The Friday Interview – Mike Aitken
Interview and photos by Fat Tony.
In case you have been living under a rock, let me catch you up to speed… Mike Aitken had a really bad crash back in October 2008 that left him in a coma and in critical condition. A little more than a month later, after having to learn how to walk all over again, Mikey left the hospital on his own two feet. After five months of intense rehab, he posted a video doing a 180 in the street just to let the world know he was fighting hard and determined to get back to his old self. Almost a year after his crash, in September 2009 the other pro riders voted for Mikey as Number One Dirt Jumper at our own NORA Cup Awards party. And that brings us to present day where Mikey showed up to a jam with a handful of other pros and rode some legit trails for the first time in front of our cameras since his crash. He was hanging out with his wife and son at the jam and said he had plans to stay out in Cali for a while so we thought it would be a good time to catch up with him and see how things have been going…
I’ll start with the injury stuff, since that’s on the top of everyone’s mind when they think about you right now… How are you feeling physically, and just as importantly, how are you feeling mentally?
Physically I feel stiff on my right side. My left side is loose, but my right side is stiff until I get back more of the muscle. Mentally, it's hard because my mind is in the same place (as far as riding ambitions go) that it was before the injury, but my body isn't, and that makes it hard for me mentally when I am riding. I also have some short-term memory problems, but nothing too serious.
Are you still doing any kind of rehab on a regular basis?
Not as much as I should. It's really expensive, and I have a physical trainer that is helping me for free, but I don't get to work with him as much as I would like to.
Do you set goals for yourself in your recovery, and do you have your own ways of tracking your progress or anything?
I have reached some goals, like getting to walk on my own, and basically being able to live without depending on others. I am starting to ride my bike again, and that is one of the biggest goals that I set for myself. As far as tracking my progress, I just rely on photos and videos taken of me. Sometimes I have to watch the videos of when I couldn't even walk on my own, and then I remember how far I've come.
“I am starting to ride my bike again, and that is one of the biggest goals that I set for myself…”
What’s your daily routine like right now, if you have one?
I don't really have a set routine. Every day is different from the next. When the warmer weather sets in, riding my bike will definitely become part of my routine again.
How have your wife and son (and the rest of your family) played a part in your recovery?
My wife has been a rock in helping me with everything I need, and she was by my side making sure I got everything I needed. She is my hero! My family has also been there from day one making sure I was treated right. My son has also been a huge motivator in helping me get up and ride again so I can show him how to ride, and how to do things in life. I couldn't have done it without the support of all of these people being close to me. That also includes many of my close friends.
As two of the biggest name riders to suffer serious injuries in BMX, have you and Stephen Murray had more of a connection since your crash?
I've only seen him a few times, because I have been recovering. I definitely have a stronger understanding of what he is living with, because I had a very, very small taste of it. He is a huge inspiration for me.
Obviously you’ve been slowly getting back into riding; what have the past few months of riding been like for you?
Since it has been winter, I have only been able to ride a handful of times. The first word that does come to my mind is, "frustrating." It's hard being reset back to square one. But I am very lucky to even be riding again. And it really is fun being back on my bike. I just need to keep on reminding myself how far I've come and to take baby steps.
How would you describe what riding feels like to you right now? Is it that you just don’t have the muscle and coordination to do what you used to? Do you not remember how to do things? Help us understand where your body is at right now—it’s a very weird thing for people not in your position to comprehend…
My mind remembers how to ride, and wants to ride the way I used to, but my body just doesn't want to follow. Before, I could ride all day, no problem, but now, I can only go three or four runs before my body becomes fatigued. With my left side being loose, and my right side being stiff, they kind of fight each other. My injury also caused vision problems. My depth perception is off, so it's harder for me to judge where landings are, and similar stuff like that. I have one contact lens that I now wear in my left eye. My right eye is still blurry, but I can't wear a contact in that eye. They say that my vision may be corrected, but only time will tell.
So you came out for the ARF jam, right? Then stuck around for a while? What have you been doing out in Cali?
A bunch of family stuff. Legoland, ocean, riding at Lonnie's, hanging with Heath. Just hanging out and enjoying being warm with the family.
How old is your son now, and what’s his take on riding? What does he think about you riding?
He is three…four at the end of May. He loves BMX. He wants to ride with me all of the time. Even on super cold days, he wants me to ride around the block with him. Watching me ride a bike is all Owen has ever know, so it seems pretty normal to him. He is excited that I ride, because he has someone to ride with.
What’s that like to have a little you rolling around on two wheels?
It's awesome! I always have a friend to ride with. He's always excited and happy to be riding. I love watching the smile on his face when he learns how to do new tricks, like one handers, and the surfer on his seat (with hands on the bars). Something as simple as Owen coming up to me when I've had a hard day, and he asks me to go on a ride around the block, can really pick me back up.
When Robbie Morales left Fit to start Cult, we kind of heard a lot of reactions from different people, but never heard your take on it. How did that change with Fit affect you?
I was definitely bummed, because it was like a family going through a divorce, but I wish everyone that left all the best. Fit is still a happy family, and I look forward to whatever the future holds.
Are you still doing Vigilantia Clothing? What’s going on with that?
I'm slowly still working on Vigilantia. I ride for Fox clothing. They have been a huge support in my recovery. They understand that I am overwhelmed with a financial debt from my accident, and they have allowed me to design, and make shirts, so I can try to chip away at my hospital bills. I am very grateful that they would allow me to do this, because I have really wanted to design some clothes. My brother, and sister have really helped with the business, and graphic side of things. I've slowed down a little, until I can get some more money to invest. Also, my sister recently had a baby, and my brother adopted three kids from Haiti, so that has also made things lag a little, but I have some more ideas, and I am hoping to get things going again this Spring/Summer.