Life & Work

Paraplegic MotoGp star Rainey back to riding 30 years after crash


Some of my readers may know that I am partial to riding motorcycles. For the record, I have been riding for the last 54 years and I am still going strong. However, my story today is not so much about motorcycles but more about the choices that we make in our lives, particularly after a life-threatening experience.

I have been a keen enthusiast of MotoGp in its various alliterations since the mid-1960s and one of my favourite riders was Californian Wayne Rainey who won three consecutive 500cc class world championships with Yamaha between 1990 and 1992.

Rainey was involved in a hard-fought battle with compatriot Kevin Schwantz while seeking his fourth-consecutive title in 1993. He was leading the championship by a margin of 11 points over Schwantz and leading the race when he suffered a career-ending crash at the Italian Grand Prix in Misano.

He slid into the gravel trap at high speed, breaking his spine against the raked surface designed for car racing. The injury handed the win and eventually the title to his great rival Schwantz. Rainey’s injuries rendered him permanently paralysed from the chest down.

Rainey turned to quadriplegic Williams team owner Frank Williams for advice, and he decided to adopt a positive attitude towards his condition, later becoming the team manager for Marlboro Yamaha for a few years.

After the 1995 season, Schwantz retired from the Grand Prix circuit, partly due to nagging injuries and partly because losing his one great rival that had fired his competitive spirit made him view his own mortality much more clearly.

Despite his disability, Rainey refused to give up racing and raced a hand-controlled Superkart in the World Superkart series based in Northern California.

Rainey lived in Monterey, California in a house that is not far away from WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. The nearby circuit named a corner in his honour, Rainey Curve, which is a medium-speed, acute left-hander that follows the famous Corkscrew.

Rainey was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999. The Federation International Motorcyclisme (FIM) named him a Grand Prix “Legend” in 2000. He was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2007.

From 2014 the American Motorcycle Association (AMA) transferred the commercial rights to AMA-sanctioned road racing to Wayne Rainey and his partners.

The Goodwood Festival of Speed held in the UK every year might be the best place to see rare vintage racing machinery and the stars of yesteryear at the controls of the vehicles in which they earned their fame. The event which is being held this week saw Wayne Rainey riding his Championship-winning Yamaha YZR500 from the 1992 season.

The Yamaha YZR500 is largely as it appeared in 1992 but with a few modifications to accommodate Rainey. The gear shifter and rear brake controls moved up to the handlebars. A bodywork extension was also added to the back of the fuel tank to give his upper body extra support. Wayne was followed up the Goodwood hill by fellow champions Kenny Roberts, Kevin Schwantz, and Mick Doohan.

It is easy to be transported back in time to see a 1990s two-stroke Grand Prix motorcycle. The distinctive buzz of the engine, the streamlined fairings and the simple yet vibrant livery are all reminiscent of that era.

More than anything else, the sight of Wayne Rainey being back on the bike shifts the mood from being nostalgic to heart-warming. While Rainey never vanished from the racing community after his life-altering crash, seeing him back in racing leathers riding along his contemporaries is something very special.

For me it is about the choices we make in life when confronted with adversity. You can either go down the easy route and give up, becoming negative, indulging in self-pity or take the bull by the horns and say, “I am going to beat this thing and make the very best of my life.”

It takes courage and determination to take the more difficult route, discipline, strength of character and a fighting spirit because you are sure to face many more challenges on your journey to the top.

Wayne Rainey is a great inspiration to me as I have experienced a similar journey after my motorcycle accident in 2013.

Although I lost the use of my left arm following the accident I refused to give up. That decision opened up a whole new world for me and that is how I discovered my passion for writing. Through my writing I have been able to reach many people and to touch them in a special way.

I discovered purpose in life and the last seven years have been the best years of my life. I still ride motorcycles.

Do not allow adversity to bring you down. Let adversity make you stronger.