Cal, thanks for taking the time to talk to Soup. How are you today and what has been your journey been since your crash at Phillip Island? The injury you suffered can be a slow-healer and also one that can be very painful.
A. I have something called a pylon fracture of the ankle, which means the talus bone, the foot and the talus bone went through the tibia and fibula. So the tibia’s broken in two places, the fibula was broken in one place on the side, and the talus was in 16 pieces. So I had a reconstruction – they pinned and plated the tibia quite heavily, and they reconstructed the talus at the mortise joint in between them, and they left the fibula. And the reason they left the fibula was because they couldn’t put any more plates in it. There was too much hardware in there in a small space. Actually, I have some of the metal on the tibia it’s looking like it’s going to come through the skin, because there’s that much in there. A big injury. Honestly, a really, really big injury.
As I said, it was time. As a motorcycle racer you think you’re going to come back in two weeks. You think, get pinned and plates, you leave the hospital and you’ll be racing. But this wasn’t the case. I had six weeks completely non-weight bearing. Ironically, I could ride my bicycle, and still can ride my bicycle without any problem at all, but I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t walk for six weeks.
Then I started to walk no problem. And then I got an inflamed tendon or nerve in this area of the ankle, and I had to stop walking again for another two and a half weeks. So that was a little bit of a setback. And now I’m still in some pain in that area, but I can walk no problem. Not no problem. I can walk. And I’ve resumed a sort of, I would say, normal life in the last two weeks. I have great strength in the ankle. There’s no doubt about that. I had a German surgeon do it, Matthias Russ in Melbourne, and he did a fantastic job, just because when I came out of the operation, they said they were very close to fusing the ankle, because it was that bad. And I literally, now, I could ride now. I could ride a motorbike now.
There was a question about whether I was even going to be able to make Sepang test, at one point. But I don’t think people understood the severity of the injury. And I have to say, nor did I. I just thought, “I broke my ankle. Great. Fix it, get me out of here.” But it wasn’t as straightforward as that. There’s no doubt about it. I’ve done everything you can imagine to be fit, and even to resume a normal life, where I’m able to walk again. Because if you ever research “pylon fracture” on the internet, it’s 12 months. People can’t walk for 12 months. They have more surgeries. They’re deep in the shit. And it affects the rest of their life. So I think that I’ve made a very, very good recovery, with good people around me.
Yeah. It was the talus that was in all that pieces. And actually, I have a lot of – they had to clean all that out, and basically put artificial bone. It’s like they never took a bone graft. They did in a liquid form or such, that sets. And they said, the first two weeks it’s really strong, and then three weeks after that it goes soft again. So I had to be careful in them three weeks. And then it starts to be strong again. So I feel the ankle is strong. There’s no doubt about it. But is it strong enough to race a motorcycle? I have no idea. But in a normal life situation, people wouldn’t even think about getting on a motorcycle again. But unfortunately, that’s not what we do. It’s not the job we do. We can’t just sit around. I have to go testing in two weeks’ time, or whenever it is.
Previous to this you had never endured this long of a recovery period, correct?
I’ve never had an injury as bad as this. And honestly, I was quite unlucky. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve crashed motorcycles. Unfortunately, that’s part of the job. But I’ve always been lucky with injuries. This one caught me out. That’s it. So I have to thank my lucky stars it wasn’t worse. I crushed it – by the time I got off the bike, it was 320-something K an hour. I got blown onto the curb at the end of the straight. You know how windy it is at Phillip Island. The curb was damp, and I tried to lay it in. Because if not, I was going to the grass. So I had two options: tip the bike into the corner, or go on the grass. I thought the better option was to tip it in. Anyway, I crashed. Pedrosa crashed there in the session earlier, got up and walked away. It’s just … it’s the luck of the draw. My feet went in. I dislocated my left ankle and broke my right. And leg. So it’s just one of them. I can’t – I don’t look at it and think I’m really pissed, because, as I said, I’ve been lucky over the years, with injuries, with crashes. I know the risks. I know it’s part of the job.
There was a time when I was in the hospital, Dean, where I was not in a great place. Just because I came off standing on a MotoGP podium four days before. That’s one of the things that was really hard to deal with. You’re sort of on top of the world the week before, and the next week you’re laying in hospital with an external fixator on for six days, and you’re looking down, you’ve got this cage on your leg, thinking, “I’m in the shit here.” Then they operated six days later, and he told me non-weight bearing six weeks. Now, I honestly thought I’d be going to Valencia or something like that. So there was time when I was in the hospital, Lucy was there, and honestly, I spent four days in my room. I didn’t even leave the room. I was not eating, I was just like – not depressed, just probably at that time, you don’t know if you can ever recover again. You have no idea. I just sort of sat there. And I know somebody – you remember Jim Moody? Jim retired from this injury.
So everyone’s messaging (me), and I was so lucky because I had so many people come to the hospital. I had all my team, I had all the Honda bosses and the Honda team, I had all the Ducati team come to the hospital, I had all the riders come, Carmelo came, people from Dorna, so I was lucky in that time, before they went to Malaysia. And then they went to Malaysia, and it was just like, “Shit, I’ve got to get home at some point. I’ve got to have another operation and then get home.” So that was – I spent, in total, 14 or 16 days in the hospital, and then I flew home. I went home and I went straight to the hyperbaric chamber for nine days, and then I flew out to California.
So I’ve absolutely, honestly, left no stone unturned with the recovery. But dealing with the injury, there was a time also in December that I was thinking, “I can’t do this. This is ridiculous.” Of how much effort I was putting in for how little I was getting back. And the surgeon kept calling me, telling me “It’ll turn the corner. It’ll turn the corner.” And it did. That’s just a typical athlete. You just want to get active. And I’ve been, ironically, no problem on a bicycle. As you know, that’s what I do for training anyway, and I’ve done 25-hour weeks. Without any pain. Nothing. And the swelling was getting less and less the more riding I was doing, because of the blood flow. But I couldn’t walk. So I’m like, how am I going to walk to the motorcycle? How am I going to be able to ride the motorcycle? Now it’s gotten better, in the last, I would say, three weeks. It’s done a lot, lot better. Dealing with it was difficult, but I think I’ve done a good job to manage the situation as best as I could.
And the usual pursuits for the sedentary don’t work for you because you don’t play video games or do much screen related, correct?
Obviously I have my daughter, and that was one really difficult thing, was I couldn’t play with her. Like I normally would. I couldn’t chase her, I couldn’t run. I could pick her up, but I couldn’t walk. She’s at the age now where she’s ripping around, two years old, two and a half years old. So my time’s normally spent doing what she would want to do, other than when I’m training or doing physio or whatever. So that was quite difficult period. But now it’s got a lot better, of course. But to pass the time, there’s not enough hours in the day, to be honest, because by the time you get up, then you’re icing it, then you’re putting cream on it, then you’re going cycling, then you’re going back, then I’ve got physio, then a different doctor, or an MRI scanner like yesterday, or an X-ray. But yeah. As I said, no stone unturned.
Them days that I was in that hospital, I was wasting away. I was just like, my wife came in, she said, “You need to get out of the room.” She said, “Get up, you need to get out.” If it were down to me, I would’ve just laid there. Because you go from hero to zero.
After I did the six weeks, typical me, I’m like, “Yeah, no problem, I’m going to start walking.” And then I just did too much too soon, and that was it, and it inflamed the tendon, it inflamed the nerve, and the pain has been since then because of that. But honestly, the pain was worse than breaking the ankle. It was horrendous.