By Dale Spangler
All photo courtesy of Mike Vizer.
Crashes are an inevitable part of riding dirt bikes, and as racers, we inherently know each time we suit up, there’s a chance of going down, especially when other racers are added to the mix on the same track. For EVS athlete Zachary Pope, one minor miscue led to what he describes as a freak accident and one of the wildest rides of his life. The crash, captured by photographer Mike Vizer, went viral on Instagram with 235,000+ views to date. So, I called up Zachary Pope to ask about his crash, check in on his recovery, and find out when he hopes to get on the bike and riding again.
In January of this year, Pope was out spinning laps at the Club MX training facility not far from his home in Charlotte, North Carolina. A place he’s spent the last few years honing his riding skills and fitness training in the pursuit of one day making it to the pro ranks. As the video captured by Mike Vizer shows (see below), Pope came up short on a double jump, cased the landing, and set in motion a chain reaction sequence that led to one scary crash.
Typically, when a rider comes up short on a double jump, the bounce from the impact throws the rider forward over the handlebars. In Pope’s case, he was thrown forward, but the back end of his bike also kicked sideways at the same time, causing his arms to straighten and inadvertently grab a handful of throttle.
The resulting crash looks like something out of a video game, as he inadvertently launches himself (and his bike) over the backside of a bowl berm — almost completes a backflip — then disappears out of the video’s frame. Although one cannot see it in the video, as Pope recalls, he landed hard on his lower back and tailbone because of the backward rotation when he launched off the berm. The impact to Pope’s body resulted in one vertebra crushed entirely and two others fractured.
Initially, he was told he would be in a back brace for up to nine months, with no surgery required, but his doctor later discovered another fracture in his L3 and some signs of scoliosis that had the potential to cause stability issues and other problems that would make it difficult to get back on a bike and ride. With no guarantee that he would ride again without surgery (and no guarantee if he chose the alternative of nine months in a back brace), he chose to have the surgery and, as a result, cut his healing time from nine months to four.
Motocross racers are some of the toughest athletes on the planet, and Zachary Pope is no different. Only days before his January 2021 crash, he’d just broken the record for longest plank time at the Club MX training facility at just over 15 minutes. A record pope had previously set at just under 13 minutes. The ability to tolerate pain and push oneself when suffering plays a significant role in the success of a motocross racer.
Motocross racers as a whole generally have a higher tolerance for the pain that develops after years of learning to tolerate roost launched at them from other motorcycles, and enduring crashes, injuries, and even the physical therapy that’s part of healing after an injury. Six months after his crash, Pope is on the mend and working with physical therapists specializing in motorsports athletes (more specifically, NASCAR teams), and started working with a sports psychologist, so he feels like he’s doing everything in his power to get back to the physical and mental state needed to properly control a motocross bike.
During his recovery downtime, Pope has kept himself busy learning about suspension technology under the tutelage of Jonathan Oler of Art of War Suspension, something he’s come to enjoy. He was also given an opportunity to spin wrenches for his friend Luke Neese at the Atlanta Supercross rounds, something else he’s grateful to have experienced during his downtime.
Only time will tell what the future holds for Zachary Pope. Like many aspiring racers, he’s set his sights on making it to the pro level, but he’s also trying not to look too far ahead, take things as they go, and enjoy life while he’s working hard to get back to where he was before his injury. Recently, he was released to begin doing more intense gym work: another step closer to getting back on a bike and his goal of moving up to the B class within a year. In the interim, Zachary Pope continues to work hard to get back to where he was before his injury while learning some new skills along the way, and he can hold his head high, knowing he still holds the record for longest plank time at Club MX. And that’s something he can be proud of.
All Photos courtesy of Mike Vizer.