Friday Jul 01, 2016

The incredible story of Bruce Cook's Paraplegic Backflip

Nitro Circus is famous for always pushing the boundaries of what is possible in action sports. On a weekly, sometimes nightly, basis they actually break them down completely by landing never-before-seen, world first tricks in the backyard at Travis Pastrana's house, or at one of their massive Nitro Circus Live shows.

But amoungst all the record-breaking moments one boundary-busting trick stands out ahead of the rest: Bruce Cook's inspirational Paraplegic Backflip.

When Cook crashed attempting acdouble frontflip and damaged his spinal cord, leaving him paralysed, it would have been a remarkable sight to even witness him back riding his bike. A year later, he was getting inverted in front of a live Nitro audience once again.

One of the many people who helped him achieve the incredible feet was Nitro Circus CEO Mike Porra, who understandalby wasn't convinced the trick was a good idea at first. Here's how they made the impossible a reality!

There’s only a handful of guys who can back flip, let alone do it without the use of their legs.

Q. Mike, do you mind telling us what happened to Bruce?

Mike Porra: "He went down in Hamilton, near Toronto, in 2014 when he was doing a double frontflip on a motorcycle. He didn’t quite get the bike around and had a hard crash that broke a veterbrae and damaged his spinal cord. It was sad, really sad. But the shining light is that he came to me a couple of months ago because he’d managed to get on his bike. You know, this is a guy who’s in a wheelchair but he can ride his bike now because it’s been specially adapted. He asked me if he could go on the road and backflip his bike. I went and saw him and he did it 20 times perfectly. Then we went on the US tour but I couldn’t let him do it. When the time came, I said no. It broke my heart. I couldn’t have lived with myself if anything else had gone wrong. I couldn’t put him on."

Q. So, what happened then?

"Bruce came to me and said if I didn’t let him do it he would have nothing to live for. He said: ‘If you don’t let me do it I’m just a guy in the wheelchair sitting around my house and I may as well kill myself’. So I gave in. And he did it and it was the most incredible thing. Three months on, he’s got a huge following. He does his jump at halftime and has all the kids jumping out of the stands. Bruce has become a phenomena. He gets more requests for interviews than Travis.

Q. Wow, that’s a really inspirational story. What was it like to be a part of?

"It’s so tear jerking and inspirational. People see him strap himself into his bike. They know that if he crashes he goes down with the bike. And because he can’t move the bottom half of his body, it’s incredibly dangerous. There’s only a handful of guys who can back flip, let alone do it without the use of their legs. Bruce has to generate all of the movement using controls with his fingers, rather than his bodyweight. It’s extraordinary. But he does it. Everyone cheers. I cried for five minutes the first night he did it. I was so scared. I had my head down and was looking through my fingers and I couldn’t even watch. I’m a grown man but the pressure on me was unbearable. You know, I had made that guy a paraplegic. And I knew that if he rolled the bike he’d be gone, he’d be a quadriplegic. But he did it. He landed cleanly. I had my head in my hands and uncontrollably sobbed for five minutes.

Q. If you’re constantly coming up with edgier and edgier stunts, there must always be an even greater element of danger?

"Well, not quite. You see, we take as much of the risk as we possibly can out of it. There’s always some risk, that goes without saying. But I won’t let anybody do a jump until they’ve done it 50 times in a row without making a mistake during a practice. The chance, then, is that they will make it when they do it in front of a crowd. But in every show we have several crashes, without a doubt. We are always going to have a crash."

Q. You mentioned taking the risk out of the show and making things safe for your guys. Can you explain a little more about how you do that.

"I’ve been doing this for 12 years and we are way, way ahead of all the best practice on this. We are required to have one team of paramedics but we have two teams plus two ambulances and a fulltime trauma doctor. Then there’s an overall lead doctor who is based in Los Angeles and checks the records of all the athletes. The guys all go to him and he tracks all their injuries. We have all the protocols in place.

"We are doing better than a lot of the football leagues. We’re not required to do a lot of these things, there’s no governing body, but we go above and beyond. Look, what we do is dangerous and the riders we have are great kids and we want to look after them. We can afford to put the best possible care in place. If I have a kid go down I want to know that he’s got paramedics and an expert, trauma specialist with him within three seconds of him hitting the ground. I want to know that he’ll be at a local hospital within minutes. I couldn’t live with myself without that. These kids are such great kids. You know, we stick by each other. We’re family. If your mate goes down, you don’t leave him down."

"These kids are my friends and my family and my mates. I would give it away before letting things slip. We take precautions. We know that from time to time we’re going to get broken legs and wrists but in all my years we’ve only had one really bad injury."

Nitro Circus Live is currently touring the US and Europe. Click here for more details!

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