranaland and a trick that I wanted him to work on doing with his trials bike. The morning went on as a normal day, exchanging texts and talking about the jump he was about to attempt. Gradually my phone went silent and I assumed that he was occupied with actually doing the jump. Later I received a text from a friend that asked, “Is Phil alive?” My stomach instantly began to hurt. I opened Instagram and saw the crash. My stomach hurt even more. I texted Travis and got an update. I felt helpless. To know that one of your closest friends is in a terrible position and there is nothing you can do, is a feeling that I cannot describe.
As the days, weeks, and now months rolled on and Smage began to recover (you can track his daily updates via Instagram @smagical) an idea came to me: I wanted to organize a benefit to help raise funds for Phil’s recovery. I partnered with Road 2 Recovery and we started The Smagical Benefit Ride Day. Matt and Brittni Sweeney were gracious enough to lend their track (Sweeney MX) for the event and had the place prepped and in perfect condition all day. Attendees were treated to lunch by Wienerschnitzel, raffle items, a catered spaghetti dinner, and a live auction. The weather was perfect and after everyone had ridden their dirt bikes, stuffed their bellies, collected their raffle items, and placed bids on autographed memorabilia, over $10,000 was successfully raised to help Phil.
While Phil was unable to attend the event, we later took a few minutes to chat via text about his injury and about how things are going. You can read our conversation below.
Racer X: For the most part everyone is familiar with your injury, but paint a picture a little bit anyway. What were the extent of your injuries?
Phil Smage: I knew things were bad right when I flipped to a stop after the crash. I felt no pain anywhere on my body. That's when I first realized I was paralyzed. The main injury was the broken vertebrae and pinched spinal chord. To sum it up though I have five fused vertebrae, a few broken ribs, broken wrists, collarbone... and a toe. [Laughs]
So you were paralyzed, but as of today—just four months after the accident—you’re up and walking. What do you attribute this quick rate of recovery to?
There are a lot of things that happened to make this recovery so quick. From the excellent handling by the flight for life crew, to my amazing doctors/nurses/therapists. I also had a solid crew of people around me with my wife and family, and the entire Nitro Circus crew behind me... as well as all the support from people over social media. All these things helped this miraculous recovery, but I think the thing that actually helped the most was keeping my mind positive each day. A positive mind helps the body heal, no doubt.
Would you mind talking about some of the ways you keep your mind positive? Obviously there are probably times of struggle, but what’s something that keeps you motivated to get healthy?
Every day is a struggle with the pain and physical limitations. It's pretty easy to let those control your emotions and let the negativity win. It's a constant work in process to stay positive. The thing I found that works best is to literally stop what you are doing when you notice a negative attitude take over and not continue what you were doing until you have found something positive to focus your mind on.
Speaking of something positive. You actually got back on a bike this past weekend. Talk about that!
That's something I will forever remember. There was a high chance for me to never ride again, and many folks made that vocal. It was my main goal once I got my body to start to move. I may have jumped the gun on it a little bit as far as being physically ready, but mentally I knew I could do it. It showed how far I still have to go before I can ride for real, but it also showed that the potential for a comeback is there!
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Smagical Daily Update 126: Day 2 at @brimstonerec Paragon is a day I will remember and cherish for the rest of my life. . . . Just a couple days past 4 months since the day I was at @brimstonerec last time for the world wRECkORD attempt. The day started just like it did that fateful day this summer... scary. . . . We got a ride up the mountain to the jump location. Just being up there was surreal and made my body act super weird. I ended up talking my way into the drivers seat for a test run. It’s insane how fast it felt going only about 45 MPH down the run-in when I think back to how stable I felt going over twice that fast back at the jump day. My legs literally put it on cruise control though as they wouldn’t respond when I tried to make it go faster... guess my body is smarter than my mind. Haha. . . . It was an indescribable feeling coming towards the jump and seeing the landing still there. It was full of so many emotions, but mainly fear. Haha. I believe one of the most important character building traits is facing fears. Everyone has different fears, but it’s a fact that everyone has them. Learning to face them and deal with them head on will help in so many avenues of your life. . . . This day proved this spot on. The feelings of fear I had to deal with and push past to do the speed run in the razor were invaluable when it came time for me to get back on a @gasgasusa Trials bike. @brimstonerec was the last place I rode Trials before the crash. Although I wasn’t quite fully physically ready (are we ever truly fully ready for anything), I felt the timing was right for me to try it... plus I lost a bet with @pat_smage . Haha . . . Although physically it didn’t feel like I had hoped/imagined it would, this was still one of the best moments of my life. It did show me how far I have to go before I can “call it a comeback”, but it also showed me that there is POTENTIAL! . . I had many people tell me I’d never ride a bike again throughout the first couple months. While I don’t like their negativity, it did add extra fuel to my . I was gonna say that it felt good to prove them wrong, but I like to think of it as proving myself right.
Your attitude toward this injury and recovery has been something to admire, and I think a lot of people look to you for their own motivations. What would you say to somebody who may be struggling in their own way with whatever it may be?
One of the biggest blessings in this injury has been my ability to inspire others. Hearing how much my story has been helping people has kept me very motivated to push it. If I could offer a bit of advice to someone struggling it would be to find at least one thing to do every day that will get you closer to your goal. Also, remember, positivity doesn't just happen, it takes time and effort. You can find the positive in any situation if you look hard enough.
Phil also adds: “The help and support that Road 2 Recover has given my family and myself has been amazing. I wouldn't be where I'm at today without them. They teamed up with my buddy Wheels to host a ride day at one of my favorite tracks, Sweeney MX. Unfortunately I had other responsibilities that weekend but the track looked mint, the prizes/auction items were bountiful, there was food from Wienerschnitzel for everyone, and someone even brought a trials bike! Great success!”
For those who are not familiar with Phil Smage or his recovery, I strongly encourage you to check out his daily update videos. One would be hard-pressed to find another individual with such resilience and positive dedication to overcoming an injury. After being diagnosed as an incomplete quadriplegic, he is now walking and FREAKING RODE HIS DIRT BIKE AGAIN, just four months after nearly losing his life. The mind is an extremely valuable tool in recovering from any injury, and it’s evident that despite the hard days, this guy is more than willing to put mind over matter and get back to the life that he knows.
Phil would like to thank Road 2 Recovery, Nitro Circus, Wienerschnitzel, Black Rifle Coffee, EVS, Shades of Gray, Dang Shades, AthleteAdvantage.org, family, friends, and all those who have sent positive messages, prayers, and comments his way for their support during this time of recovery. If you wish to donate to Phil’s Road 2 Recovery page, you may do so here.
Lastly, I would like to say thank you to Lori at Road 2 Recovery for all of her help in coordinating this event; as well as Wienerschnitzel, DMXS Radio, AP Designs USA, Nitro Circus, Shades of Gray MX, Sweeney MX, Dirt Addiction LLC, EVS, Michelin Motorcycle, Travis Pastrana, Jason Anderson, Justin Barcia, Austin Forkner, Joey Savatgy, JH Leale, Christian Craig, Chase Sexton, Kevin Windham, Trey Canard, Keeven Photography, SicWicks, and Racer X for their support and donations.