Chad Kagy is down but not out
On the first night of X Games 17, the world watched in shock as Chad Kagy fell 18 feet from a flair whip gone wrong during BMX Big Air. Kagy, 32, slid to the bottom of the ramp and remained conscious, but he knew something was definitely wrong with his leg. The X Games medical staff attended to him, and he waved to the crowd as he was placed on a stretcher and driven to the hospital.
Having finished a run earlier in the contest, Kagy retained his third-place position. He earned a bronze medal (his 13th X Games medal to date), but his X Games were cut short by a broken femur. Later that night, he underwent surgery to have a titanium rod placed inside his leg to stabilize his femur, and he slowly began the healing process. No stranger to painful injuries, Kagy nevertheless considers this one to be the worst. He left the hospital three days after the injury, keeping friends and fans updated via Twitter and Facebook.
Currently, Kagy is still in Southern California, attending physical therapy with fellow BMX Vert competitor Simon Tabron (who suffered a broken collarbone at X Games 17). Despite his continued discomfort, he agreed to discuss what happened, how he's healing and why this crash won't keep him from returning to the MegaRamp.
ESPN.com: How are things going?
Kagy: Better now, but the first 10 days were about the slowest, most painful process I could think of.
And you're still in California?
I'm not yet bending my knee enough to be sitting in an airplane seat. As soon as my leg muscles relax a little bit, I can fly. We already bought tickets, and I should be going home on Friday. Until then, I've had therapy every day, trying to bend my knee, and I finally got out of the house about two days ago. I crutched down the street and back, and then yesterday, I made it down the block, to the pool, hung out for about 20 minutes, then crutched back.
The pain I went through before surgery when my femur broke was the most ridiculous thing I've ever gone through.
-- Chad Kagy
Is this the worst injury you've ever had?
This one ranks right up there with the whole broken neck thing. [Kagy suffered a broken neck in 2003 and made a full recovery.] It's a different level of pain. With my neck, I broke it and didn't know it was broken cause it didn't really hurt. And then, after surgery, it got really painful because they cut through all of my neck muscles. But some of the pain I went through before surgery when my femur broke was the most ridiculous thing I've ever gone through. I had Travis [Pastrana] next door to me, with a broken ankle. He came crutching in at one point and said, "Dude, you're a tough bastard. But I can't stand listening to your screams. This is ridiculous." I had a nurse come in to check on me, and they lifted my ankle to squeeze my tib/fib to see if there was any pain in there. My hip wasn't going to bend, so the middle of my femur decided to bend. They bent my leg in half there, and as soon as they set it down, all of my muscles spasmed, contracted and bent my leg the opposite way. One of the nurses in there said it looked like I had two knees -- one in the middle of my thigh and one where my knee actually is. So I had two people grab my shoulders and two grab my ankles and just pull me apart to straighten me out. It sucked.
So you have a rod in your femur?
Yeah, it's a titanium rod. They went in through my hip and put it all the way through the length of my femur, with a screw at the top, so it can't back out.
And was that just one surgery?
Yeah, single. I broke my leg somewhere around 7:30 p.m. and was in surgery between 2-4 a.m. that morning, then stayed in the hospital for three days.
I guess you've seen the GoPro video? [featured above]
I did see it. As soon as I hit, my scream when I'm coming to a stop is a scream of frustration, because I couldn't believe I had just broke my leg. I was pissed. I impacted all at once, flat belly flop on the ramp, and I hit my chin as soon as I hit. So it shocked my head, which gave me a little bit of a fade, and I didn't feel my leg break. I didn't hear it or feel it. But sliding down the ramp, I could feel my leg wiggling, and that's when I got upset that I had just broke my leg. You can tell at the end of the video, when I wave medical over and say that I just broke my leg, I figured that part out real quick.
Did you know it was your femur?
I knew it was my femur right away. When you crash and slide on the MegaRamp, you stiffen up your body so that you slide and don't burn your skin off. I stiffened up to a certain point and I knew things shouldn't be wiggling, but my leg was still hanging loose. You can tell when the wiggles are happening.
Can you describe the pain?
It broke, and I knew it was broke and that it was painful, but my muscles didn't contract or freak out, and I didn't damage my femoral artery. It's the largest bone in your body, surrounded by the most muscle, and it ended up being the most painful bone you can break. I'm not happy to say that I've experienced it. The X Games medical crew, who have been there for a long time and are really good about listening to us when we fall, they knew I was coherent and that I don't wave people over for help very often, so when I waved them over, they came over and asked what was wrong. I told them that my leg was broken, and they moved everything real slow. They got me on the table and catered to the part of my body that they knew was injured. However, once we got to the ER, that all changed. They put me in a straight leg brace to hold my leg outward, and that's when pain really started to set in. On the ramp, it definitely hurt, but it wasn't the most astronomical pain I've been through. But it turned into that when I got to the hospital.
Is that due to adrenaline?
Yeah, I think so. And trying to figure out exactly what was going on.
How long are you off your bike?
The outlook of Dr. Chao, who works with all of us and thinks similar to my mindset, is that the average person is on crutches for six weeks and then back to a fairly normal life at three months. He's expecting me off crutches in four-six weeks, and around two months from now, I should be able to pedal a bike. And at three months, I should be able to ride ramps and make it look like I know what the hell I'm doing.
That's not too bad.
It's not the end of the world. There are other drawbacks to it. The bone itself takes a very long time to heal. The rod stabilizes everything, and the bone should be stable enough to use at about three months. My example is Ronnie Faisst. He broke his femur three months ago and got to ride X Games two weeks ago. So I'm hoping in three months, maybe I'll be able to show up to the last Dew Tour and cruise around a little bit. And from there, we need to allow the bone to knit back together 100 percent. Somewhere between 12-18 months from now, we'll debate whether or not to remove the rod. If I hit it again, and it breaks, the bone will shatter cause it can't actually break. The rod will bend, and how would they be able to get it out? So I'm leaning more towards taking the rod out. I don't want the repercussions of bending a titanium rod in my leg.
Have your thoughts about riding MegaRamp changed at all?
My view on the ramp itself hasn't changed. It's just another reminder of how much respect the ramp itself needs and how we need to realize what we're getting ourselves into. I know better than most what I'm getting into; I've been riding it for years. And if something small goes wrong, that's an occupational hazard. It's my 15th surgery, so I'm not new to this, and it's not going to stop me.
Do you know what happened during that air?
I knew exactly what went wrong just before the peak of my air. When I started pushing the tailwhip, I knew it was wrong timing. I went faster into the quarter than I normally had in practice, and my timing was off. I kicked the bike too early, and going 3 feet higher than usual, the bike didn't want to go around. So I let go, and when I looked down, I realized that I had pulled out just a hair too much and knew I was going to land low. I might have been able to save it had I kicked the tailwhip at the right time, but I would've landed rough. That's when you realize, at 18 feet in the air, ooops.
So what's next?
I never stop; it's always busy. I get my staples out on Thursday -- I have 11 staples in my hip. Friday, I fly home. And next weekend, I'm going to Milwaukee for the Harley-Davidson Museum. It's a Bikes Over Baghdad U.S. tour start, and I just picked up a sponsorship from Harley, so even though I can't ride, my bike will be on display at the museum and they're having me out there to sign autographs. I'll crutch out to Milwaukee next weekend, and then I'm going to spend some time in therapy to get myself strong again, get back into riding and focus on landing smooth, 'cause that last landing sucked.