Today marks the second anniversary of Kenny Noyes' crash at the Motorland Aragon circuit for the Spanish CEV Superbike championship. The crash left him in a coma, but through extraordinary perseverance and the support of his family, he has made a remarkable recovery.
I knew Kenny fairly well, both directly from his time racing in the Moto2 championship, and indirectly through his father, Dennis, who has been immeasurably kind and helpful to me throughout my own career as a journalist. I was shocked and saddened when I heard of his accident, but I have been left with unbounded admiration for Kenny for the energy and determination he has put into his recovery.
To mark two years since Kenny's crash, his press office issued the following interview with the former CEV Superbike champion. It is an insightful and honest discussion of the crash, the recovery, the importance of motorcycle racing in his life, but above all, the importance of his family and friends. Kenny has set up a GoFundMe account to help continue his rehabilitation process. I hope you will consider making a contribution.
Interview with the 2014 FIM CEV Spanish-International Superbike Champion on the second anniversary of his life-threatening accident.
On the wall of his office Kenny keeps the poster that his team, PL Racing, sent to him, signed by all team members, after his accident. Across it can be read phrases like “This will be a great comeback,” and “good guys always win.” They are more like predictions than encouraging messages because they had seen Kenny come from far behind to win the title on the last day of the season the year before. Those predictions are slowly coming to pass. Now, two years after the fall that saw him battling for his life for seventy-two critical hours and produced traumatic brain injury, Kenny is making the comeback that his team foresaw. He’s his old self again, complaining as he always did, whenever the temperature drops below 80 degrees, telling stories and working hard so that he can go back to work.
Question: It’s been two years now since you went out for the morning Warm Up on your Kawasaki in Motorland Aragon. What do you remember from that day?
Kenny: Nothing. Three weeks later I woke up in an intensive care hospital room at the Guttmann Institute in Barcelona. I didn’t know who I was, where I was or why. I knew I was a motorcycle racer but I didn’t know who I was! I recognized my wife and later my brother and my parents, but that was it. I couldn’t speak or walk or even sit up and I was being fed through tubes. Slowly I began to recall things, but nothing about the crash. I remember my wife and I driving that morning to the track in the car. Right after the crash they tell me I was stabilized at the circuit clinic and then medevacked by helicopter to the University Hospital Clinic in Zaragoza, but I have no memory of any of that. A few months back I read the medical report and just a week ago I saw a video of the crash. It was just a normal crash but with the bad luck that the bike bounced off the padded wall and came back at me and hit me in the head. The combined estimated speeds produced a direct impact, bike to helmet, of 75 miles per hour.
Q: How are you now?
K: I’m better. I’m improving in every way, but little by little. Getting better, even if it is slowly, is good. The problem comes when recuperation stops, but that's not my case.
Q: Last year at this time you told us how hard that first year of recovery had been. How would you evaluate this second year?
K: It’s been harder because I am so much more conscious of everything. For me these two years have been the end of one life and the beginning of another…this is my second chance.
Q: What is it like day to day?
K: Pretty routine (laughs). Every day I work on a different form of recuperation. I work on balance, physical strength, I go to speech therapy, sometimes I swim. I am using a walker now and that has helped me a lot, more than I thought it would. I can go out on my own now, go out for a coffee, for example.
Q: I see you are also walking without any support. How does it feel to walk again?
K: I’ll tell you when I can run (laughs).
Q: Last year you said the most frustrating thing was not being able to speak, not to be able to be readily understood and not to have enough balance to walk, but you have made big improvements. Are those areas still the most difficult?
K: It is not so hard for me to talk now. I’m much easier to understand thanks to the work of my speech therapist Ana Belmonte. My balance is improving, something that would not have been possible without the help of the people at Step By Step and my physiotherapist Luis Lomba. I had the good fortune to be in the hands, both in Zaragoza and Barcelona, of doctors with lots of experience treating injuries like mine, and I have come to realize the number of specialists necessary for a recovery like mine. In addition to speech therapists and physiotherapists, you have to work with neuropsychologists, psychiatrists, specialized sleep therapists, ophthalmologists…and the hard part is to realize how expensive the whole process is and that I can’t work to pay for it myself. That is the reason I have started a GoFundMe account.
Q: Oscar Ibáñez, one of the instructors at the Noyes Camp racing school, had a crash that left him in coma for several weeks and he needed four years to consider himself fully recovered. Do you see the time very far away when you will feel that way?
K: To know people who have recovered from a big accident, even though not like mine, is encouraging to me and Oscar’s recovery is incredible. For me, these years have seemed very long, but when I look back at medical reports, photos and videos, I see how far I have come and how far I have to go.
Q: What projects are you working on now?
K: I’m still very involved in the Noyes Camp, our riding school. I enjoy contact with hundreds of racing fans each year. They transmit incredible positive energy. I am also, on the second anniversary of my accident, setting up my profile on GoFundMe. The federation insurance only took me through the first eighteen months and now all the expenses have fallen to my family. Our object is first to continue and complete my recuperation and then to create The Noyes Foundation to help people who are, unfortunately, forced to experience what I have.
Q: Besides donations to GoFundMe, are there other ways out there to help you in your rehabilitation?
K: Yes. We are planning merchandising, solidarity Noyes Camp sessions, races, auctions. I want those who want to collaborate with me and my projects to have various, easy possibilities to do so. The best way to find out about all this is to follow Noyes Camp and my father, Dennis Noyes, in social media because that is where we will announce the activities.
Q: And, speaking of that, how is the Noyes Camp going?
K: It’s going well, but it would seem a lot better to me if I were riding (laughs). The instructors, Alejandro Ros, Oscar Ibáñez and Ferran Sastre, are doing a great job, but I can’t help wanting to get on a bike in every session.
Q: Having seen the bitter side of racing, what message of hope would you send to fans of our sport?
K: Accidents are a part of motorcycle racing, but I wouldn’t trade bikes for anything. There is no denying the negative side, but I always say that Shoya Tomizawa, Marco Simoncelli, Luis Salom, Dani Rivas, Bernat Martinez and the others who have left us (I mention the most recent among riders I knew) would ask us to continue to enjoy bikes the same way they did. The days after Nicky Hayden’s accident were especially hard for me because his injuries were similar to my own even though he wasn’t racing a motorcycle. I had a good relationship with Nicky. We even raced together as dirt track amateurs back in the states, and I know the best way to remember Nicky is getting on the gas.
Q: The family is the base of support for long-term recuperation. What is the role of your family at this stage of your recovery?
K: They are more important now than ever because, as I have recovered awareness of everything around me, the psychological aspect has become the key element in my recovery. Friends are also absolutely necessary. To recover strength after an accident like mine is hard, but staying motivated day after day is even harder.
Q: Has your way of seeing your family changed?
K: Yes. Before my accident, it was all about my racing and I was more selfish with my family, my wife and my friends. Now, with this second chance, I hope I won’t be that way.
Q: Do you still think of yourself as a rider and do you want to stay involved with racing in the future?
K: I don’t want to race again but I do want to continue to be involved in the world of racing. I want to maintain contact but in a different way. With a team, with Noyes Camp, even with a championship as an advisor on safety. I’d like to do something for the common good of the motorcycle racing family.