Main image courtesy of Andrew Fredrickson.
When Chris Plouffe turned pro at the tail end of 2011, he carried with him a lot of promising signs of a potential future champion. Having just come off of an Open Pro Sport title at the Loretta Lynn’s AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship where he beat the likes of Austin Politelli, Justin Starling, and Zach Freeberg, Plouffe had a bright future ahead of him. Unfortunately, injury after injury kept derailing Plouffe’s career time and time again and it all ended with a shattered T10 at the 2015 Atlanta Supercross that left him temporarily paralyzed.
Plouffe moved on to life after racing after that 2015 crash and found his way into the studios of Hollywood and Studio City, though not in the capacity you may think. We reached out to Plouffe to catch up with the now 28-year-old to see what he’s been up to and how he’s been doing.
Racer X: First off, tell us a little bit about what you’re doing now. What’s going on in Chris Plouffe’s life?
Chris Plouffe: Right now, I’ve been helping my dad and my uncle. They own a swimming pool business and I’ve been working with them for the last couple of months. When I first quit racing back in 2015, I started working in the studios at the end of 2015 and I worked for a post-production company for a couple years and then I went off to be an assistant editor on a few TV shows and did that for a couple of years. And then, just at the end of last year, I decided to change it up, stay within the studios, but wanted to become a driver and join the Teamsters. So that's what I've been trying to do since about October of last year and it wouldn’t be possible without Russ Wageman and Travis Stake and Cecil Barber, for all their help. You know, guide me in the direction I need to go with making it happen. So, hopefully in a few months I’ll be able to join that union and get going with that.
How did you get involved with the studios in the first place? Was that a connection you had or people you knew over the years?
So, my uncle Mike is an editor. He’s been an editor for like 38 years or something crazy like that. Believe it or not, he was trying to talk me into getting out of motocross and become an assistant editor back in like 2013. Because I was telling him how much money you make racing and he was like, “Man, you need to get out of that!” Obviously, the passion for motocross and supercross was there so I wanted to ride it out and see what could come from it and do that. I was definitely blessed with the many opportunities I that I was given in motocross and supercross. Traveling all over the world for it was fun. Once the injury came along and I figured that I had to do something else, it was the perfect time to jump on board with the studio side of it.
So, what would be a typical day at the studios for you? What jobs are they having you do, what stunt work are they maybe having you do, and what have been some of the coolest projects you’ve worked on?
When I first started, I was working as an avid technician. So, I would work on all the equipment and get it ready for the editors and the assistant editors. I worked on an ESPN reality basketball show that was pretty cool. It’s something that I’m really into sports-wise. So, it was really fun to work on that project. It was called Ball Up. Besides that, I worked on a bunch of Chuck Lorre shows and other Netflix shows. I helped my uncle on The Ranch so that was another fun one. Now trying to become a driver in the studios, some day they put you on a stake bed working with the construction guys that are building the set. In that work, you could be in a van driving cast and crew or driving any of the bigger trucks for lighting and electricians and all that kind of stuff. So, it just varies day to day with that. But yeah, it’s been exciting to get into the driving part. It’s been fun.
Oh, so I thought when you said studios that maybe there would be some stunt work involved since many pro motocross athletes go on to do stunt work or set up stuff to make it safe. But that’s not the case with you?
No, not at all. I’ve done one stunt for a Disney show. It was actually the first time I rode a bike after my injury, and it was pretty early on. I couldn’t really ride that well. But Russ Wageman and RJ Wageman, they’re the ones that got me hooked up with the guy to do it. It was super easy, just cruise around on a little XR100 for a Disney show. The stunt side, it’s just very hard to get into. It’s definitely fun but it wasn’t something that I was trying to pursue. My body has been beat up so much over the years of racing motocross. Stunt guy, you’ve got to be really healthy for that. I just went to the doctor this morning and found out I have to have another shoulder surgery done and that’s going to be number three since I’ve quit racing just to keep repairing old little injuries that stayed along.
Take us back to right at the end of your career there. You had the crash at Atlanta, and I believe you said you were paralyzed for a little bit there and went through some physical therapy. What happened and what was the recovery process?
Yeah it was crazy. It was honestly just a simple crash that went wrong. I landed on my stomach after I cased a triple into this double and when I cased the triple, I just rode a nose wheelie and went over the bars. But it was like mellow to where I landed smooth, but my bike came back and hit me in the back. It broke my T5 and my T10, but my T10 was completely shattered and those were the bone fragments that were pinching up against my spinal cord. I was in Atlanta for about five days before I had surgery because of the swelling and everything. After surgery, it was probably about four or five days after, I just started getting weird little tingling in my toes. It came back quick as far as the feeling but using of my muscles in my legs and stuff, that didn’t come back [quick]. That’s what all the physical therapy was. I had to relearn how to walk and relearn how to trigger these muscles and all that. That went on for a few months. It was probably three or four months before I was really comfortable walking. But it was a long recovery and luckily family and friends, everyone kept pushing me to keep going to physical therapy. Because there were times when it was tough. You wake up and you feel it, but you can’t walk, and it was definitely challenging for a little while.
Right, well that’s worst-case scenario or really the worst nightmare for you guys. The last thing you want to have happen, I’m sure.
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I was staying with Christian Craig when he went through his back injury, so I stayed with him in the rehab center. I saw what he went through, and it gave me a good perspective of going through it because I watched him make it through. So, I just had to keep fighting, keep pushing, and do what you can do. And at that point, you just hope and pray that all the stars align with the recovery.
So, this happens in February of 2015 and then you announced your retirement in March of 2015. As I’m gathering here, you were still in physical therapy and trying to get feeling back at that time. When you made that decision to retire, how much of it was “I just can’t do this again, I can’t put my body through this again,” versus, “I don’t even know if I can get back to this level?”
Once I turned pro, injuries took a big toll on my career. It happens to everybody and it’s not a matter of if, it’s when with all the injuries and what we’re doing. You know, I made the decision based off of even the year prior I had thoughts of calling it quits, but I was given a great opportunity to go back racing. I still had it in me, but the injuries were already taking a toll on my body and the mental side of it as well. Obviously, after the back injury and going through that, I was like, “I don’t want to put myself through another injury. If something like this happened again, I don’t want to go through it again.” So yeah, at that point where I was 23 or something, I just figured that one day I wanted to have a family and all that, so I didn’t want to risk it anymore.
Back in 2014 when you were thinking a little about retirement and the opportunity came up to keep riding, what was in your mind of things you wanted to do post-career?
Well, this has always kind of been the backup plan to racing as far as having the in with my uncle to get me started in the studios which was huge. I didn’t go out to film school and get a degree in that. I started from the very bottom and earned my way up a very different way than most people do it, but I had the connections to make that work and as long as I put the work in, I was able to get it done. So, that was always the plan. Like I said, my dad and my uncle own their own pool service company. The goal was never to take that over but that was always on the backburner as well.
Talking about your career a little bit, like you said the injuries played a huge factor in a lot of what happened in your career. But if you can look back and reflect on it, what are some positives that you take away from winning the Loretta’s titles or the teams you got to ride for or when you went to Australia in 2012? What were the highlights for you?
Winning Loretta’s was awesome! The highlights, I think I’d go back to the days before that when I was traveling to the races with my family and making all of those fun memories that we talk about whenever they come up. Those were the big times and getting to experience that with the whole family was fun. Racing side, winning Loretta’s back-to-back years was fun. Going to Australia and living there for a couple months was awesome. It was great to see Australia. I’d always wanted to go, so once I got the opportunity to go there and race, it was fun. I even got to bring one of my best friends along with me, so it made the trip a lot more fun over there. Racing didn’t go as well as I had hoped over there but it is what it is.
How would you rate your performance when you were on the track, and you were healthy? Did you feel like you lived up to some expectations that you had put on yourself at that time or did you feel like you were just always behind the eight-ball trying to recover from injuries?
As an amateur, I think that I did what I wanted to as far as winning Loretta’s and winning a few other championships. I definitely lost a few from some dumb mistakes or little injuries and crashes, but once I turned pro it was just a constant battle of off-season injury and starting the year with a couple weeks on the bike or starting to ride way to early and fighting through the pain of shoulder and knee injuries. There’s plenty of things that I wish would have went a little better, but at the same time, I’m stoked with how my career went. I mean, I think it went great. I enjoyed it. I don’t look back and see anything wrong or negative with it or regret anything with it. Sure, I wish I had an extra two weeks on the bike coming in over however much time I ended up having, but that goes for every single racer in this sport.
Well, I think the cool thing I’ve learned about you is that most people who go through a big injury like you had that ends your career and they think back to all the struggles they had to even get to that point, a lot of them just want to wash their hands of dirt bikes and be done with it. But it’s cool to see that you still ride even though you’re dealing with injuries to this day. I believe you still do some bike testing for MXA and stuff. You still get out there and have fun with it right?
Yeah, I still love it! I still love dirt bikes. I don’t think that will ever go away. Once it’s in your blood, it’s in your blood. So, yeah, I’ve done some testing with the MXA guys. I come out of retirement on the racing side for Day in the Dirt every year. I normally do the team races each year with Robbie Wageman and RJ Wageman and we’ve taken the win the last two years in a row, so I’ll be back trying to go for the third one.
And you did the 125 Dream Race at Hangtown in ’17 as well right? How was that?
Yeah, I did. That was actually one of the most fun races I’ve ever done. It was my first time riding a 125 in a long time and we threw it together last second. One of my good buddies Chris Henry, his dad had a bike and he let me take that thing out to go racing. It was super fun getting back out on an outdoor track. You know, the pro outdoor track, it’s so much different than going out and riding Glen Helen on a Thursday. There’s nothing like riding the pro national track. So, it was a lot of fun to go out and do that.
Like you said, you hadn’t been on a 125 in a long time so what was it like riding a national track on a 125? Did it just feel like you had no power or was it way different than you thought it would be?
It was a lot of fun. A 125 on any track, you just have to ride that thing just on the rev limiter the whole entire time. But on the rough track with those kind of ruts and stuff, it was really fun to do. It was one of those experiences where like, I grew up watching all the outdoor nationals on 125s, so you get the perspective of what they went through riding the bike on the track because it was way harder than riding any 250F or 450 that I’ve ridden on an outdoor track.