The Pacific Northwest or Women's Motocross, for that matter, has not seen much of racer and MotoSport sponsored rider Jessie Wharton of late. Well, at least on the track. Keeping her busy is a thriving wedding photography business that's given some people the impression she retired from Motocross.
Not to worry, she's getting ready to get back on her bike.
The very fact Wharton is riding today is somewhat miraculous after she suffered a head injury during a race and doctors told her parents she might not survive. But she did and three years later was back racing. Since then her collarbones have taken the brunt of injuries. She'd broken them each twice before her first plate went in four years ago and a second plate in 2012. Both were removed in December. But in March she crashed in a practice run breaking her left collarbone again and dislocating her shoulder.
The speedy healer is expecting to find out this week how her shoulder is mending and is hopeful to be back on her bike in a month. So keep a look out on the local tracks in Oregon and Washington.
Years riding pro: 4
What age did you start riding and on what: I was 12 years old and borrowed my brothers 85cc
What do you ride now? 2014 KX250f
Hometown: Hockinson, WA
Career highlights: I feel like the one thing about racing I really look back on and day dream about was being able to race Washougal Nationals in 2012.
Other sports participated in: Soccer, Basketball, Track
Other hobbies/interests: Photography, hiking, anything with my family
Favorite riders: My friend and hero is Trey Canard
1. How did you get started riding a dirt bike?
My father bought his first bike in 2000 and got my little brother a PW. I was interested in sitting on it, but not riding it. When my older sister got a bike and started riding it at the track then I was really interested. It started as a sibling rivalry I suppose, and then turned into something I loved.
2. When did you realize dirt bike riding was something you could do professionally?
In 2009, I had a fear of my home track, Washougal Motocross Park. The goal for that year was to race one race there where I didn't wreck. My dad had mentioned the Loretta Lynn's Qualifier regionals being there, and we had already done the areas a month before. I was nervous but said ok to it.
That weekend the track was the best it ever has been to this day and there was a class of 20-plus women there including really big competition from Southern California, Northern California, Idaho and Nevada. I went out just trying to focus on riding correctly and got a good jump on everyone and grabbed the holeshot on the first moto, led one lap, and ended up third. To qualify they only took four. In the next moto I got second, and then took third in the final moto. I was really pumped. I qualified and was able to hold my own with these girls.
After a not so great week at Loretta Lynn's, my dad gave me the choice, he said he couldn't afford to travel to the amateur nationals and be gone for a solid week. So if I wanted to try to get my WMX license I would need to get things figured out. That's how it all started.
3. You've faced some serious injuries, what's the latest you're recovering from?
It's been something that has plagued me for years now it seems like. Besides a major head injury in 2006, I really have only had broken collar bones. I broke them each twice before I had my first plate in 2010 a week before Loretta Lynn's. Then at Freestone National in 2012, I broke the left one in practice and got that plated. So I had both plates and 12 screws in until this last Christmas when I got them taken out. In March, I went to Horn Rapids Motorsports Complex for the first P.R.O. round and in practice went over the bars and broke my left collar bone again and dislocated my shoulder. So I went back in to my surgeon and got it plated again because the break was pretty extreme.
4. A while back a crash left you pretty debilitated. What happened?
In 2006, it was my first year going to the races regularly. I got landed on and was wearing a really inexpensive helmet. The case of my 250f came up from when I went over the bars and hit me in the back of the head, crushing my skull and face, blowing most of the internal parts of my ear out. I was unresponsive for 45 minutes and they were not sure if I would make it. I woke up, or remember waking up at least, two weeks later and knowing I was awake a few times before but not really knowing what was going on.
My left arm was shattered and my right foot was cut up. Other than that, all the pain and confusion was in my head and neck area. I damaged the right side of my head pretty severely and had multiple surgeries to re-construct my ears and head. It left me deaf out of my right ear, with a ton of titanium parts and pieces inside my right ear, as well as a few plates around the back of my skull. My facial nerve was severed leaving my right side of my face frozen for almost a year. It has come back now, but there are lingering affects to this day.
5. Once you've healed physically, how do you handle the mental aspect of putting the injuries behind you?
God is so good! He has given me the strength to have faith in Him, to trust Him and ultimately live this life to glorify Him. I have been let down from Motocross as a racer mentally, emotionally and physically. Every time I have been so close to my goals or dreams something has gone wrong. But isn't that the case with so many other people in this sport? Who is ever really satisfied with their race, their season, their bike?
We have moments of it, but this sport is so mentally, physically and emotionally demanding that if we put our hope in it, it will ring us dry! I guess that's what I believe anyways. Every time I get on a dirt bike there is this risk, this chance that I will wreck, something will go wrong. I don't dwell on it, I trust God with my life and that's all there is to it. I prepare my body to the best of my ability, and train often. But at the end of the day, it's out of my hands, I trust God.
6. When can we see you racing again?
I go in to get an X-ray later this week, I'm guessing in a month I'll be back.
7. Despite the setbacks do you still see yourself accomplishing your goal of being in the Top 5 of women's Motocross?
To be honest, no. Top 5 is a whole new ball game right now. If there were smaller races, with fewer girls, then maybe. But in women's motocross in general, the competition is at an all-time high, and I have not been on the bike regularly since Southwick of last year, because of work and injuries.
8. Vicki Golden recently became the first woman to earn an endorsement in the 250SX Class for Supercross, does this break things open for you and other women or was the door already open and Vicki went through first?
Vicki certainly went for it. The door was the same for her as it was for the guys. And she took everything she needed to get through it. I believe it does set a new standard for women's motocross in general. There are tons of girls who are ridiculously fast and have support. Once that generation gets older, on bigger bikes, we will see a new schedule, a new appreciation and season for these girls.
9. When you're not racing you have a photography business, how's that going?
It's going great actually! It's very much the opposite of Motocross - you know where I wear makeup and dresses and work in the wedding industry. I love it and it's something that I have really enjoyed starting out.
It's hard because it demands scheduling dates and setting them in stone. Meaning, I can't skip or get someone else to cover for me. My business is me, and I can't skip a wedding that I've been hired to shoot. All summer my Saturdays are completely booked out so I am missing a lot of my races that I want to be a part of or attend.
10. Is photography your second career or something to pay the bills so you can ride?
Neither, I work for my dad's construction company and that pays the bills. I am working towards being a full time wedding photographer next year, and that will be paying the bills.
11. What goals do you have now for your riding future?
Well I'm unsure to be honest. This year was all about me riding and racing locally. But so far I haven't got to enjoy that. And once I heal I hope I have enough before wedding season to get some seat time in. But I really enjoyed where I was at before my last break, just riding and racing locally, hanging out with the people and industry that helped me become who I am today. I travel to Southern California a lot and will probably hit a few tracks or races next time I'm there. But I'm pretty content with not knowing what's next all the time. I like it that way.