Interview: Jimmy Button
by Steve Bruhn
SB: I saw you walk in, it was good to see.
JB: It’s not much of walking yet but its getting better every day – slowly.
SB: How long since you got the halo removed, did that help?
JB: It will be a week on Wednesday. It’s been off five days now. It was kind of weird at first to get my balance back. It makes it a little bit easier to get up and out of bed because of the weight. It’s nice not having bolts in your head anymore.
SB: You anticipate having the neck brace about a month?
JB: They say about a month and they will slowly start taking me off of that.
SB: Then maybe go back to California in a couple of months?
JB: Yeah, hopefully by June.
SB: Do you expect a 100% recovery?
JB: I’m hoping. At this point we I have learned not to anticipate anything, or expect anything. Just because it’s so weird, they don’t know much about the whole spinal cord deal. No one can give me an answer why this happens, or why that happens. No two cases are alike. No two people have ever recovered the same way and at the same rate. I know I will be able to walk and be pretty normal, but as far as everything coming back, I’m not sure. All the doctors have said that no matter how much you get back there is always something that you won’t get back. You never get it all back, hopefully it won’t be something important.
SB: Do you feel confident that you will be an athletic person?
JB: I better be – or I will be pretty disappointed. Hopefully I will be able to race again.
SB: If you were not recovered enough to race nationals would you still race?
JB: No. I wouldn’t race again unless it was at the level I was at.
SB: What was it like when you started getting e-mails from people off the Internet?
JB: It was cool. In the beginning you don’t have much hope. Everyone is telling you to keep your head up and do this and do that. But when you are lying there and you can’t move anything but your head, nothing else works, and you are hooked up to every machine that doctors have created – its long days and long nights, and 24 hrs before you were one of the top athletes in the world its discouraging. The e-mails started coming in and the cards, Kristi or mom or Cory would sit there and read them for me. It was one of the ways I got through it. Knowing that there were a lot of people that cared, and a lot of people I didn’t even realize gave a damn. It was one of the positive things in the beginning. They just kept coming and one book became two books, and two became three, by the fourth or fifth book things started happening and I started being able to move and see a little light at the end of the tunnel. Then your mind started to change a little bit and not just thinking about the people who cared but wanting to get back and make all those people who wished you well and making them proud, and do everything they hoped and prayed for. It starts building that fire, and you want to get back.
SB: Who has been to visit you?
JB: Phil Lawrence, Jeremy, Fro, Ernesto, David, Vuillemin, Pingree, Buckelew, and Keith McCarty, Gary Becker came out, I had lunch with him a couple of weeks ago, that was pretty cool.
SB: On web people saw discussions about the e-mail, and the auction by Chaparral. What did you think?
JB: It was cool, Dorina (from Chaparral) who I have now become friends with spearheaded the whole auction thing. For Dave and Linda and Jimmy Damron for putting it together was pretty cool. Racers and fans donated a lot of stuff, Fox and No Fear donated some really cool things, and Malcom Smith and Keith McCarty everyone just kind of dug down and found things people would buy, it helped out pretty good.
SB: How can we describe where you are at right now? Can you get up and walk around the house?
JB: No. I have to have someone help me, for the most part I can’t do anything on my own yet. It would be lot easier for me to do stuff if my hands worked. My legs work better than my arms do at this point. It’s slow.
SB: What is therapy for you?
JB: Every day. I’m basically trying to re-learn everything trying to teach my muscles and nervous system how to work together instead of against each other. One muscle would be doing one thing and another would be doing another and it wouldn’t allow anything to happen.
SB: In therapy do they move you around?
JB: In the beginning I couldn’t move anything so they would take my arms and my legs and just move them in the directions you need to use them. Now it’s just trying to learn how to pick up a thumb tack off of a table or pick up silver ware, or just how to do normal things. Everything is really hard. People don’t think about all the things you have to learn as a kid. By the time you are three or four years old you know how to do everything. That’s basically what I am having to go through right now – to learn how to do everything on my own – how to walk and how to feed myself, and how to put my clothes on. I know how to do it, but your brain is telling your body to do something and it’s not really listening. It’s just a matter of re-learning everything.
SB: It is remarkable Cory has been with you since day one.
JB: Yeah, since it happened. My mom, my dad, my aunt Michelle and Kristi and Cory have been here the whole time – since 3:30 on the Saturday afternoon when it happened. The crash was a weird moment, that’s for sure.
SB: At the San Diego race where you got injured, there was a big step-up jump right after the first turn. Did you jump into the whoops and flip over?
JB: It was the first lap of practice. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first practice or second practice. Keith and I had some discussions about taking the first lap of practice real easy. It worked at the two Anaheim races really well. I just went through the first corner, and rolled over the first jump and started rolling though the whoops. I was in second gear. I wasn’t trying to blitz them, just rolling through, just looking around – maybe paying too much attention to what was going in. My front end just dropped inside one of the whoops and came to a stop. I didn’t go down real hard but just hit my head the wrong way. Then everything was cold and nothing was working. It was a grim, grim moment.
SB: People are going to see you in Las Vegas in three weeks right?
JB: Yes. I am going to talk to Yamaha and see what they would like me to do if anything at the race.
SB: Will you be up to going out on the floor during the opening and greeting the crowd?
JB: Yeah, that would be cool. The last time I got to do that was at the second Anaheim. It would be really nice to be able to walk out on the stage and say ‘Hi’ to everybody.
SB: A lot can happen in three weeks.
JB: Yeah, hopefully I will be walking a little bit better. I can do better. Strength-wise I can walk but my balance isn’t too good. That’s the biggest thing we are working on in therapy is trying to get better balance. Since I got the halo off I have to learn again, I was a little top heavy before.
Top image Steve Bruhn, bottom image Frank Hoppen