Kelin Phillips should have listened to his inner voice.
Pack it in. Go home. Quit while you're ahead. The track was hard and it was time to go. But he was feeling good and went for another lap. Then another. And on the final lap he made a mistake. He would not go home that night.
It happened three months ago. Phillips, a Purchasing Specialist with MotoSport, left work for the idyllic setting of Mountain View MX Park just outside Portland. This was not his first dance with the popular track for local riders. A good day expected. And why not? In 17 years of riding and racing, the worst get-off he ever experienced came from riding ramps while doing freestyle a few years ago which resulted in some hurt knees and a bruised back.
Kelin Phillips in a freestyle routine
Early June was sunny and warm. An excellent afternoon for riding. He was tossing whips, getting solid laps in and finding good speed. This one jump - after a long uphill - he scrubbed it all day.
Until that final lap.
"I held the gas on too long. I was in the top of 4th gear. I was tired and hot and realized that I left the throttle on too long," Phillips, 30, said. "So when I got close to the lip of the jump knew I was in trouble. I geared down and used the rear brake to slow down. The bike died before the lip causing a big endo."
Kelin Phillips on one of the last laps before his big crash
Saving the inevitable crash was out of the question, so instead, he jumped over the bars to try and get away from his bike. He remembers yelling during his short flight through the air. He hit the ground. Hard.
"I felt my leg break," he said. "I tried to tuck and roll and ended up sliding a bit with my arm up hurting my shoulder."
His effort at avoiding a confrontation with his bike failed. The 2017 Yamaha YZ 450 flipped forward hitting him square in the ribs. When his body finally came to a rest Phillips managed to sit up and immediately knew he had broken ribs just by breathing. He in fact had seven broken ribs (yes, these photos show Kelin's crash):
He was quickly attended to by medics on scene who helped him stand and get to the side-by-side. Thankfully, he was not concussed. He was met by firemen at the entrance to the track and then took his first ever ride in an ambulance to the hospital. The damage:
- Broken right fibula
- Broken big toe
- Bruised foot
- Seven broken ribs
- Smashed shoulder
- Road rash
Phillips spent the night in the hospital and underwent several scans. Once at home, a recliner became his bed for a month. Surgery on his leg a few weeks later installed a plate, six screws and a cable around the ankle. He used a walker and crutches to get around and missed work for two months.
"I had no broken bones until this crash," he said. "This is by far the worst one."
The Yamaha on the other hand escaped serious injury. Just some minor damage to the handlebars and levers. Phillips jokes his body helped protect it from further harm. His friends and the track owners retrieved the 450 and secured it.
Phillips returned to work just a few weeks ago but still feels the pain from his ordeal causing him to wince every now and then. His injuries most visible in the walking boot he labors around. But that comes off in a few days. And can you believe it? He's ready to ride again. Maybe nothing too crazy but he wants back on his bike.
"Mentally I am doing great, staying positive. I am super grateful to be alive and to be able to recover," he said. "I really want to ride again and I mentally feel ready. I just want my body to match that."
He admits to second guessing his favorite pastime especially in the days after crashing when he couldn't breathe, or sneeze or laugh, among other things. Or even lay down. But dirt bikes represent more than a hobby for Phillips. He's been riding since he was a kid. In many respects, it's a way of life.
"I had to take an honest look at what happened and realize that it was my fault and I should have loaded up before that (last) Moto anyway," he said. "I am also very fortunate that it was not worse."
A MotoSport company party next week takes place at Washougal MX Park and Phillips hopes to ride. If so, he won't open the throttle up Horsepower Hill. He'll cruise around and take it easy. Eventually though, he expects to get back up to full speed and hit the big jumps. Just like he did for most of that afternoon three months ago.
"I just kept thinking about what (Ken) Roczen went through and kept telling myself I was nowhere near as bad as he was and also nowhere near the level of rider that he is," Phillips said. "That really helped me to stay positive and know that I could make it back and ride again if he could go through what he did and make it back to winning races."
Written By: AndrewT