For Joey Evans, the Dakar isn’t just a question of passion, it’s first and foremost a story of determination. The incredible South African beat all the odds after a terrible accident and went from a paraplegic to racing the actual Dakar.
After first starting to ride bikes when he was 26 years of age, switching from motocross to freestyle riding, and then to enduro and offroad races, he started considering doing the Dakar.
Then came the 13th of October 2007 putting a major halt to his Dakar dream. Riding the Heidelburg Hare Scramble, the South African suffered a major crash. Other than 12 broken teeth which would be a detail, he could no longer feel his legs.
“I woke up facing the sky with paramedics and spectators standing around me. Later I was told that going into the first corner about 100m after the start another rider crashed into my swing arm and I was catapulted off the bike, landed on my head and ridden over by other riders.”
“I joked by asking everyone if I had won?.”
“My legs just dropped to the floor like two pieces of dead meat. I whispered to the paramedic, not wanting my wife to hear who was near me, that I could not feel my legs. She heard and suddenly we all realized that this was serious”
The passionate rider had broken his T8 and T9 vertebrae and crushed his spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed from below the chest down.
“I was told by the two previous hospital specialists that I would never walk again in light of my spinal cord injury that appeared to be “complete”. A few days later after many X-rays and CAT scans the doctor recommended that we fuse my T8 and T9 vertebrae to stabilize my back and attempt to relieve pressure off my spinal cord. This was a big decision to make as other doctors had recommended that we leave the area to ensure no further damage.”
“He said if the operation was successful I had at best a 10% chance I would walk again and if I did I would walk badly with serious difficulty.”
Many would have given up and focused on living life in a wheel chair. Not Joey Evans. Not only would he manage to get back on his feet and walk, he would also keep his Dakar dream well alive.
“After the operation, lying in that hospital bed I decided that this was not going to beat me, that I would work as hard as I possibly could to walk again. I had so much support from my wife, my family and friends. Everyone pushing me to keep going and always full of encouragement.”
“Then over the next few days the flicker in my toe came back, followed by some slight weak movement in my left ankle in the following weeks. Later I also started to feel something slight in my quads.”
“After six weeks in hospital I came home in my own wheelchair to find ramps put up in my house to help me get around. There was a realization that life was going to be very different from now on.”
Two years after his accident, Evans was back on a bike. Wobbly at first, of course, but deterimned! What had been a dream slowly became reality as the years went by and he prooved he could compete.
“I was determined to try get back on a bike, the first time I tried to throw my leg over I could not support my weight and the bike on one leg and ended up falling over with the bike on top of me.”
“After a couple of practice runs and me getting used to riding again, some of my friends organized a day where we would head out on a small ride all together.”
“Words could never describe the feeling of being back on the bike again. Alone in my helmet I felt my eyes well up knowing that this was truly a miracle to have come what seemed full circle and be back on the bike again”
Ten years after his terrible accident; Joey Evans found himself on the start line of the Dakar on his KTM and that in itself is more than a victory. The next chapter could be even greater.
“So here I am in 2017. Physically I can now walk quite well and sometimes people don’t even notice I have a problem. My legs still don’t work properly, they are a lot weaker and slower that before and spasm a lot when I’m tired or when my adrenalin is going.”
“I can’t run properly or jump but I can do a bit of a dodgy looking jog. I can feel touch but still can’t feel any hot, cold or pain sensation from below my chest. I still take medication to help digestion and need to self catheter several times daily. Some thing that is a challenge in race conditions.”
“But I can ride a bike ok, and am competing in my life long dream…. Dakar!”
The Dakar is an atypical event and exceptional human adventure that deeply transforms each participant. It is an invitation to live intensely and responds to a quest of extreme sensations.
The Dakar adventure began back in 1977, when Thierry Sabine got lost on his motorbike in the Libyan desert during the Abidjan-Nice Rally. Saved from the sands in extremis, he returned to France still in thrall to this landscape and promising himself he would share his fascination with as many people as possible.
He proceeded to come up with a route starting in Europe, continuing to Algiers and crossing Agadez before eventually finishing at Dakar.
The founder coined a motto for his inspiration: “A challenge for those who go. A dream for those who stay behind.”
Courtesy of his great conviction and that modicum of madness peculiar to all great ideas, the plan quickly became a reality. Since then, the Paris-Dakar, a unique event sparked by the spirit of adventure, open to all riders and carrying a message of friendship between all men, has never failed to challenge, surprise and excite.
Over the course of almost thirty years, it has generated innumerable sporting and human stories.
Evans is currently competing against 167 other riders in the 2017 leg of the race… and we look forward to celebrating his life-long accomplishment at the finish line.
**15 Jan 2017 update: Joey Evans Stage 11 | Evans had one of his toughest stages during the 11th stage. The incredible rider is the only South African still in the race and only has one more stage to go.
He is currently ranked at number 92 overall.
With his incredible determination and “never-say-die” attitude, he has only one thing in sight… the finish line.