(originally published November 2001)
One of those people is David swimming in the Ironman We asked David to comment on a variety of topics, and here’s what he had to say:
Television – Now I’ve been doing television for about eight years. I thought I would get tired of it and move on. But it’s the exact opposite. I can’t wait to go do the voice-over’s. I can’t wait for the first supercross of 2002 to see what Jeremy’s got for RC. It just keeps on getting better. And to be in the position I’m in is a privilege.
Broc Glover, David Bailey, Ron Lechien, Rick Johnson
As far as the TV fans that don’t know I’m in a wheelchair, or that don’t know I raced, those things don’t really matter to me. I hope they are intrigued by my ability to explain what’s going on down on the race track. If I can do that well then that means I’m doing a good job.
I’ve been asked a few times if they show Art Eckmann and me on TV from the chest up on purpose. The answer is “No”. That’s how it’s done for TV. It’s never crossed anyone’s mind to try and keep my wheelchair out of the picture. That’s just the way it’s cropped for TV.
A few times I’ve been rolling around a stadium in my chair and some one will come up to me and say “Hey, what happened?” And I say “I don’t know, what happened?” ; ) They just didn’t know I was in a chair. So I explain what happened, and most people say “Wow, I didn’t know that!”
I get upset sometimes when people criticize Art. They’ll say stuff like “Oh, he pronounced that guy’s name wrong”. If they knew all the notes and preparation that Art goes thru, all the homework he does, and the passion he has for the sport they’d overlook those mistakes and say “I know what he meant to say”. We all make mistakes.
When we are doing the TV shows we are getting talked to by the Director, by spotters, by Davey (Coombs), and others thru our headphones. It can get pretty hectic, and it’s our duty to act as if every thing is running smooth. It’s tough sometimes.
During the time of the St. Louis supercross a few years ago, the Atlanta Braves were in town to play the St. Louis Cardinals in baseball. The manager of the Braves is Bobby Cox. I know that now!
Bobby is a good friend of Art Eckmann. So Art told him to come over and check out the race and sit in with us to see how we do the TV show. So he agrees to come check things out.
Once I got to the stadium I was told to go upstairs into our working booth, put on my shirt and tie, and get ready for the show. So I get in the elevator and push the button to go upstairs. The elevator door closes and it goes up a little bit and then stops. I ended up being stuck in that elevator for over an hour. I missed the beginning of the show. Everyone is wondering where I am. Art is the guy who finally figured it out. He told some firemen what he thought had happened. They ended up opening the elevator with axes and carrying me out.
We went up an another elevator. Everyone was treating me very nice because the stadium was brand new and they didn’t want a lawsuit. I roll right onto the set, put on my headphones, and get the countdown “5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – GO!“
Art is introducing Bobby Cox at this time. I don’t know who Bobby Cox is. I don’t know what he does. While Art was introducing him, I’m talking to the people in the TV truck (many who are from Atlanta) asking “Who is this guy?” And they tell me “It’s Bobby Cox!” So I say “OK ….. who is he?” Now I canhear laughter in the TV truck.
In the end, we nailed the show and it came out great. But that is one of those things that many people will never have any idea of what happened behind the scenes to make something look good on TV.
Family – Family is important. My wife Gina is incredible. We were together a few years before we got married. We were married for three months before my accident. She has so much courage. She believed in me. She went thru the same hard times I did. I became a very different person physically from what she originally married. But mentally and spiritually I think I’m a better person. She trusted me, and was willing to stick by me. We have an incredible bond because of that.
Our son Sean was conceived just a few weeks before I got hurt. He’s 13 years old now. He’s a great kid. He has a lot of the same traits as me, and he has a great sense of humor.
Gina and I also have a daughter named Jenni. We call her “The Miracle Child” because the doctors said we wouldn’t be able to have kids after my accident. She’s 10 years old now.
Broc Glover: I didn’t realize what a great person Broc was until we were both retired from racing.
Rick, Johnny, Broc, Danny LaPorte and I were in Paris. We had been invited there by the promoters of the Paris supercross at Bercy. It was a 10 year reunion after their first event. The promoters gave us this really cool book. I thought to myself “I’m going to treat this like a yearbook. Not only does it have all of us in it, but it’s got these up and coming guys too.” I wanted everyone to sign it! I took my book around for people to sign, and pretty soon everyone else was doing it too.
Broc signed mine. I don’t remember the message right now word for word, but it was special. It let me see a different side of Broc.
As far as Broc’s racing, no one could go thru a tight rut as fast as he could. No one could ride the first few laps of a race faster than he could. I tried to pattern my racing after his smooth riding style. Broc knew how to win.
Johnny O’Mara: Johnny had and has incredible style and natural ability.
Johnny taught by example. I never trained hard until I stayed at his house in California. I never did any running because I hated it. I didn’t like swimming either. I figured biking was stupid because you did a lot of coasting. But with Johnny’s help, we did all that and more. We experienced cycling, running, and swimming together. We got so hooked on those that at one point we wanted to be triathletes instead of motocrossers. I look at where my life has gone since I met him …. I owe him so much.
He taught me that you have to earn and then keep on earning the position of being a factory rider. You can’t just rely on talent and luck. You have to decide how much you really want to put into it. A lot of guys can ride great. A lot of guys have natural talent. But are they willing to work? Johnny was.
And not a lot of people know, but he’s a big part of the success of Ricky Carmichael today. Johnny had an impact on the sport 20 years ago, and he’s having an impact on it today.
Bob Hannah: I don’t want to compare him to this era because that’s not fair. But as far as I’m concerned he’s the greatest.
He raised the bar. He set the pace. He trained harder. He worked harder. He made more money. He deserved more money. He sold more bikes. He signed more autographs. He won more races. He crashed harder. He did everything better than everyone else.
David finishing the Hawaii Ironman Triathalon
Rick Johnson: Rick has no weaknesses.
Growing up, both of us had guys like Roger DeCoster, Bob Hannah, and Marty Smith to look up to. Bob Hannah was the one I related to best. Bob didn’t have the best technique or finesse, but he had the most speed, the most excitement, and the biggest heart. Rick is like that.
When Bob left the sport, Rick took over. Right now, as good as Ricky Carmichael is, I think when McGrath leaves the sport it will take a hit. The stadiums will still get filled, and there will still be stars, but something will be missed. Rick was able to fill in the blank during our era.
Rick was the only rider along with Hannah that ever bothered me out on the race track. I knew that no matter how fast I went he could match my speed. As a competitor you need that. I’m glad I got to race against Rick. If I hadn’t be able to beat Rick the times that I did it wouldn’t of been as satisfying. If I hadn’t of been able to beat Rick for that ’86 500 title then it wouldn’t of meant as much to me. Rick brought an intensity that no one else could match.
Ironman – The Ironman is the original long distance triathalon in Hawaii. The idea for it came about to see who was the ultimate athlete. Is it someone from the Tour de France? Is it someone that runs marathons? Is it a swimmer? People wanted to find out who is the very best.
David finishing the Hawaii Ironman Triathalon
Some guys were sitting around having a few beers, and wondering who is the best. One guy, I believe he was a commander in the armed forces, decided he wanted to settle this debate here and now. He said “On this date, early in the morning we are going to do a two and a half mile rough water swim, followed by a bike ride around the entire island of Oahu (which happens to be 112 miles) and then we are going to end it by running a marathon.” This all happened in 1978. 12 guys showed up.
So the event evolved, and ultimately they had to move it to the big island of Hawaii because of the logistics. Today it’s much the same format – two and a half mile rough water swim, 112 mile bike ride, 26 mile marathon. You do them all unassisted one after another as fast as you can.
I went thru three years of hard times in trying to conquer the Ironman. I wanted to win it so bad.
I went over for my first time in 1998. I finished third. I had all kinds of problems. I went back in 1999. I was in the lead for about three hours, and then I had some medical problems and had to pull off for a while. I considered quitting. I did get back out and keep going. I finished second. I shaved one and a half hours off of my time from the year before.
I wanted to experience the Ironman fully, and I thought it would take three years to do that. You certainly can’t do it in one year only. I put a lot of pressure on myself. I learned a lot. I grew as a person and as an athlete. When I went back over in 2000 I really had my head on straight. I had the right mental attitude and the right training program. I felt strong.
At that 2000 event I came out of the first stage swim side by side with the guy that had won the previous two years. We raced together almost all the way thru the 112 mile bike race. Six miles from the end of the bike ride I got a flat tire. I rode the bike in though. He pulled five minutes ahead of me as I was starting the marathon.
I was able to reel him in and win. It was a record time. Nothing could compare to winning the Ironman. This one day lasted 11 and a half hours, but it really took me three years to win.
What made it special was that it’s a personal battle. Its just you and your mind. How bad are willing to suffer? How far can you push yourself? In the three years I did the race, each time I had thoughts of pulling out and quitting. But you can’t. If you do, then it’s easier for you to quit at something the next time.
This event teaches you a lot about life. It teaches you what you are made of. It teaches you how to organize your time. It teaches you how to respect the elements of nature. It teaches you how to respect your competition. It’s the ultimate commitment.
Conclusion – I’m ready to move on from that and put that same commitment into whatever I choose to do next in life. I hope to be able to do more public speaking and have a positive impact on other people’s lives. (Editor’s note – David was inducted into the San Diego Hall of Champions a few years ago. The induction ceremony was a black-tie affair and included athletes from different sports such as baseball, football, wrestling, and more. Attendees included many members of the media, and stars such as Ted Williams, Marcus Allen, David Wells, Stephen Neal, and Ricky Williams. Not many of the people in attendance knew who David was when the night began. But as he spoke he received a standing ovation, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when he was done.)
I have the components in my life to do that now. I want to be able to take people on a mental ride. I was at the top of my chosen profession, got hurt, and then I hit rock bottom. People can relate to that. The real story is how I dug myself out of that to achieve the results I have today. I think I have a gift to inspire people. Why should I have all this energy and experience and information and knowledge and keep it to myself?
All the guys we talked about earlier – Hannah, Johnson, Glover, DeCoster, and O’Mara, whatever they put their minds to they achieve. And it’s because motocross gave them the tools to do that.
Everyone reading this has a great big floor to ceiling mental tool box full of everything we need to make it thru our lives. When we fail it’s because we are not using all of those tools.
To see a 33 second video of David at the 1985 San Diego supercross, click on the photo of him here. It’s a 1.4 meg QuickTime file. If you don’t have QuickTime, you can get it here – http://www.apple.com/quicktime