In covering supercross and motocross the world over for the past two decades, one comes to appreciate that there can be a downside to being a professional racer.
Things can and do go wrong, and when they do, it’s very easy to get left in the dust. Take Austin Forkner, for example. One of the most accomplished young riders in the world, the 21 year old was a mere seven points down on sensational French racer Dylan Ferrandis going into this year’s East/West Shootout before getting it wrong over a dragon’s back in the main event and being whipped to the ground and inflicting serious damage to the insides of his body.
It brought Forkner’s 2020 racing to an abrupt halt, and the Monster Energy/Kawasaki/Pro Circuit rider sent back to Oklahoma to recover. And where we found him. While riding out the global pandemic and awaiting the start of the forthcoming Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship next month like the rest of us, Forkner is a man without a mission while he continues to heal up.
“I don’t know what day it is, really,” muses Forkner. “All of my days blend together right now because I can’t do anything. I’m not really supposed to be doing anything until I go back to the doctor in a few more weeks to basically get released, and after that I can start doing stuff again. I’m getting to the point now where I can get around a lot better. Like, last night we cruised around the neighborhood on scooters and stuff, and I can tell I’m getting better, for sure. I’m just not supposed to be doing any heavy lifting of any sort or riding, obviously, until I get released. I am feeling better and I’m off the pain meds and all that now. I’m not in any sort of super-bad pain. It’s just irritating. I can tell that if I were going to try to do a workout or tried to ride, I would be in pain in the inside. I’m just waiting, I guess.”
And experiencing the less glamorous side of being a world class motocross star where danger is, well, a part of the business?
“Yeah, for sure,” he says. “I feel like the past couple of years have sucked because for me it has just been tear down and rebuild, tear down and rebuild. You get hurt and lose everything, and then you just have to rebuild everything again. I’ve been through this stuff to a pretty big extent now. Last year I hurt my ACL, and that’s somewhat tough to come back from. I’ve done that and now this is just another tear down and rebuild-type thing.
“It was all going real well, too. Especially after the break we had and then coming back at Salt Lake City… I felt like I was riding really good. I felt like I was on par with where I was last year, and being really solid. That’s at least what I can hang my hat on. I had a good season up until this point, so it was a bummer to end it like this. You know, if I was not going to get the championship this year, I would have rather just not gotten the title and not be out of racing with injuries. That’s what sucks. It sucks not get the championship and it sucks to be injured. I’d much rather be healthy with no championship then hurt with no championship, you know?! It’s not what I needed. Oh well.”
Forkner looks at his win at the penultimate 250SX West main event of the ’20 season, which pulled him within seven points of Ferrandis, as the highlight of his season.
“Ferrandis is really fast,” he says. “The fact that I was able to hunt him down and pass him and then win, that was just sick. I was super, super happy with that race. I hadn’t had a come from behind win at all this season – or even last season. It’s been a while since I’ve actually came from behind and passed somebody solid like that. I was really happy with that ride.”
Then came the East/West Showdown, and more importantly to Forkner, a genuine shot at the 250SX West Region.
“When I crashed in the main event, I Initially thought I just had the wind knocked out of me,” he says. “I was like, ‘alright, chill, let the wind come back to you.’ My wind came back to me and I said to myself, ‘something here doesn’t feel right on my insides.’ I’d never had an internal injury. I’d just done ligaments and bones, so I know what that stuff feels like. I felt like maybe I punctured my lung or did something like that, because I couldn’t breathe very well. Basically we found out in the hospital that I beat up my insides with the crash. My pancreas and spleen got it the worst, but I also had some lacerations on my kidney. Everything inside me was basically beat up.
“They later told me that lungs started to swell and they just didn’t expand as much and I had to take half breaths for the first few days. I couldn’t breath very well at all. I even had to use a breathing machine in the hospital to expand my lungs and stretch them back out. Even now, I still don’t feel I have full stretching in my lungs because I haven’t been breathing hard. Whenever I come back and start doing cardio again, I’m going to feel that. A combination of all these things were just filling my body up with blood and swelling and my lungs couldn’t expand. I knew something was up. I mean it all makes sense knowing this stuff afterwards.”
Late last week, word came down from MX Sports Pro Racing that the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship season will launch on August 15 in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee. Forkner’s unlikely to be there.
“I think I am looking at 2021 now,” Forkner says. “I won’t be released by my doctors until the eighth of August. I haven’t been riding or basically doing anything. I’m out of shape, so it’s going to take me a few weeks to a month to even get somewhat back into shape. Then I probably wouldn’t be coming in at 100 percent, and I’d have to rush it. It’s a lot of work for a nine-race, last-minute series-type thing. I don’t think that’s smart. The last thing I want to do get tired at the end of a moto or something because I’m not in shape and crash, or ride over my head and crash again. It’s not set in stone that I won’t ride at all this summer, but looking at it right now, it’s probably looking like I’m going to start back next season. Who even knows. I don’t know if Monster Cup is on, I don’t know if any races are going to happen after the outdoors is over. I don’t really know anything. As of right now, I’m just kind of focused on getting back from all of this.
“I’m good, you know? Right now, I’m just like, ‘Damn! I have to go through this all again!’ Last year with my torn ACL, it was pretty rough getting back into riding and it all took a while. I didn’t even want to put my foot down on the track for two months. I was riding very hesitantly, and was kind of timid and scared on the bike. You never want to ride like that. That’s not fun. And I’m going to have to go through all that stuff again.
“That whole process takes a lot out of you. Going through all that stuff is a pain, and it does suck. At least now it looks like I’m going to be able to do all this stuff to get back to racing and take my time doing it. Rushing it coming back is so much worse. Coming back from a serious injury is bad enough, but it’s a lot worse when you have to rush back for racing. You know you’re not 100 percent, and then you’re mentally behind, and with all of that other stuff combined, it is just not a great way to go about it.
“I just don’t like missing races. I just hate it. I just don’t like getting paid to not do my job. I hate missing races. That’s the only thing that I’m bummed about. I’m glad we’re getting to race again now for the sport, but in my position, I would be absolutely okay if there was no racing just so I wouldn’t have anything to feel bad about. I’m in good spirits with how everything is going. I don’t really have any more updates until I get back to riding. I could come back and I could feel great and be going fast and feeling good in a month, or it could take a lot longer than that. I don’t know. I’m just waiting until I can start to do some activities and ride and then I’ll go from there, really.”