The 2013 Supercross season concludes Saturday night in Las Vegas, but one rider's story amazingly continues to unfold. Josh Hill, a veteran of five hard-luck 450SX seasons, doggedly keeps coming back despite numerous setbacks and continues to show signs he can race with the top contenders.
Let's go back to 2008, when Hill certified himself as a serious contender in the 450 Supercross class. The big bike rookie took his first premier class win in Minneapolis -- a class he wasn't even supposed to be in.
The win in Minneapolis came after Hill struggled to really find his way on the smaller 250cc bike as a pro. After a couple of years in the 250 class without the results the he or his team expected, Hill decided to take a gamble on himself. While factory Yamaha was committed to him and his 250 class efforts, Hill knew that with his style of riding, he belonged on a big bike.
With Yamaha so insistent on him riding the smaller of the two bikes, Hill went out and used his own money to buy a 450. After breaking in the stock motorcycle, Hill loaded it up and brought it out to the Yamaha test track while the team was out testing for the upcoming season.
After turning a few laps, the team took notice of his obvious knack for the bigger bike and the then-19-year-old found himself on the line with the best riders in the world riding the premier class for the 2008 season. Hill went on to back up that Minneapolis victory with a number of strong rides throughout the next two seasons that even had him in a points battle for the 2010 Supercross title before a rib injury ended Hill's shot at the championship.
Despite going out with injury, Hill was all smiles going into the summer. With a Supercross-only contract with San Manuel Yamaha Racing, Hill decided to partake in the Speed & Style event at that year's X Games in Los Angeles. Hill knew he had the speed, but a few tricks wouldn't hurt to have in his back pocket. While most racers would probably just learn a few upright tricks. Hill decided to call up friend and professional freestyle motocross rider Nate Adams to help him learn the backflip.
Hill thought the backflip was the key to him winning the event. While training with Adams, the rotation seemed to come easy every time he pulled back. After flipping perfectly into the foam pit multiple times, Hill took the trick to dirt and successfully landed his first 75-foot flip.
Proving the trick's uncertainty, it all went wrong on his second attempt to dirt. Hill was forced to eject from his bike while upside down, something he now regrets.
"I knew something was wrong as soon as I took off," said Hill, 23. "It sounds dumb, but I don't really know what happened to me, why I shut off and I why I didn't keep pulling the rotation around, because I probably could have made it work had I been smart about it. I kind of panicked and jumped off my bike. That was the end of it."
Although Hill landed on his feet, the impact of the landing left him with a broken right leg [femur], broken right arm [humerus], a fractured pelvis and a partially collapsed lung.
As if that weren't enough, Hill's bad luck was topped off with the diagnosis of compartment syndrome in the opposite leg. The injury almost ended Hill's career, as the complication resulted in Hill's leg not receiving a sufficient amount of blood to supply the muscles and nerves with oxygen and nutrients because of the raised pressure in his leg, which led to paralysis from the knee down.
But Hill was never willing to give up. The next couple of years were full of surgeries and rehab trying to get full feeling back in his left leg and the strength back to the rest of his body. While it was a long road, all that hard work seemed to finally be coming together in 2012 with the backing of the Dodge/Sycuan RCH Racing Team as Hill returned to Anaheim 1 and the Supercross series.
Unfortunately, a first-turn crash in his heat race resulted in more broken bones and time off the bike. It was another long road of rehab for Hill, who had been down so many times before. After getting healthy and looking for another comeback in Houston, Hill had a freak accident at the test track that left him with a broken elbow. With Hill out again and his contract a Supercross-only deal, most of the industry thought they would never see him on a dirt bike as a professional ever again.
Luckily for Hill, he had the support of a team that had his back and his best interests in mind. Carey Hart, Kenny Watson and the rest of the Dodge/Sycuan RCH Racing Team came together to support him while he got his feet wet in last summer's outdoor nationals. Hill never set the track on fire, but he did finish the season and score some points.
With no contract for 2013 and not having really been able to race for the better part of two years, it looked like the rider from Yoncalla, Ore., might have come to the end of his comeback story.
"I love dirt bikes, man! It's so tough for me to sit at my house and watch all these guys race that I grew up racing with -- and seeing them at the pinnacle of the sport," Hill told MotoXaddicts.com. "I've never really been that driven of a racer. If I had a good weekend or a bad weekend, I still went home a happy kid, but these days it really eats at me. To see all these guys doing what I really wanted to do with my life but didn't work hard enough at eats at me. I really just want to get up there, put in the work to get back up in that spot. I know it's not going to come easy, and I may struggle for a couple of years, but I'm going to do everything I can to get back up to where I was before. I want to be better than I was before."
To no one's surprise, Hill kept pushing and vowed to make a run at the final spot on the RCH roster. For Hill, this might have been his last shot again, and once again, the Dodge/Sycuan RCH Racing Team saw Hill's potential and stood behind him.
"I wish more people at the races had the heart that he has, honestly," Hart said about Hill. "I think it's going to be a pretty great story when this thing comes full circle. From the path that he started out with, being that young kid with a lot of money thrown at him and there were two or three other guys that could beat him, for him to be where he was, have that injury then rebuild, that's why I supported him."
The 2013 season began with the same old story of bad luck. A hand injury held Hill back through the first five rounds. Part one of the comeback story began in San Diego as Hill qualified for the main event in San Diego, his first since 2010. From there Hill rode strong into the midseason break, qualifying for every main but one in St. Louis.
When the series picked back up in Houston, Hill showed up with a renewed confidence. It looked like someone had shot him out of a cannon -- he was putting up fast laps and throwing that classic Hill style into everything he did. The new-old Josh Hill who showed up in Houston rode strong all night and secured an eighth-place finish among the top Supercross riders in the world.
But the real ending/beginning to this comeback story started in Minneapolis, the place where Hill had won his first and only Supercross race to date. Hill looked good from the very first lap of untimed practice and showed he had a big night ahead of him.
During his heat race, Hill dived to the inside of Chad Reed and Mike Alessi, who were battling for the top spot, and never looked back. Although Reed made up a little bit of time, the former champion could not reel in the Dodge/Sycuan RCH rider as Hill won the heat.
Five years ago, Josh Hill won his first 450 main event in Minneapolis. Shortly after he went to hell and back. Today, Josh Hill is back with a 450 heat race win to his credit and a handful of Top 10 results, including a season-best seventh place last weekend at Salt Lake City. After the Minneapolis race Hill was all smiles but acknowledged more work is yet to be done.
"I'm getting closer to where I want to be, happy about the stepping stone the last few weeks. I still have years of work to do to get to where I want to be. A few good weekends, for sure," Hill said. "I'm going in the right direction. I've worked so hard to get to this point, and it would be stupid to give up now. I'm just going to keep working as hard as I can and keep challenging the best riders in the world."
Josh Hill might not ever win another main event and he might never be a part of championship points battle again. But Hill's still-unfolding story is a great example of determination and resilience.