Injuries are a part of this sport. It’s just an unfortunate fact that everyone in it simply accepts. But that doesn’t make them any easier to recover from. Just ask Jacob Hayes, who’s been struggling with a complicated femur break since May. He’s still not out of the woods, either, although it seems a light has finally started to appear at the end the tunnel. We caught up with a determined Hayes the day before he went in for what he hopes will be his final surgery to get the story on his difficult road back to racing.
Racer X: Jacob, what’s up?
Hayes: Not much, just making it through, day by day. It’s a little like Groundhog Day waking up and you can’t do much.
Is this the biggest injury you’ve ever had?
I have broken my femur before. When I was seven I broke my left one and when I was ten I broke my right one. But yeah, this has been the biggest injury of my career.
Let’s rewind a little bit. How’d it originally happen?
Well everyone knows the supercross schedule got postponed. I had a lot of free time to do training and riding, which I was happy with. I’d switched to a new bike and had come into Anaheim unprepared. I was happy to have the extra time to get on the new bike and get comfortable. I was in a good spot. Then, right when they released the schedule I remember I’d gone to State Fair. It was crazy, I’d done the same rhythm section a thousand times, it was a freak deal. I came up a tiny bit short and it just bucked me right off. I went over the handlebars trying to get away from the bike but it ended up smashing me directly into the face of the next jump. I knew immediately my leg was messed up, and from then on out I just tried to stay as calm as possible.
What’s it like initially with a femur break?
Well, after I got done realizing I’d completely eaten shit and I was laid out on the track, I immediately went to grab my left leg and I could tell my ankle and shin were cocked to the left. I was like, “Well that’s not normal.” So I picked it up while the adrenaline was pumping to straighten it out. It was partially instinct, and partially just knowing it was better to have it straight than cocked out. Everyone came over and asked what was wrong, and I said I’d broken my femur. A couple guys were like, “No, you’d be in a world of hurt.” Well I was, but I knew if I started freaking out screaming it wouldn’t help anything, it’d just make matters worse. I’d never had a compound fracture where it comes out of the skin, and at that time I didn’t know I had a compound fracture. I suspected it but it wasn’t showing through my gear or anything so I wasn’t sure. I tried to stay as calm as possible but it wasn’t ideal. Once the paramedics got there the first thing was to try to get it straightened out and get all my gear off. That’s when we realized the bone was sticking out of the skin. I looked at that thing and it was like, “Yeah, that’s not good.” The pain was intense before the paramedics got there, but when they arrived it really ramped up. I think all dirt bike riders have been through injury, and I just knew I had to stay as calm as possible and try to help the paramedics help me, instead of freaking out. I was definitely in pain, but I was doing my best to try to stay helpful.
Listen to Hayes on episode #96 of Jason Weigandt's Exhaust Podcast from April, where he talks his dad, his reputation, and more.
How do you stay calm when there’s a bone sticking out of your body?
I don’t really know! My buddy Seth Rarick was there that day and he told me later he didn’t know how I was able to stay calm. I just told myself, “Look, this is going to be rough, you’re going to be in a lot of pain.” I was just trying to get the paramedics to get the thing wrapped up so I wouldn’t get any infection or anything. It was a state of mind.
Well I would have just lost it.
[Laughs] At times I wanted to, but I knew at the end of the day, those guys are there to help me and there were a bunch of people around trying to help. I was super grateful everyone was there that day.
So you get to the hospital and you’re getting taken care of. Then what?
Well I was in the hospital for four or five days and lost a lot of blood. I almost had to have a blood transfusion. I had a really bad blood clot in my quad so they had to run an IVC [inferior vena cava] filter through, right around my groin, and they ran it up to my heart so the clot wouldn’t go up to my lungs or heart or anything. I had to have that surgery before I actually went for my femur surgery. We went through the femur surgery, woke up, and got out of the hospital and all that stuff. I was physically and emotionally drained and was in a lot of pain. That first month was miserable all together. I had another surgery to get the IVC filter removed and had to get off my blood thinners and stuff like that. At that point I felt like I was getting my recovery process started. The first month-and-a-half I was in a wheelchair and couldn’t really move off the couch at all. I ended up switching doctors. I never went back and saw the original doctor because of complications I had with the hospital and them filing my health insurance incorrectly. It was a world of trouble with the doctor and hospital and that was a headache. It was a whole different project on its own.
I started working with a new doctor and we just knew it was going to take some time to heal. He released me to start walking, cycling, and doing more aggressive therapy. I felt like I was getting closer to normal, and one day the therapist told me I might be able to start feeling the bike out and get on a corner track. The doctor advised me to keep off the bike though, then like a week later I looked at my chick and I was like, “Something’s wrong, something doesn’t feel right.” I was having pains where I hadn’t had any at all throughout the whole process. I went back in and learned three screws had snapped in half. The plate they’d put in there was protruding away from my femur and pressing into my quad. It was putting stress where the fracture was, right where I was trying to get it to heal. So I had to stop walking again and couldn’t put any weight on it. I went to see a reconstructive orthopedic specialist and got an X-Ray and he just said, “Look man, I’m just going to tell you how it is. This doesn’t look good.” The bone is bowing now, the femur is bowing, and where he put the plate and screws, it was growing sideways into the plate and essentially pushing the plate and screws away from my body. The doctor said he’d have to go in and redo the whole surgery, and that it was possible I had a bone infection. I went in and had a quick 40-minute surgery to go in and grab some bone, where it was broken, and they did some tests on that. Turns out I didn’t have a bone or blood infection, which was great news. Tomorrow [Tuesday] morning I’m going in for hopefully my final surgery. He’s going to remove the plate and all the screws. I don’t even know how many are in there, probably 15. He’s going to remove all that, realign my femur, and shoot a nail underneath my kneecap up through my femur to the top. He’ll make an incision near the top of my quad so he can go in and lock the nail in place. The surgery will be about four hours.
Hayes update from November 2.
That sounds crazy. Where will this put you with your recovery?
This new doctor has been really proactive about researching who I am and what I do, and what would be the best fit for my life. I would love to be able to just walk through a grocery store, or walk to go get coffee. But since May 14 it’s been either a wheelchair or crutches. There was a brief stint of walking, but even when I was I was having really bad hip pains from where my femur wasn’t aligned properly. The doctor wants me to stay off my legs for two weeks to let my muscle and tissue recover. I’ll go in for a checkup on December 2, at which point he’ll let me start walking and doing light cycling once or twice a week. I'll be able to get back to normal activity sooner with this surgery and the way he’s going to align my femur. I should be in a much better position to recover sooner, which is good.
Do you have any goals on when you’ll be back?
I’ve already mentally told myself I’ll be out for supercross. I’m thinking, roughly, I’ll be able to get on a motorcycle at the end of February or the beginning of March. But I want to just focus on getting my leg healed. Even as I look at it right now it’s curved and it doesn’t look right. I don’t want that for my long-term health, or for my career. First and foremost, we’ll get it taken care of and slowly work through the process. As I recover and get better I’ll worry about getting back on the motorcycle.
Has it been hard to maintain motivation at all, or is that something that hasn’t wavered for you?
I’m extremely self-motivated. I have a passion for cycling, running, and doing the gym stuff. I probably shouldn’t have been doing core exercises or doing light cycling inside, but I was because I enjoy it so much. Yeah, I was extremely bummed, it was a big setback, but it was never something I thought I wouldn’t get through. I’m almost thankful those screws did break because, from what this reconstructive specialist has told me, my femur wasn’t aligned properly and that was why I was having bad hip pains. For my life and career, this is the best possible outcome.
Man, that all sounds so gnarly.
Yeah, I’ve had some bad days but I think this is going to be the best thing for me. I appreciate you guys checking in. It’s been quiet, the phone has definitely been quiet. That’s how this sport is though. When you’re racing, you’re in it. When you’re out of it, you’re out of it. I was being quiet for a while too, just because I didn’t really know what was going on. I was recovering then it all came to an abrupt stop. The doctor Facetimed me one day and was like, “You have some stuff going on with your leg and you have to see a specialist.” I was so stunned I didn’t even know how to respond, but I’m taking it all in stride. It’s only a matter of time before I get back to my profession, and I think I will quickly after this surgery.