In 2020, sports fanatic Jake Fox was riding high after the best mountain biking season he’d ever had. Fox had never felt better on a bike and earned an exciting sponsorship with Knolly Bikes, a local biker-approved brand.
Towards the end of the season, the 24-year-old broke his leg but bounced back quickly. Like most extreme sport athletes, Fox said injury was a typical experience for him.
“Every year, I’d break myself off for at least two months, it seemed like,” he said. “[Injury] wasn’t a matter of if, but when.”
Fox was just getting back into the sport when a day spent at a friend’s homemade training facility in July 2021 went sour.
“It was my first time riding … an airbag landing, which is supposed to be safer in some scenarios. I wasn’t super keen on giving it a shot, but my friends convinced me I should try.”
“I went for a backflip-no-hander, a basic trick I had been doing successfully for years. On the landing, I sort of fumbled my hands … Then, when I rode off the end of the bag, I flipped over the handlebars and drove my head straight into the ground.”
Fox was not wearing a neck brace at the time and said he lost full sensation from his shoulders down.
A friend’s father witnessed Fox’s fall and rushed over to hold him in c-spine, a first-aid strategy that immobilized Fox’s head to avoid further injury.
Fox suffered a broken neck and fractured vertebrae, but said without the man’s help his injuries could have been much worse. After a successful surgery and four days in hospital, doctors told Fox there was a five per cent chance he’d ever walk again.
“I initially broke down. I thought to myself … I’m never going to be able to walk or much less bike again.”
But Fox said he has always been a big believer in the power of optimism and was determined to have a positive outlook.
“Through other injuries, I noticed having a negative head space wasn’t helpful. I’d always heal better and faster when I’d think positive thoughts,” he said.
“With my neck, I was really stoked to have been able to move my arm on one day and then my toes on another … Each day, I was one step closer to my goal of walking again, and I really learned to praise the positive outcomes.”
From the start, he’d tell himself, “I’m going to be that five per cent.”
Fox said he leaned on the support of his friends and fellow peers, who rallied around him after his injury.
“I felt like the luckiest guy in the world after receiving so many messages of support from my close-knit circle of friends and others within the broader community of bikers,” Fox said. “Pro-riders I’d idolized since I was a kid even reached out to me.”
Fox said the support he received played a significant role in convincing him anything was possible. While at a rehab centre, he expressed his intention to ski without the help of any assisted devices. At the time, Fox was still using a wheelchair.
His girlfriend, Katie Hutchins, said Fox even bought a Sun Peaks season pass the summer after the accident, even after she and friends suggested he should hold off.
Fox did end up skiing Sun Peaks this winter and said he met most of his goals for skiing this year. He’s already back on his bike this spring and said he’s made serious progress toward reaching his previous goals.
“My goal for the end of the summer is to be riding all the same trails I used to be able to … but I’ll be holding off on tricks for the time being.”
To those who have experienced similar injuries, Fox suggests focusing on those small victories. He also urges anyone wanting to chat to reach out at @fake.jox on Instagram.
“One of the coolest things about the accident has been [speaking] with other kids who have had similar injuries.”
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