The University of Arizona

Paraplegic Motocross Racer, UA Employee Rides Again

By Jennifer Fitzenberger, University Communications | November 17, 2011

After a handful of bad accidents, dozens of broken bones and a prognosis that he'd never walk again, UA employee George Hammel has rehabilitated, and on Nov. 19 he will compete in the Tour de Tucson.

George Hammel
George Hammel
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University of Arizona online communications associate George Hammel's love of motocross began in 1990. For many years, he raced nationwide, winning numerous races and championships. 

After a handful of bad accidents, dozens of broken bones and a prognosis that he'd never walk again, Hammel has rehabilitated, and on Nov. 19 he will compete in the Tour de Tucson.

"By telling my story, I hope I can motivate others whose lives have been affected by spinal cord and other injuries," said Hammel, who works in the University Communications office. "People can adapt and achieve their dreams and goals in life, even with significant injury."

In 1998, Hammel was racing his first professional national at Glen Helen Raceway in San Bernardino, Calif. when the unthinkable happened – he made a mistake coming down a high-speed hill and hit a jump with too much speed, ejecting him more than 80 feet through the air.

He landed on his feet, compressing his body and shattering his L1 vertebrae, breaking both lower portions of his legs, both his arms, his pelvis and fracturing his skull. Surgeons fused and inserted plates, from the T12 to the L2, and he was told he'd be a paraplegic for the rest of his life and never walk again.

Determined to not only walk but to compete again in motocross, Hammel spent many years doing physical therapy, which helped him regain some movement in his upper legs.

Over the span of five years, he started walking with the assistance of forearm crutches. Within seven years, he was walking on his own (with a large limp and the support of AFO lower leg braces). 

With a strong willpower, he learned to walk again and started riding a bicycle as well as participate again in motocross.

After breaking 54 different bones throughout his racing career, through huge leaps Hammel was able to fulfill his passion and achieve his dream – he won a gold metal at the 2009 Motocross Extremity Games and competed in the X Games in the Super X Adaptive event.

Last year, while racing motocross, he broke his back for a third time, bursting his T11 vertebrae. 

Dr. Eric Sipos, a neurosurgeon, rebuilt the vertebrae without having to insert extra metal or fusions, so as not to impede with the previous 1998 surgery.

This time, Hammel was told he would be unable to ride motocross again because of the weakness of the vertebras in his back. But he began riding road bicycles (without modifications), and this spiked his competitive edge.

This is the first time Hammel will compete in the Tour de Tucson. He will participate in the 42 mile portion of the Tour this year.

Contacts

Tom Duncan

tom@airboxstudios.com