It was to be his final competition before retiring, but TJ Lavin had a bad fall at the Dew Tour Championships in Las Vegas last October and went out on a different note. We spent some time with him to find out the details of his road to recovery, and to hear about his new outlook on life and his renewed role in BMX as the Dew Tour’s dirt course designer. Check out the story and NBC feature video below to hear his story.
Word is that Vegas was going to be your last competition before retiring. Was that what you were thinking?
It's kind of what I was thinking, but it was very underground. I'm not the guy that says, 'I'm retired,' and then comes out of retirement. There's really no need for me to be competing at the age of 34, and back then I was 33 and thinking that was too old, so what was I thinking. For dirt jumping, I was the oldest guy on the deck. I had no business being up there with the young bucks that have nothing to lose. I was doing a lot of other stuff so I figured it was probably time to call it, you know, competition-wise and just move on to other aspects of the sport. I said that in confidentiality to my mom, which was probably the biggest mistake (laughing).
Did you have a premonition at that event that something would go wrong? I know your friend Ty had got injured riding at your house the day before.
It was so weird. I guess I was saying how scared and how much I wasn't feeling it and things like that. So it might have been a premonition, or just the fact that Ty got hurt the day before me, exactly 24 hours, and I visited him at the hospital and I saw him all messed up, and I knew I didn't want that to happen to me. And then sure enough, 24 hours later, I was in the bed right next to him. Which is like a crazy, weird movie thing. He was in one bed, I was in the other. My face was blown out on the right. His face was blown out on the left. And we were just two dudes that were in a coma for a few weeks and that was it.
TJ from his hospital bed in Vegas
When you came to and started realizing what had happened, what was your mindset?
My whole mindset was I have to get better, because I was scared to death. I was really scared of being forever handicapped. Because I didn't even know what an animal was. Or people would ask me a question like, 'What's your name?" - crazy easy questions - and I didn't know. For a long time. Then how to tie shoes or count money, things like that were really difficult for me and it really changed me because of that. I'd try to get out of bed and they'd say, 'No, no, no.' I remember crashing like two or three times from trying to get out of bed because I was so scared I couldn't walk anymore - which I couldn't. My right side wouldn't work and I had to have help to go to the bathroom. Just having a hard go, you know. That's all I remember.
TJ with fellow pros Anthony Napolitan (l) and Cam White (r)
At what point were you like, 'Alright, I'm coming out of this'?
Probably right now. Now I'm cool and I can do certain things like build jumps and do activities. I still can't ride yet, but I'm looking forward to the day when I can ride again.
Was building jumps for the Dew Tour something you ever thought you'd be doing?
My friend Fuzzy Hall, he was the builder before me and he built them forever. I never thought he would leave, but he made a career move and I'm really happy and excited for his opportunity. He called me personally to ask if I wanted to do it, and I said yes. I have a lot of jobs and different things going on that are great, but to take a week out and build the jumps for the Dew Tour has been a blessing, and really a lot of fun. So it's really cool.
TJ working on the jumps in Portland
What's it like being back in the mix here at the Dew Tour?
I miss riding like you wouldn't believe. It's really hard for me to watch these guys ride the jumps that I worked on all week and not get to ride them. It's really tough for that, but I just take it, no pressure and I just have fun.
Any timeline on when you can ride again?
The doctors say it's really up to me. Which means whenever my head feels clear. If I ride my bike down the street and my head feels clear, then I can go for it. It's still really foggy but when gets better I'll give it a go. But it will be full-face helmet all the way.