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Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Updated: November 17, 11:20 AM ET
Greg Hartman: End of the Road

By Ryan Leyba
ESPN.com

Back in late April, American professional FMX rider Greg Hartman suffered a crash so bad it single-handedly ended his career. Hartman, an X Games gold medalist, was practicing for a ramp-to-ramp exhibition at the 2011 Asian X Games in Shanghai, China when tragedy struck. On a bike not familiar to him, he misjudged his speed, over-jumped the landing ramp and came crashing down on the pavement below. After being rushed to the hospital, Hartman remained in a medically-induced coma so the swelling in his brain could be closely monitored.

Now, over six months later, Hartman has yet to remount his dirt bike. His days consist of re-learning the things we take for granted: walking, talking, eating, and even smiling. We caught up with Hartman to check up on his progress and find out what the future holds for the guy who is officially announcing his retirement in this very interview.

ESPN: Can you take us back to that day in China? You were there for X Games Asia right?
Greg Hartman: Yeah and looking forward to it, too. A trip to Asia with Drake McElroy? I was psyched! But no, I can't take you back to that day, because I don't remember it at all. Hate to say that, but it's true.

I knew that in this sport I'd break arms, legs, and ribs, but I never thought that more than six months would go by and I still couldn't say my name the way I wanted.

After the crash, what happened?
I was in a coma with a punctured lung, broken ribs, compound break of my femur, nerve damage to my whole right side, and my third traumatic brain injury. A traumatic brain injury is just like a bad concussion, but I've had three now where my brain has bled and that's really a bad thing. Normally in a concussion the brain bruises, but if you hit really hard that bruise can bleed. The doctors told me to stop riding after the first one!

So you don't know anything about your crash, or what went wrong?
No. But I can tell you what Drake said. He said that the ramp was pretty poppy and it sort of kicked me nose down and I was going long. I guess I didn't like it so I jumped off. The way I bailed off, my body went over 100 feet to flat. It's not cool, but I don't remember that day at all. It's the first crash I've ever had where the whole day was a blackout.

Hartman had a huge bag of tricks, but he quickly became known for his no-footed can can back flip. To this day, nobody can throw the trick down as big as Hartman.

When you did start to come-to and realize that you had crashed and were in a Chinese hospital, did it freak you out?
I wish I could tell you about that, but I was there a long time and don't remember it at all. Sadly, the doctors had a party for me the last day and I have little memories of that, but it's so hazy it almost doesn't count! My wife has shown me pictures, though, and they have jogged some random memories.

How long has it been since the crash and what have you been doing to stay busy?
It's been over six months now and therapy, therapy, therapy. I've been hurt a good bit in my past and never took therapy seriously. For example, for a broken shoulder or elbow, it takes about a month and you're pretty good to go. I've wanted to be an X Games gold medalist my entire life and now I just want to be a normal guy again. I see people all the time and think, "Man, would I trade any success I had in FMX, just to have their health."

That's a scary thought. What are some of the lingering affects that have come along with that last head injury incurred in China?
Talking is extremely tough now! Man, I knew that in this sport I'd break arms, legs, and ribs, but I never thought that more than six months would go by and I still couldn't say my name the way I wanted. Between the nerve stuff and brain damage, the side of my mouth just won't lift.

For example, when I smile only one-side smiles -- seriously. I never thought when I signed up for this sport I'd have to relearn how to swallow. The nerve stuff doesn't just affect my mouth, but also my tongue, throat, and neck. I choke on every meal I try to eat and my right arm's pretty much paralyzed.

This photo of Greg Hartman was taken just over a week before his crash in China. Shot during an afternoon ride session in Orange County, Calif., it would be one of the last times Hartman threw down his huge tricks on American soil.

The more head trauma that a person acquires the more likely it is to happen again, right?
Yeah, for sure. For example, if you get knocked out once, you'll get knocked silly more easily the next time. And if you've been knocked out 15 times like me, you'll get knocked out when a fly lands on your head too hard.

With that being said, what have the doctors said in regards to you being able to ride again?
I honestly haven't even asked any of them. Pretty much all the doctors I've been working with know this is it for me. I guess I can make this my official retirement speech. More healing may occur, but there's no guarantee that my leg and arm will ever work again. Apparently I damaged the part of the brain that sends signals to that stuff to work and I may never get that back, so riding would just be too tough.

Hartman's only goal aboard his dirt bike was to win an X Games gold medal, which he did in 2007 at X Games Dubai.

You know, even if I thought it would be fine to put my head through all that again, my right arm is for the most part paralyzed and the brain damage even affects the healing of my right leg. It was fractured pretty badly, and I'm fine with it taking a while to heal, but my foot still flops every step I try to take.

It's honestly pretty discouraging. I wish I could give you a more positive update on a Greg Hartman who's doing awesome, but that's not really the case. I mean, I'm not depressed or anything, but healing from this has been a challenge. I've never poured so much of myself into anything.

What does the non-riding future hold for Greg Hartman?
Well, although I won't be competing, I want to stay involved in the sport for sure. It just kind of gets in your blood and stays there. I actually already have some real cool opportunities on the horizon, so I'm going to stay positive and focus on being that best at whatever I do, even if it doesn't include throwing tricks off 80-foot kickers.