Waiting for Superman
Two-and-a-half years after a tragic crash, Blair Morgan remains a snocross legend
Blair Morgan was in Montreal, 1,900 miles from home where his family and most of his friends lived but he still wanted to be alone. In Winnipeg, Morgan's team manager, Jamie Anseeuw, received the shocking news over the phone. On the previous night, Anseeuw celebrated a milestone -- his 50th birthday. On the morning of Sept. 21, 2008 he grieved; Blair Morgan was paralyzed. His legendary motocross and snocross careers were over. Anseeuw wanted immediately to fly to Montreal to be at his friend's side; Morgan was there for him in 1999 during his own early days of paralysis. But he respected Blair's decision to have time alone. He was always a quiet family man away from racing; this injury would only strengthen that.
Almost two and a half years after severing his spinal cord at the Montreal Supercross, Morgan, a seven-time Canadian national motocross champion and the most decorated rider ever in the sport of snocross, has still not integrated himself back into the racing scenes he once dominated; the Winter X Games, the national snocross series and Canadian motocross. In the months following his return home to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, he wasn't even interested in networking with people he knew who had a similar situation. "I didn't really want to hang out with other people in wheelchairs or other people with injuries," Morgan said. "When I first got hurt I just wanted to be left alone. It was hard enough for me to deal with the situation at the time on top of explaining it to every single person that walks in the door. I just wanted to move on."
It's not like I need to go win another race or championship. I've done all that.
His injury was severe, high on his spinal column and he knew there wasn't much hope of healing yet he said he still felt like he was dreaming and that maybe things will get better.
"How could this have happened?" he thought. He never took big risks. It was such a simple crash; it seemed like he just fell off the side of the bike and he'd wrecked so much bigger on separate occasions. Before the wreck he'd even considered that the Montreal SX might be his last professional motorcycle race. Now, he was in a hospital bed and he badly wanted out.
He was transferred from Montreal to Saskatoon where he applied everything he'd learned from racing sleds and bikes to his rehabilitation: fast, aggressive and with a purpose. Morgan challenged his therapists and completed the rehab program in seven weeks. Average time for patients with a similar injury is three to four months. "I just hated being there and not with my family. Plus the food really sucks, so that's another reason."
Twenty-eight months after the crash, Morgan's fans and colleagues are eager to see his face again. Tucker Hibbert, who will break Morgan's record if he wins his sixth SnoCross gold medal at Winter X 15, said Morgan's skill and speed did nothing but frustrate him when they raced together but the challenge made him a better rider. They occasionally send each other text messages but that's it. "He's been low key and I respect that," Hibbert said. "I'm hoping in the future he'll come out to some events and start to be around a little bit because I know there's some people that want to know how he's doing and would like to see him again."
Morgan has attended a handful of races, but he has not returned to the Winter X Games where he has eight SnoCross medals (five gold) in 11 starts. He said it's difficult to be at the races and not be involved. In 2010, a new event was added to the snowmobiling lineup: Adaptive SnoCross. Mike Schultz, who rides with a prosthetic leg he built himself, won the inaugural race but it was para-athlete Doug Henry who finished an impressive third. Henry's performance gave fans hope that they might see their hero, Blair "Superman" Morgan make a return as a para-athlete as well, a thought by which he is flattered. He still frequently rides his sled and has a hand-controlled ATV he enjoys but, while he hasn't ruled it out, racing is not currently a goal.
"I have a big checklist and I've pretty much checked off everything and even more," he said. "It's not like I need to go win another race or championship. I've done all that."
Morgan's spinal column is fused from his T-2 to T-8 vertebra. The whole middle of his back is straight as a board. A surgery to remove rods from his back could come this spring. While he won't receive any more movement, the operation will help him feel better and bend over easier.
"I hung out with [Jamie Anseeuw] for 10 years and you kind of think you understand a little bit about spinal cord injuries, but you have no idea," Morgan admits.
Anseeuw said Morgan knew a lot just because they'd spent so much time together but it's not applied knowledge. "You're still not in the chair," Anseeuw said. "He can see where I'm having difficulty but he doesn't know to what degree it is. You learn that on your own and there's no other way to do it than to do it yourself."
Anseeuw has seen his friend only once since the accident. One year ago he made a trip to Prince Albert to visit. He took his spare chair and they practiced transitions and spent hours talking. After having weekends together for 10 years, Anseeuw said it's difficult not having more time together; family, Morgan's adjustment period and the 514 miles between their homes keep them from more face time. "He's been a big influence on my life," Anseeuw said. "My life got better everyday since I met that man. If I didn't see him ever again for the rest of my life he'd still be my best friend." This autumn, Anseeuw is getting married and Morgan has been asked to be the best man.
Although Morgan was forced to give up his racing career, the role he lives now is one he always wanted -- family man. After taking checkered flags it was always his family he raced back to; he lives less than a mile from the farm where he grew up and has all the time he needs to help his kids with their passions. His daughter Breck, 7, is a gymnast and his son Colby, 10, plays soccer. Morgan also coaches his brother's men's league soccer team.
Adaptive SnoCross isn't the only X Games event that Morgan could compete in if he was so inclined -- there's also Adaptive Moto X at the Summer X Games. But, for now, he seems content with his current situtation. "I think that if I start riding my bike again I'll want to do it all the time," he said. "I'm just taking a bit of a break from it all."
He may have retreated from the more public life he once led, but Morgan remains a Canadian icon. Two months ago, he was inducted into the Canadian Motorcycle Hall Of Fame. During the torch relay for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, he held the flame high and lit the cauldron for Prince Albert while onlookers cheered. After his injury, Morgan needed to be alone. Today, quietly committed to his farm and family, he's nevertheless surrounded by a nation of fans and admirers who he continues to inspire.
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