Main image from the 2020 SoCal Classic MX, photo by David Dewhurst
Doctors will say that, what you get back in the first 18 months after a spinal cord injury, is all you’re ever going to get back. Whether this statistic is true or not, Todd DeHoop spent the last 18 months since breaking his C3 and C4 vertebrae in his neck pushing himself far beyond doctors’ expectations. In fact, after getting hurt at the 2021 Ricky Carmichael Daytona Amateur Supercross, DeHoop had a hard time getting transferred to one of the top rehabilitation facilities in his home state of Michigan because his prognosis was so bad. Yet, speaking to Todd is like talking to a motivational speaker with tales of grit, determination, and of course, plenty of bench racing thrown in. We caught up with Todd to hear about how he convinced the doctors to give him a chance and how his recovery is going.
This is part one of our interview, we’ll have part two next week.
Racer X: The last time we heard from you was right after your injury. Can you explain what your exact injury was and what your prognosis was?
DeHoop: Okay, so my original injury, I fractured my C3 and C4 and it was an incomplete spinal damage—central cord syndrome is what they call it. And so, the impact on the spinal cord when it happened, when the bike landed on me, it basically made me paralyzed from the neck down. And so, I was paralyzed for basically the first… umm, I have this argument all the time with my wife, from when I feel like I first started to feel things. She wasn’t there at first, my daughters were there. So, I started feeling a little bit of tingling in the middle of my feet after about 48 hours. But you can have phantom feelings so I said, “Yeah I think I feel something,” but the doctors were like, “Well, you might think you are feeling something but that doesn’t mean you are actually feeling something.” I’m like, “Okay that doesn’t make sense but all right.” So, then they kind of told me about that whole process. Basically, a day after that I started to be able to wiggle my toes.
At that time my wife was working through the whole process at Halifax in Daytona, trying to get me flown from there to Mary Free Bed in Grand Rapids [a rehabilitation center in Michigan]. First off, Mary Free Bed, with my prognosis after looking at all of my MRIs and X-Rays, they basically were saying there was not a lot of hope, and they were not going to admit me because they didn’t see me progressing. But Robyn [wife] kept saying, “You don’t understand who my husband is, or what his drive is.” She talked to the doctor back and forth numerous times before he agreed to admit me. We were at Halifax about a week-and-a-half, two weeks, when we were on the plane [to Grand Rapids], probably about 20 minutes into the flight I said to Robyn, “I swear to you I am moving my index finger and touching my thumb, I swear I am touching my two fingers.” She looked over and said, “Oh, that’s because you are!” And I will tell you what that was a huge emotional moment because all of a sudden, I am like, “All right I am actually getting upper body feeling back of some kind.” So that was definitely a super emotional moment.
By my first day [at the rehab center] I had nothing on my right side, I didn’t have a lot of movement. First off, my ankle is fused on my right side, and I have no ACL, and I broke my leg on that side three separate times. Twice when I was really young, and in 2002 I shattered it in eight places. The ankle was pretty much blown to dust so they had to reconstruct it. Everything was fused so that already makes it super difficult to walk. So, I didn’t have a lot of movement except my toes, so I still actuate a lot of my walking with throwing, because I don’t have a lot of muscle strength control. It’s hard for me to actually lift and follow through with my gait for walking. So that’s kind of where my right side comes in, with my right arm if I move it normal it’s pretty fluid, but if I try to move it fast it’s not [fast].
So, my legs came back first, where I could move them, but I didn’t have control. When I was in Mary Free Bed and I was lying in bed I could move them, I could pull them up and down and I could move my ankles. I was like, “I’m going to turn to the side of the bed and I can walk,” and it just doesn’t work that way. My nurse came in and I was sitting on the side of the bed, and she was like, “What are you doing?” I said, “I am going to try and walk,” and she’s like, “No you are not, you are going to end up on the floor.” Then she said, “I will let you try, go ahead and try to put a foot down or do anything.” So, I tried to just stand up or do anything and nothing. Zero. I’m like “Okay, I’ll lay back down.”
So, she didn’t even have to try and catch you? You just couldn’t even do it, get up?
No, I couldn’t even control myself enough to actually do it.
The whole thing at Mary Free Bed, it was just day in and day out with my therapy. I had amazing therapists with occupational and physical and they would plan out my day for me and I said, ‘Okay whatever you say, basically we are going to do triple that. Whatever my body will accept for me to do, with me not puking, that’s what I am accustomed to, so we are going to do as much as we can until I am dead.” When I talked to Jimmy [Button] and Jessy Nelson and David [Bailey], all of them on the phone said, “Listen, your first three months after this injury are your most important to get your body to fire back up and try to figure out if it's actually going to do anything. So you have to try and push it as much as you can the first three months to make sure, if it's going to happen it's going to happen. Then you can build from there.”
So, Mary Free Bed was looking at your injury, and don’t take offense, but probably your age, and not looking at your past and that the average person will not push themselves to the point of puking and then say, “Okay that’s my limit, back it down a notch.” They weren’t expecting you to work that hard?
Right, and that’s what my wife was trying to tell them was, you don’t understand my background. So Dr. Ho and his team actually ended up researching me and my background, which helped them understand everything about it, which also kind of helped them understand what they can expect out of their patients also, the kind of level that, well not everybody can withstand, but what they should try to achieve. So even for them it was a learning experience because I literally said, “Just punish me as much as you want, I don’t care, we have to do whatever we have to.”
It's so interesting because in motocross you are much more likely to sustain an injury like this than the average person who doesn’t take risks, but you are also much more likely to recover. Maybe not to be 100 percent again, but to be 100 percent better than the average person who won’t push themselves to the point of puking.
Well, see that’s what you are onto right there. The thing I told them is that I have been born and bred my entire life to ride a motorcycle, crash, get up, evaluate, figure out if I’ve injured something, and figure out how do I fix or heal up as quick as possible to get back on the motorcycle. That is not a normal person’s mentality.
No, that’s for sure. I think something that also helped you, while you retired from professional racing for a while, you never really quit riding did you? Before your injury you were doing the Vet nationals and vintage stuff. So, you were way more fit than the average 54-year-old.
I actually took about 6-7 years where I didn’t ride at all, I kind of had just given it up. That was basically a deal with my job. In 2002 I was racing the national arenacross series. I was out front in the 125 class, I came around to hit the catapult double in the main event and I cross rutted on the face and it ripped the handle bars out of my hands. I reached for it and grabbed the left bar, but it pulled the bike 90 degrees in the air and when I came down my leg was between the frame and the landing jump. It basically taco’d my leg. That’s when I broke it in eight places and shattered the ankle. After that my boss said, “You need to understand you are either a motorcycle racer or you are going to work full time. If you are going to work for us then you need to stop racing.”
So, at that point I quit cold turkey and didn’t ride at all anymore. I got rid of all of my bikes except my championship bikes, which I never ride. In 2015 my best friend bought me a KX450. When I first started getting Yamaha support on 80s I was winning state titles between Jeff [Stanton] and I back and forth. I was getting about six bikes a year, and I had a bunch of different tracks I would ride to, and I was basically riding by myself. It was dangerous because you are just riding by yourself. So, my best friend in my area, I said to my dad, “I am just going to give him one of my motorcycles, so I have someone to ride with.” So he rode with me almost every day. So, from 80s to 125s when I got my new motorcycles, I would just give him one right away.
He became pretty successful, owns a bunch of companies. When I quit riding, he told me I had to start riding again and I said, “Nope.” So, he calls me one day and says, “Hey you have to come over and get your new bike.” I’m like, “What? I don’t think so,” and he said, “Yeah I got a new 450 for you,” and he sent me a picture of it from his phone.
So now it was his turn to return the favor?
He basically said to me, “I owe you like 20 motorcycles.” So, it kicked off the whole thing again. I started riding and then people heard that I was back riding, and sponsors were like, “Hey what can we do for you?’’ It went from that to doing Loretta’s in the vet class. Which, it pisses me off, I was out leading in the first moto and after the Ten Commandments, well now it's that zig-zag corner, you know there’s that triple right there, I cross rutted on the landing and it was kind of sticky, so I went into a high speed, slow endo and there is that rise right before you make the turn. I endo’d right off of that. I ended up getting a concussion. I was way behind but I got back on my bike, and they told me I made it all the way back up to fifth and I didn’t even know I had even rode! I still ended up riding the next two motos and ended up getting third behind [John] Grewe and [Barry] Carsten. But I was so pissed because I was training to win, and I had no idea what the hell I was doing.
That’s amazing and goes to show just how important Loretta’s is, and a racer’s mentality, that was how many years ago, and you are still pissed off about losing that championship.
Well yeah, I did so much work to try to win that and I wanted to beat John. I mean, we’ve been rivals since we were 12.
Oh yeah because he is a Michigan guy too, and you guys are similar age. He’s got so many titles down there.
Oh, we have ridden against each other since we were on 80s. Who knows how many titles he has at Loretta’s, like 13 or something [It’s actually a very impressive eight]. I have one from 1986 in the 250 A Class.
That’s better than none, but definitely annoying that you couldn’t get that second one.
Yeah, I beat Donny Schmit so that’s all that mattered.
So basically, that started it all over again and it just kind of snowballed. Then I started doing the vet stuff and then I started doing the vintage stuff. Then the whole Vet Des Nations stuff came about, and traveling, and it kind of got out of control again, which is easy to do, to get sucked backed in.
Stay with us for part two of our interview with Todd DeHoop, including an update on his injury.