Return of the King (of carnage)
Brian Deegan is breakable. And Brian Deegan is unbreakable.You know this already, even if you don’t remember him. Deegan, 29, is the reigning X Games king of carnage.Think back – he’s the smash hit from the 2004 ESPN Winter X Games at Buttermilk, that Moto X dude who tried an off-axis backflip, or “360,” over the 90-foot jump. He had to bail. He wasn’t going to make it. Then he hit the ground, an anvil strike on hardpack snow, and medics swarmed.It was replayed endlessly on ESPN and affiliates. They said he broke a femur and both wrists. But he was OK.The fallen star was the star.A year later, the Nebraska native is alive and well, and backflipping-out. Brusque and plain-spoken, Deegan spoke with the Times from Temecula, Calif., the headquarters of the Metal Mulisha, on Jan. 19. Among other things, he’s predicting a victory instead of a hospital stay in Winter X Nine, Jan. 28-Feb. 1, at Buttermilk.Reader discretion is advised.
Take us through your 2004 Winter X Games. Basically, I was coming off a win in Summer X. I won the big air, got third in freestyle, pulled the first 360 ever. And then I just carried the momentum into Winter X. It was, like, you know what, I’m gonna show up and pretty much smoke everyone, pull a 360 and win again. And I showed up and the lips were built all wrong on the jumps. The lips were like 16 feet high and we’re used to hitting ’em at nine. And it was just kind of too late to change anything, and the pressure was on and everyone kind of just expected me to do a 360.You were the first guy to pull a 360? Yes.How many times had you done it? Oh man, only at X Games. It’s one of those tricks you don’t really practice, you just do in your foam pit a bunch. It’s one of those tricks I did in my foam pit about 100 times, and [when] you go to the dirt, it’s a whole different ballgame.
So how is it different on snow? There are a lot of things that people don’t know: Your bike is a lot slower up there because of altitude. And you’re running on ice and spikes and the tires are real heavy with the spikes, which makes it hard to rotate. And then the weather’s so damn cold it makes it hard to be flexible and everything’s real brittle. It’s just gnarly. And then they want to have the event at night this year, which to me just totally isn’t that safe, doesn’t make sense for me – because now it’s going to be really, really cold.What about the visibility? As long as they light it really good it should be all right. But to tell you the truth, when it’s white like that, you can’t really see the lip, or you can’t really see the ruts, the bumps, nothing.OK, do you remember the day of the accident? I think it was Jan. 24. I did it in the prelims, that’s when I got hurt. I just wanted to stick it. And the thing is, I did it over a 45-foot jump at Summer X, and then I was hitting it over a 75 in my foam pit, which seemed pretty easy. And then I showed up [in Aspen]. They had a 45, a 75 and a 90, and all the lips were just way too tall. The 75 was so kicked up, so steep, that you couldn’t even jump it straight. The 90 was the only one really jumpable. So I figured, shit, I’ll just try it over the 90. And I shouldn’t have because it was just way too mellow of a lip. And it was way too tall. It didn’t give me enough pop.Do you remember when you hit the jump, when you knew you were in trouble? Bottom line, I knew before I hit it that it was a really risky move. And I just thought, well, I’ll at least get it around and if I don’t totally make it, I’ll just slide out of it. Which didn’t work because I didn’t even get a good enough rotation ’cause I was carrying too much speed off the lip. I just knew it was all wrong about halfway through, when my bike was going to come on top of me and I was going to land going backwards. My natural reaction was just to get to my hands and feet, so I jumped off. And then I pretty much missed the landing – landed out on flats – from about four stories up, higher than the ski lift.
So you spent some time at Aspen Valley Hospital. How long were you there? About a week.It was a broken femur and two broken wrists? Yeah, and I lost two pints of blood [from internal bleeding]. It was gnarlier than most people think. I almost died. And I didn’t just break my femur, I shattered it, down the middle into four pieces where they’re lucky to even put it back together so I could walk. Still to this day I have the plate in my leg with seven screws, a bolt in my hip, and I had like four or five screws in each wrist. And I had to have blood transfusions. I mean, it wasn’t a mellow crash at all.Were you conscious for the whole experience, the crash, the hospital? Totally. I never hit my head. I landed and just was like in extreme pain. I told the medics, “I broke my leg and both wrists. Get me an ambulance as fast as you can and get me morphine right now.” And that was it. I was pretty much screaming. I was just lucky that the Aspen hospital had such good doctors. They’re the best hospital I’ve ever been to.This wasn’t your first hospital visit? No. I’ve broken over 20 bones. But this was the gnarliest.And about six months later you did your first flip again. Actually, three months later I was riding. The tour was in April and I was in Australia doing backflips in April.
How was the rehab process? It was tough. Luckily I had my family behind me. And it was tough for everyone. I had to sit home and watch TV and I went to therapy nonstop, which was hard. I had to give myself shots at home to thin my blood and make sure I didn’t get blood clots and have a heart attack.How does your doctor feel about you getting back on a bike three months later, much less hitting large kickers? Aww, my doctor’s supercool. He rides dirt bikes. So he knew I was going to do it, no matter what. He pulled the pins and screws out of my wrist while I sat there in the doctor’s office; I just watched him do it. He just took a scalpel, cut my wrist open and unscrewed my wrist.Are things back to normal now? I’d say I’m pretty much 100 percent. I still have a limp and I still have a lot of pain in my leg. But if I’m not riding, I’m pretty much not happy, so, you know, my main goal is just to be riding. And I’m back doing 360s, doing backflips, trying new tricks. This is just another stepping stone in my career. It tested me, it was a big challenge to come back. I just didn’t want to be one of those guys where the injury took me out and I never came back.Tell us about the Metal Mulisha. Bascially, the Metal Mulisha is a group of guys; we’re kind of the outgoing crew in action sports, and we just put a name on our crew. I’d say we’re the most hard-core crew in action sports, and we just started making T-shirts and hats for ourselves, and the next thing you know the public wanted it. So we formed a clothing company and the thing is now a multimillion-dollar company, and it’s a huge supporter of freestyle motocross. You know, we’re always innovating new things, and I use that money to sponsor all the guys who couldn’t get sponsors or who had the attitude like I did, which is say anything I wanted to say and just didn’t follow the rules. And now those are the guys we sponsor now.
Hang on – there are only 10 competitors in Moto X, and five of them are Metal Mulisha? Yep. We’re the guys who have been in the game since day one and we’ve stuck around. We’re the ones who innovate all the new tricks, innovate all the new ramps. I’d say we started this sport and we’re pretty much the backbone of it, whether people like to hear it or not. We’ll have a big-time Metal Mulisha following [in Aspen], not to mention the thousands upon thousands of fans that we have.Who are the other four guys in the Mulisha that are competing in the X Games? Jeff Kargola, Jeremy Stenberg, Big Ronnie Faisst and Dayne Kinnaird.And all of you live in Temecula? Yeah. Everyone lives right here. This is where I have the Metal Mulisha compound in my back yard. Best jump park in the world and kinda where we all practice, where we all learn new tricks. It’s all right here.So can riders just go there and ride? Absolutely not. You gotta be in the Mulisha to even get in the gates here. It’s known. If you’re a freestyle rider, you know. You pretty much don’t even ask to come here because it’s Mulisha guys only.
There are only 10 riders invited to X Games. How does that make it different from other events? It’s more of an invite-only. They invite the 10 guys who are going to, you know, lay it on the line more than anyone else. And that’s what it’s all about. And big air is my favorite because it’s how the sport was started – biggest tricks and trying to one-up each other. It’s seeing who’s got the biggest balls for the day. Basically the X games is the two events of the year that my sponsors care about: Summer and Winter X. So when I ride those events, I better be ready to win ’em. And that’s the attitude of all the riders.Who are your sponsors? Jesse James builds my bikes – West Coast Choppers. I have a good relationship with Jesse James. Cool guy. He likes the Mulisha. It’s his style. And then No Fear. Sobe energy drink. Etnies. Von Zipper.You’re old enough to remember the ABC Wide World of Sports agony of defeat, that image of the ski jumper in a cartwheeling crash. How do you feel about being that guy? I’ve always wanted to be known for being the best rider; I never wanted to be known for being the guy who crashes. But the way I look at it, I was going for a gnarly trick that was pretty much gonna take the sport to another level. And, hey, that’s the price we pay in my sport.Do you know what the medical bills were from last year? It came to about 100 grand, but I had health insurance. I’m smart enough to know that what I do for a living is really dangerous, so I have good medical.
How did you find your way to motorcycles? I’ve ridden since I was 10 years old and it’s just been my dream. At first it was to be a top racer, and that’s what brought me to California – I got a deal with a race team. Came out to California and ended up winning the L.A. supercross in ’97. And at the finish, I ghost-rode my bike and pretty much just went against all the establishment, and told everyone, there I am – that’s me. Then I moved in with [Mike] Metzger and we had such outgoing personalities that we’re, like, let’s start freestyle motocross and mold it to our personalities. And that’s kind of how [the Metal Mulisha] all started.”Metzger’s been to X Games before, but he’s not on the list this year. I’m not sure if he’s coming. He just came off a gnarly crash in Europe. He backflipped and crashed and ripped, ah, his, one of his balls off.Seriously? Yeah. People don’t know how gnarly our sport is. They just see us land stuff and it looks easy, but it’s not. I think he’s riding again. But I don’t know if he’s coming to Winter X or not.OK, the backflip’s been pioneered and it’s essentially the platform for the next things. What’s next, and what do you expect to see in Aspen? The sport just keeps going. It surprises me every day. And with the evolution of the foam pit, it’s just starting. As you can see, all the aerial moves are the new deal, with, like, the body variables, the 360s, the barrel rolls. It’s just going to get gnarlier and gnarlier. And to tell you the truth, who knows what’s going to happen at Winter X, who knows who’s got something up their sleeve. It’s like a strategy. You don’t let anyone know till you get there, so no one can copy your trick.I’m looking forward to seeing what’s in your bag of tricks. For sure. It’s on. I plan on winning.
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