“I’m healthy, and I’m feeling good, but I’m depressed,” were the words that came from the other end of the phone. It was Kevin Atherton, who had returned our call after spending the day with his doctors one day beforehand. The 28-year-old Michigan-based dirt-tracker, who has shown so much promise throughout his career, continues to rebound from the grim leg injury suffered during “Black Saturday” at the Du Quoin Mile on July 24, 1999. Atherton is getting set to undergo the eighth operation to repair his badly broken leg. Here’s the rest of his story:
“I saw my doctor yesterday, and I’m going back tomorrow to see an orthopedic surgeon who is coming in from Detroit. My doctor has never worked with anything like this before, and he is very meticulous – which is the kind of guy that you want to have. What they had to do [to heal the leg] was break the bone just below the knee, and then I had to turn these adjusters to get it to stretch one milimeter per day. It had to go a total of 40 milimeters to meet the other part of the bone, and then the end that they broke would just keep growing to fill in the part below the knee.
“Everything is going perfect, but the only problem is that this is one of my favorite times of the year. I’m usually out skiing, or snowmobiling or riding my ice bike. The lakes are perfect right now. They’re frozen hard and there’s no snow, which makes perfect ice. People who know my personality know how hard it is for me to occupy my time right now. I don’t want to say that I’m depressed, I guess. Just frustrated.
“But at least I’ve gone up to the ski lodge a couple times, and I get to tell some great war stories. People see me and ask what happened, and I just tell ’em that I crashed jumping off of this huge cliff, or that I fell off the chair lift or something. They just go for it hook, line and sinker. Some of ’em have even said, ‘Man, did they put that thing on you today?’ Right, the thing is going through my leg in a bunch of places and they just put it on me today. Some people will believe anything.
“One thing that’s a bummer is that I’m not going to be able to keep this thing when they take it off. Usually, in the past, I’ve kept all of the screws and pins and stuff that they have taken out of me, but this thing is so astronomically expensive that my doctor just worked out a deal where we only had to come up with 25 percent of the cost. It’s kind of like I’m leasing it, because it is totally reusable except for the cables that are going through my leg.
“Sitting around, I’ve had so much time to think about things. ‘What is the Lord telling me? Why did this happen?’ And I just believe that this is what I do. I go fast on motorcycles. Lord knows I don’t do it for the money. Most average people wouldn’t understand what it’s like, but the adrenaline rush just gets you so high. I’ve heard the term ‘adrenaline junkie’ used. I don’t know about that, but it just gets in your blood.
“Racing is what I do, I will be back when I can do it, and I know in my heart that I still can do it.”
A trust fund has been established for Kevin Atherton. Checks can be made payable to him and sent to:
White Pigeon Banking Center
122 W. Chicago Rd.
White Pigeon, MI 49099
For wire transfers, the routing and transit number is: 272471632.