Characters 7: Tara Llanes - The Warrior

Dec 5, 2013
by Riley Mcintosh  
 
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Riley McIntosh

How strange the earthquake must have seemed to them, here where they lived so safely always! They thought such a dreadful thing could happen to others, but not to them. That is the way!

-William Dean Howells, 'A Sleep and a Forgetting'



bigquotesThe spinal cord is a long, thin, tubular bundle of nervous tissue and support cells that extends from the brain. The brain and spinal cord together make up the central nervous system; the spinal cord is basically the voice of the brain. If you break a wrist, the bones can heal. If you tear a ligament, surgery can fix you up. If you badly damage your spinal cord, your body will never work properly again. The brutal truth of life is that it can change in an instant, one moment you never wanted or expected. In the blink of an eye it can happen. By riding our bikes at high speeds down narrow trails, over jumps, and off drops, we open ourselves to a potential world of pain. But we all say it's worth it. We hear stories of people who have become paralyzed and although we feel sympathetic, we largely shut our minds off to the possibility of it happening to us. We don't do this to be ignorant jerks, but more in an act of preserving sanity. The devastation of paralysis is something we block out, jerk our thoughts away from. It is a very common thing to hear people comment that if they ever became paralyzed they would want to be shot. Loss is incredibly hard to deal with. It tears away from us all the things that cannot be torn. Once something is done, it's done. But there is beauty in the blackest of moments, because if we are strong enough, we all have access to a light that has the power to block out the dark side. In this volume of Characters we hear from a woman who has been thrown into an athletes' worst nightmare... and has clawed her way out into the light of day. She personifies the word strength. Thank you Tara Llanes, for giving us insight into your experience. -Riley McIntosh



photo 1 My accident was on September 1 2007. I can only guess as to what time it was exactly but I m guessing about 2pm. I was 30 years old. The first 2 people I remember getting to me were Bryn Atkinson and the guy that used to help build and design our courses. I m completely forgetting his name and I feel like an ass because he s such a sweetheart of a guy. Those were the two people I remember getting to me first. I just remember laying there in the hot sun looking at Bryn holding his hand telling him I want to walk again....I want to ride my bike again. Tell me I m going to ride my bike again The first aid crew was there pretty quickly after and as soon as they were there they started asking the standard questions. Can you feel this Can you feel that What day is it Blah Blah . The interesting thing is that I think I hit my head pretty good in that crash but I don t think they ever checked my head. They concentrated on my neck and back which was fine by me but 6 years post accident and my memory is still shot.
My accident was on September 1, 2007. I can only guess as to what time it was exactly but I’m guessing about 2:00 p.m. I was 30 years old. The first two people I remember getting to me were Bryn Atkinson and the guy that used to help build and design our courses. I’m completely forgetting his name and I feel like an ass because he’s such a sweetheart of a guy. Those were the two people I remember getting to me first. I just remember laying there in the hot sun, looking at Bryn, holding his hand telling him: ''I want to walk again... I want to ride my bike again. Tell me I’m going to ride my bike again?”

The first aid crew was there pretty quickly after and as soon as they were there they started asking the standard questions. "Can you feel this? Can you feel that? What day is it? Blah Blah." The interesting thing is that I think I hit my head pretty good in that crash but I don’t think they ever checked my head. They concentrated on my neck and back which was fine by me but six years post accident and my memory is still shot.

photo 2 I was born in West Covina Calif. which is in Los Angeles but I grew up mainly in Brea California from 5 years old until I was 18 yrs. old. Brea is in Orange County but it s backed up into some hills so I was lucky to be able to ride from my house to some trails in Chino Hills State Park. One of the trails that I loved going to the most was called the Fullerton Loop. The Fullerton Loop is what I would describe as like a mountain bike urban assault. Trust me if you don t know where you re going you WILL get lost. Maybe that s one of the things I loved about it the fact that I knew exactly where to go and felt like part of the group. I started racing BMX when I was about 11 or 12 years old. There is a BMX track that I used to see all the time when driving on the freeway. I got my start at the Orange Y BMX track in Orange Calif.
I was born in West Covina, California, which is in Los Angeles, but I grew up mainly in Brea, California from 5 years old until I was 18. Brea is in Orange County but it’s backed up into some hills so I was lucky to be able to ride from my house to some trails in Chino Hills State Park. One of the trails that I loved going to the most was called the Fullerton Loop. The Fullerton Loop is what I would describe as a mountain bike urban assault. Trust me if you don’t know where you’re going you WILL get lost. Maybe that’s one of the things I loved about it, the fact that I knew exactly where to go and felt like part of the group.

My dad passed away when I was 4 years old. His name was Tobias Eugene Llanes. I am an only child so it’s pretty much my Mom and I and I’d say we’re pretty tight. My Mom was an only child and she always wanted more than one child but then my dad passed away and my Mom never re-married.

I started racing BMX when I was about 11 or 12 years old. There is a BMX track that I used to see all the time when driving on the freeway. I got my start at the Orange “Y” BMX track in Orange, California.

bigquotesI started racing mountain bikes at the age of 16 or 17. I worked at Sport Chalet when I was a senior in high school. Only a handful of people know this but when I was racing for Rotec I was also working for them. Rotec at the time was owned by a guy that made parts for airplanes so in between race weekends I would go home and have to do deliveries picking up and receiving parts. -Tara Llanes























photo 4 When I rode for Haro I made it to the Mont Sainte-Anne World Cup but it wasn t until I signed my contract with Specialized in 1997 that I hit the World Cup circuit. I guess it took about 5 years for me to make it to Europe Asia South America and all over the world.I am probably most proud of my Dual win in 1999 when I rode for Specialized. That year World s were in Mont Sainte-Anne and the crowds were just insane I ended up racing one of my fiercest competitors Katrina Miller in the finals and won. Although I had certainly won Worlds Dual was not a rainbow event so I was never officially World Champ. In 2000 the UCI made Dual an official rainbow event. In 2000 I finished in 2nd place behind Anne-Caro. I also won gold at the X-Games in 1999 was the 2002 Dual Slalom National Champion and the 2006 US National Downhill Champ.
When I rode for Haro I made it to the Mont Sainte-Anne World Cup, but it wasn’t until I signed my contract with Specialized in 1997 that I hit the World Cup circuit. I guess it took about five years for me to make it to Europe, Asia, South America, and all over the world. I am probably most proud of my Dual win in 1999 when I rode for Specialized. That year World’s were in Mont Sainte-Anne and the crowds were just insane! I ended up racing one of my fiercest competitors, Katrina Miller, in the finals and won. Although I had certainly won Worlds, Dual was not a ‘rainbow’ event so I was never officially World Champ. In 2000 the UCI made Dual an official rainbow event. In 2000 I finished in 2nd place behind Anne-Caroline Chausson. I also won gold at the X-Games in 1999, was the 2002 Dual Slalom National Champion, and the 2006 US National Downhill Champ.



Tara


I often think back to my races and the courses we rode. If we’re talking downhill I’d have to say my favorite courses were Mont Sainte-Anne, Canada (classic), Nevegal, Italy (insane sections of rock switchbacks), and Kaprun, Austria (pinball alley... nuff’ said!). As for Dual courses one of my all time favorites was one of my last races in Mammoth. I think it was around 2005 and they used the snowboard pipe as part of the course so you’d come out of the gate, hit a few turns, and then you’d hit this big step down into the pipe and then a big step up out of it, and straight into these three massive berms. The berms were each probably 10-15 feet high so you couldn’t see your competitor until the table top at the finish. It was awesome and it’s a real bummer they don’t use more pipes during the summer. After Worlds in Rotorua, New Zealand a few of the Giant reps took me out on a ride. We were out there for I think about 3 hours but it felt like 15 minutes because I was just having so much fun. Another great memory is the last time I rode up in Whistler. I was with Lenosky, Sorge, and I think a couple other people and we hit Garbanzo and Crab Apple and I’ve never gone bigger!

photo 6 Thinking back to the day of my accident I remember not feeling ready when I was in the gate and when they said riders ready I should have said no but I didn t. Instead my pedal felt like it was in the wrong place my goggles weren t on right. I didn t feel right. When the gate opened I felt like I was all over the place and by the first turn I was so far behind I should ve just walked back up to the gate Instead of giving up I was telling myself not to quit because you never know what can happen. I was coming up to a tricky rhythm section and remembered saying to myself... jump it ....no..don t jump it .... jump it And as soon as I doubted myself even for a second that was probably the moment I should ve backed off. I entered the rhythm section and needed to pick up my front end to catch the backside of the roller and pick up more speed but I screwed it up and the next thing I know I am going head first into the lip of the double I m supposed to be jumping over The initial impact is what broke my neck and then because I couldn t slow down my body had nowhere to go but up so I did the full scorpion and that s what broke my lower back. As soon as I hit I remember rolling back down the lip of the jump and I could feel my legs just sort of flopping around as I rolled. When I came to a stop I remembered it being super hot out just laying there in the sun. And then the pain hit.
Thinking back to the day of my accident, I remember not feeling ready when I was in the gate and when they said, “riders ready?” I should have said, “No!” but I didn’t. Instead my pedal felt like it was in the wrong place, my goggles weren’t on right. I didn't feel right. When the gate opened I felt like I was all over the place and by the first turn I was so far behind I should’ve just walked back up to the gate! Instead of giving up I was telling myself not to quit because you never know what can happen. I was coming up to a tricky rhythm section and remembered saying to myself, ''Jump it! No, don’t jump it! Jump it!" And as soon as I doubted myself, even for a second, that was probably the moment I should've backed off.

I entered the rhythm section and needed to pick up my front end to catch the backside of the roller and pick up more speed but I screwed it up and the next thing I know I am going head first into the lip of the double I’m supposed to be jumping over! The initial impact is what broke my neck and then because I couldn’t slow down my body had nowhere to go but up so I did the full scorpion and that’s what broke my lower back. As soon as I hit I remember rolling back down the lip of the jump and I could feel my legs just sort of flopping around as I rolled. When I came to a stop I remembered it being super hot out just laying there in the sun. And then the pain hit.

photo 7 The first few months after I got injured were surreal. I d wake up to find myself in a hospital bed but I didn t know what the hell I was doing there. I just didn t belong there because it was all a nightmare. Then I would of course realize that I wasn t dreaming and it was all real and I would be scared out of my F NG mind. During those first few months that I was still in Colorado and Craig Rehab Hospital I was fortunate that I not only had my Mom and my partner at the time but I also had some really amazing friends. Jen Zeuner Anne Keller Elke Brutsaert Leah Garcia Beth and Brian Hawkins Nicki and Diane and my coach at the time James. I was very grateful to have every one of them during my rehab. During those first few months they keep you extremely busy and it s a good thing. The more time you have on your hands the more time you have to think and thinking can seriously drive you mad So my days were spent doing Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy. I was doing a ton of stretching and workouts in the pool learning how to get around in a wheelchair and how to not burn myself while cooking since I couldn t feel if I bumped into the stove. Basically I was learning how to take care of myself all over again at the ripe age of 30.
The first few months after I got injured were surreal. I’d wake up to find myself in a hospital bed but I didn’t know what the hell I was doing there. I just didn’t belong there because it was all a nightmare. Then I would of course realize that I wasn’t dreaming and it was all real and I would be scared out of my F%*!NG mind. During those first few months that I was still in Colorado and Craig Rehab Hospital, I was fortunate that I not only had my Mom and my partner at the time but I also had some really amazing friends: Jen Zeuner, Anne Keller, Elke Brutsaert, Leah Garcia, Beth and Brian Hawkins, Nicki and Diane, and my coach at the time, James. I was very grateful to have every one of them during my rehab.

During those first few months they keep you extremely busy and it’s a good thing. The more time you have on your hands the more time you have to think and thinking can seriously drive you mad! So my days were spent doing Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy. I was doing a ton of stretching and workouts in the pool, learning how to get around in a wheelchair, and how to not burn myself while cooking since I couldn’t feel if I bumped into the stove. Basically I was learning how to take care of myself all over again at the ripe age of 30.

photo 8 Life is so different now. I feel like I ve been in one of those snow globes getting tossed around for the past 6 years. I saw my life going a certain direction and when that didn t continue I just lost my sense of identity. I realize that it s all part of the journey but sometimes you just want to say f amp k you to the journey Life now presents it s daily challenges. A few that have been the hardest for me are my stomach intestinal problems I needed intestinal surgery consequently from my spinal fracture nerve pain lasting about 75 of my day and I ve got this constant buzzing and at times a very sharp pain in my groin area. When I crashed my spinal cord became tethered which means there are 3 different points in my low back where my spinal cord is touching the walls of my spinal column and when that happens it causes a phantom pain . A phantom pain is where I am having actual pain where my cord is tethered but feeling it in a different place on my body which is my groin. And those are just the physical effects. In my opinion the mental and emotional issues are the most difficult to deal with.
Life is so different now. I feel like I’ve been in one of those snow globes getting tossed around for the past six years. I saw my life going a certain direction and when that didn’t continue I just lost my sense of identity. I realize that it’s all part of the journey but sometimes you just want to say f*&k you to the journey!

Life now presents its daily challenges. A few that have been the hardest for me are my stomach/intestinal problems (I needed intestinal surgery due to my spinal fracture), nerve pain lasting about 75% of my day, and I’ve got this constant buzzing and at times a very sharp pain in my groin area. When I crashed, my spinal cord became tethered, which means there are three different points in my lower back where my spinal cord is touching the walls of my spinal column and when that happens it causes a phantom pain. A phantom pain is where I am experiencing actual pain where my cord is tethered but feeling it in a different place on my body (which for me is my groin). And those are just the physical effects. In my opinion the mental and emotional issues are the most difficult to deal with.

photo 9 I met my partner Elladee Brown originally in 1994 and we ended up dating for a short while. We bumped into each other again about a year or so after my accident and just hit it off. We had both just split from our partners and she invited me up to Whistler to go sit skiing for the first time and when the weekend was over the next thing I know I m changing my flight to stay longer We had a blast and it was so nice being with someone that knew me before my accident. It might not seem like a big deal but when I meet someone for the first time I feel like they see me as Tara in a wheelchair not Tara the athlete mountain bike racer. Elladee tells me I m crazy and that s not what people are thinking and she s probably right but sometimes my self confidence takes a hit and it s hard not to think like that.
I met my partner Elladee Brown originally in 1994 and we ended up dating for a short while. We bumped into each other again about a year or so after my accident and just hit it off. We had both just split from our partners and she invited me up to Whistler to go sit skiing for the first time and when the weekend was over the next thing I know I’m changing my flight to stay longer! We had a blast and it was so nice being with someone that knew me before my accident. It might not seem like a big deal but when I meet someone for the first time I feel like they see me as Tara in a wheelchair, not Tara the athlete mountain bike racer. Elladee tells me I’m crazy and that’s not what people are thinking and she’s probably right, but sometimes my self confidence takes a hit and it’s hard not to think like that.

photo 10 A father and son Brian and Thayne Bolin started the Race for Tara. I was in the hospital and I think it was maybe a month or so after my crash and I got a call from Brian and Thayne wanting to know if they could start this event to help raise some money for me. I didn t know them but they just sounded like the sweetest guys. They knew Mike Stewart who was the Giant rep up in Northern California and they also knew Renee Anderson who owned the land that we raced on for the first couple years. When the race got started I think everyone thought it would just be that one year that we d do it and that would be it but after that first year people were asking to have the event again so we did After the second year Renee was having some issues with her land and if we were going to have the event again it was going to have to be somewhere else. A little while after that I got a call from Brian asking me what I would think if we had the event up at Northstar in Tahoe I nearly fell out of my chair I was so excited I d been to Northstar and it s just gorgeous Plus they had already done some major renovations in the village and added an ice skating rink fire pits cabanas etc. and it looked amazing. So from the third year until just this last year which was our 7th year of having the event it was up at Northstar. The event was about raising money to help me pay for all my medical bills. I had insurance but not everything was covered. For instance my insurance covered only 2 000 of medical equipment per year and that was unfortunately gone as soon as I bought my wheelchair which cost 5 000. At the time I was also going to Project Walk for physiotherapy and since they don t take insurance it was costing me between 3 200- 3 500 a month so without the money raised from the TLC there is no way I would have been able to go to physiotherapy for those 2 years. I am so thankful for that. The monies raised for the first couple years was donated to the Tara Llanes Road to Recovery.
A father and son, Brian and Thayne Bolin started the Race for Tara. I was in the hospital and I think it was maybe a month or so after my crash and I got a call from Brian and Thayne wanting to know if they could start this event to help raise some money for me. I didn’t know them but they just sounded like the sweetest guys. They knew Mike Stewart who was the Giant rep up in Northern California and they also knew Renee Anderson who owned the land that we raced on for the first couple years. When the race got started I think everyone thought it would just be that one year that we’d do it and that would be it, but after that first year people were asking to have the event again so we did! After the second year Renee was having some issues with her land and if we were going to have the event again it was going to have to be somewhere else. A little while after that I got a call from Brian asking me what I would think if we had the event up at Northstar in Tahoe? I nearly fell out of my chair I was so excited!! I’d been to Northstar and it’s just gorgeous! Plus they had already done some major renovations in the village and added an ice skating rink, fire pits, cabanas, etc. and it looked amazing. So from the third year until just this last year which was our 7th year of having the event, it was up at Northstar. The event was about raising money to help me pay for all my medical bills. I had insurance but not everything was covered. For instance my insurance covered only $2,000 of medical equipment per year and that was unfortunately gone as soon as I bought my wheelchair, which cost $5,000. At the time I was also going to Project Walk for physiotherapy and since they don’t take insurance it was costing me between $3,200-$3,500 a month so without the money raised from the TLC there is no way I would have been able to go to physiotherapy for those two years. I am so thankful for that. The monies raised for the first couple years were donated to the Tara Llanes Road to Recovery.

photo 11 The first 2 years the Race for Tara was held I was more or less on the sidelines in terms of helping with the event simply because my life was about focusing on my rehab It was that year that I decided to change the name from the Race for Tara to the Tara Llanes Classic and also the year that we became much more involved with the Reeve-Irvine Research Center. When we were going into year number three I was becoming more involved in the event probably since I had just moved to Canada and had a bit more time on my hands. I was doing better in terms of my recovery and I wanted to be able to help others so we split the monies raised between the Reeve-Irvine Center and the Tara Llanes Classic. That way we could donate some of the funds to help find a cure for spinal cord injury as well as still be able to help me pay for some of my medical expenses. Going into our 5th year one of my best friends Aaron Baker who had talked about opening his own rehab facility finally did it His facility is called CORE which stands for Center of Restorative Exercise and they opened their doors about 2 years ago There are very few facilities such as CORE in the United States that I know of so when one opens up with the specialized equipment required you want to see it succeed. So I felt it would be a good idea to not only get behind the Reeve-Irvine Center to find a cure but to also get behind CORE and all the people with spinal cord injuries that continue to work their asses off day in and day out keeping their bodies in the best possible physical condition so that when it comes time to do some walking their bodies can handle it Last year was our 7th year of the Tara Llanes Classic and one of our most successful. I am so very proud of that. At the same time the event was getting to be a huge undertaking for me personally and I had to make the decision as to whether or not we would have the event the following year. I made the decided that we needed a bit of a break and to sort of regroup a bit before we get our next event going. This is not the end of the TLC
The first two years the Race for Tara was held, I was more or less on the sidelines in terms of helping with the event simply because my life was about focusing on my rehab. It was that year that I decided to change the name from the Race for Tara to the Tara Llanes Classic and also the year that we became much more involved with the Reeve-Irvine Research Center.

When we were going into year number three I was becoming more involved in the event probably since I had just moved to Canada and had a bit more time on my hands. I was doing better in terms of my recovery and I wanted to be able to help others so we split the monies raised between the Reeve-Irvine Center and the Tara Llanes Classic. That way we could donate some of the funds to help find a cure for spinal cord injury as well as still be able to help me pay for some of my medical expenses.

Going into our 5th year one of my best friends, Aaron Baker, who had talked about opening his own rehab facility finally did it! His facility is called CORE, which stands for Center of Restorative Exercise and they opened their doors about two years ago! There are very few facilities such as CORE in the United States that I know of so when one opens up with the specialized equipment required, you want to see it succeed. So I felt it would be a good idea to not only get behind the Reeve-Irvine Center to find a cure but to also get behind CORE and all the people with spinal cord injuries that continue to work their asses off day in and day out, keeping their bodies in the best possible physical condition so that when it comes time to do some walking their bodies can handle it!

Last year was our 7th year of the Tara Llanes Classic and one of our most successful. I am so very proud of that. At the same time the event was getting to be a huge undertaking for me personally and I had to make the decision as to whether or not we would have the event the following year. I made the decided that we needed a bit of a break and to sort of regroup a bit before we get our next event going. This is not the end of the TLC.

photo 12 I ve been in touch with Mark Woods from the North Shore Mountain Bike Association. Mark is the creator of the TAP Trail Adoption Program program here in North Vancouver and we re working on making the trails fully accessible for everyone I wanted to be able to ride my 3-wheeled mountain bike down the trails and fit over bridges and navigate the entire trail. I m sure there are tons of other people that would love to ride some of those trails as well with bikes like mine. So it s in the beginning stages but Mark is really behind it and that s what it takes....someone to believe in it I m also working a bit as a consultant for a larger hotel chain in the states which all came about after my own horrible experience at one of their hotels. I was refused help getting into the airport van for what I was told at the time was company policy. I won t get into the whole thing but what s come of it so far besides an apology from the hotel is an open mind and an opportunity to consult and hopefully make some real change for the better for all of those in chairs and or with different-abilities I really don t like the word disability or handicapped so I hope to see that changed as well . I really would like to open some eyes to some of the injustices happening so the appropriate changes can be made in our society. I never would have thought my life would have taken me in this direction but it has so I m going to make the best of it
I’ve been in touch with Mark Woods from the North Shore Mountain Bike Association. Mark is the creator of the TAP (Trail Adoption Program) program here in North Vancouver and we’re working on making the trails fully accessible for everyone! I wanted to be able to ride my 3-wheeled mountain bike down the trails and fit over bridges and navigate the entire trail. I’m sure there are tons of other people that would love to ride some of those trails as well with bikes like mine. So it’s in the beginning stages but Mark is really behind it and that’s what it takes... someone to believe in it! I’m also working a bit as a consultant for a larger hotel chain in the States, which all came about after my own horrible experience at one of their hotels. I was refused help getting into the airport van for what I was told at the time was “company policy.” I won’t get into the whole thing, but what’s come of it so far besides an apology from the hotel is an open mind and an opportunity to consult and hopefully make some real change for the better for all of those in chairs and/or with different-abilities (I really don’t like the word disability or handicapped so I hope to see that changed as well). I really would like to open some eyes to some of the injustices happening so the appropriate changes can be made in our society. I never would have thought my life would have taken me in this direction, but it has so I’m going to make the best of it!

photo 13 I can t express my gratitude to Aaron Baker Laquita Taylor Isaacs and everyone at CORE. Without them I would not be walking. Aaron opened CORE which is a state-of-the-art facility equipped with specialized equipment providing low cost integrated structural personalized and progressive evaluations treatment plans and education to help improve function and independence about 2 years ago and it s been packed since the doors opened I started going to CORE about 6 months ago and the physiotherapy that I ve received has been different than any other rehabilitation facility. It s hard to explain but not only do the trainers at CORE deeply care about every person that goes through their doors but you can see that they have no doubt on how to treat you. That makes me so much more confident. There are things that my trainer Taylor does. For instance after I get there I ll do a warm-up and then I ll lay down and he ll measure my leg length. Then we know what we are working towards.
I can’t express my gratitude to Aaron Baker, Laquita, Taylor Isaacs, and everyone at CORE. Without them I would not be walking. Aaron opened CORE which is a state-of-the-art facility, equipped with specialized equipment, providing low cost integrated, structural, personalized and progressive evaluations, treatment plans, and education to help improve function and independence about two years ago and it’s been packed since the doors opened!

I started going to CORE about six months ago and the physiotherapy that I’ve received has been different than any other rehabilitation facility. It’s hard to explain but not only do the trainers at CORE deeply care about every person that goes through their doors but you can see that they have no doubt about how to treat you. That makes me so much more confident. There are things that my trainer Taylor does: for instance after I get there I’ll do a warm-up and then I’ll lay down and he’ll measure my leg length. Then we know what we are working towards.

photo 14 . I never knew how much my hips and legs had actually rotated in the last few years. I don t think any rehab facility has ever measured my leg length but it makes total sense if the end goal is to get me standing and walking right Think about it if you tried to stand up and your left leg was 1 1 4 in. higher than your right leg that would make it awfully difficult to stand up straight wouldn t it When I first started going to CORE 6 months ago 1 1 4 inches was the difference between my left and right legs but when I m actively working out at CORE that 1 1 4 inch difference disappears Literally after we get done doing our stretches and movements my legs are measured again and they are dead even Now I can get to walking I had some custom leg braces made a few years ago that allow me to lock and un-lock my knees with the touch of a button. When I lock the braces out I can put most of my weight on my legs and stand up-right. However my hips are extremely tight now because I sit for the majority of the day so it takes a little while to get them loosened up. I haven t gain any more feeling in my legs than what I ve had since the accident. I can feel a little bit on the inside of my left knee but that s pretty much it. I also have more movement on my left side mainly because as the doctor put it in medical terms The right side of your spinal cord is the side that got smashed a bit . Well that s a pretty straight forward way to put it
I never knew how much my hips and legs had actually rotated in the last few years. I don’t think any rehab facility has ever measured my leg length but it makes total sense if the end goal is to get me standing and walking, right? Think about it, if you tried to stand up and your left leg was 1 1/4 in. higher than your right leg that would make it awfully difficult to stand up straight wouldn’t it? When I first started going to CORE six months ago 1 1/4 inches was the difference between my left and right legs but when I’m actively working out at CORE that 1 1/4 inch difference disappears! Literally after we get done doing our stretches and movements, my legs are measured again and they are dead even! Now I can get to walking! I had some custom leg braces made a few years ago that allow me to lock and un-lock my knees with the touch of a button. When I lock the braces out, I can put most of my weight on my legs and stand up-right. However, my hips are extremely tight now, because I sit for the majority of the day, so it takes a little while to get them loosened up. I haven’t gained any more feeling in my legs than what I’ve had since the accident. I can feel a little bit on the inside of my left knee but that’s pretty much it. I also have more movement on my left side, mainly because as the doctor put it in medical terms, "The right side of your spinal cord is the side that got smashed a bit.'' Well, that’s a pretty straight forward way to put it!

photo 15 I need to use this opportunity to give me most heart-felt thanks to everyone. To my wife Elladee my Mom my friends Claire and Aaron and another great friend Laquita. If I am having a gnarly day and need someone to talk me off the ledge so to speak they are the ones to do that. They know that I would do anything for them as well. Throughout this 6-year journey I would like to express my deepest gratitude love and thanks to my entire family. To all my friends back home in SoCal. To Fee my dear friend RIP. To Jaymie Hels and Jo. To my Craig hospital crew Jen amp Anne EZE Polly Leah and Ian Kiwi and Laura Candi Lauren amp Miller Brian and Beth Hawkins Nicki and Diane and to my former coach James. Taylor Isaacs and everyone at CORE. Every single person that helped with the Tara Llanes Classic Brian and Thayne Bolin Mike Stewart Daniel amp Kim Renee Anderson Patrick Kathryn Dillion Toshi Deanne Monica all of the racers volunteers sponsors media and everyone at Northstar. To all of my sponsors that have stayed with me...Giant Shimano Smith amp Troy Lee. Thank you to Suzy Kim Tania Rafer Dr. Os and everyone at the Reeve-Irvine Research Center. A huge thank you to my BC people Lindsay Daamo amp Little Mac Sara amp Tamara Chantal Nat Kelly Smith Rob Mulder Phil amp Liette and Danielle. Lou James and everyone at Obsession. Jeremy Mike and everyone at Speed Theory. And I want to thank all of the bike shops along the way that have helped fix my wheelchair or work on my hand cycle. And I d like to thank Riley and Pinkbike for doing this article. I really hope that I haven t forgotten anybody but if I did I m really sorry and you know who you are.
I need to use this opportunity to give my most heart-felt thanks to everyone: to my wife Elladee, my Mom, my friends Claire and Aaron, and another great friend, Laquita. If I am having a gnarly day and need someone to talk me off the ledge, so to speak, they are the ones to do that. They know that I would do anything for them as well.

Throughout this 6-year journey I would like to express my deepest gratitude, love, and thanks to my entire family. To all my friends back home in SoCal. To Fee, my dear friend, RIP. To Jaymie, Hels, and Jo. To my Craig hospital crew, Jen & Anne, EZE, Polly, Leah and Ian, Kiwi and Laura, Candi, Lauren & Miller, Brian and Beth Hawkins, Nicki and Diane, and to my former coach James. Taylor Isaacs and everyone at CORE. Every single person that helped with the Tara Llanes Classic: Brian and Thayne Bolin, Mike Stewart, Daniel & Kim, Renee Anderson, Patrick, Kathryn, Dillion, Toshi, Deanne, Monica, all of the racers, volunteers, sponsors, media, and everyone at Northstar. To all of my sponsors that have stayed with me...Giant, Shimano, Smith, & Troy Lee. Thank you to Suzy Kim, Tania, Rafer, Dr. Os, and everyone at the Reeve-Irvine Research Center. A huge thank you to my BC people: Lindsay, Daamo & Little Mac, Sara & Tamara, Chantal, Nat, Kelly Smith, Rob Mulder, Phil & Liette, and Danielle. Lou, James, and everyone at Obsession. Jeremy, Mike, and everyone at Speed Theory. And I want to thank all of the bike shops along the way that have helped fix my wheelchair or work on my hand cycle. And I’d like to thank Riley and Pinkbike for doing this article. I really hope that I haven’t forgotten anybody but if I did I’m really sorry and you know who you are.



CORE Centre
Reeve Irvine Centre



Riley on home turf.
Riley McIntosh is a mountain biker from the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island. He has done a fair bit of trail building and has dabbled in writing. He loves interviewing interesting people and learning more about them. He hopes that Pinkbike’s readers enjoy the Characters series.

Sorry for Partying
Danielle Baker is a writer and photographer who enjoys long walks in the rain, riding her bike, and shots of tequila. Growing up without electricity or running water, Danielle found a great appreciation for all things nature which eventually led her to her love of mountain biking, and fear of whales. You can find Danielle's articles and photos on pinkbike.com and at daniellebaker.com.



Characters #1 - Thomas Schoen
Characters #2 - Bill McLane
Characters #3 - Tig Cross and Sasha LeBaron
Characters #4 - Mark Holt
Characters #5 - Kevin Eskelin
Characters #6 - The Spell of the Yukon




Must Read This Week

62 Comments

  • + 54
 Tara, you are amazing, an inspiration to able bodied and disabled people everywhere. Keep up the good work and the road to recovery. Stay Strong! xxx
  • + 4
 nuff said. I think I'm one of your biggest fans in Poland, Tara. Stay Srong! xoxo
  • + 3
 Well said, Si! Keep up the hard work Tara. We're all rooting for you! SO Great to see your progress!!! See you at the classic this coming summer.
  • + 3
 TARA,keep on trucking,you have the will,some would say y,do you want to ride again,its not the ride,its the feeling you get from liveing your dream.i think of human's like her,and i ride my bike thinking at any time it could all be nuked,but you cant live life like that.tara i ride my bike for u and every HUMAN that has the will to fight for LIFE and LIFE is Y.tara you remember tahoe mike buff made you kiss buck
  • + 28
 T'Dawg.
I'm so happy to see these stories of the huge steps you are taking.
I remember the day of your accident well and the feelings I felt when I saw you (one of my best friends) crash. I remember watching from the start gate as the back of your bike kicked up and knowing in my stomach that it was not going to have a good outcome.
When we knew for sure; I was devastated for you. But more than that, I was afraid of how you'd cope and deal with this situation in your mind. For sure the physical side has been a massive challenge but I'm both proud and inspired by just how well you have overcome the deepest dark side to this battle of mental strength.
What you have achieved, and the level of commitment required to be where you are today far outweighs the merits any rainbow jersey.
You are a true champion in the eyes of all who know you and those who have seen your battle.
I'm proud to call you a friend "T".
I'll be there in February and can't wait to be back in the mountains with you guys where we all belong. X
  • + 6
 Fee you are one of the raddest chicks I know and it meant the world to me that you came to the hospital when I first got hurt as well as making numerous trips out to Colorado or California to see me either at the hospital, at physical therapy, and even out on a mtn. bike ride as of late! You are the true meaning of the word friend and I love ya'!

Your comment about wondering how I'd cope and deal with the situation in my mind couldn't have been more true. I always thought that one of the hardest parts when I got hurt would be being in the hospital but I was so wrong. One of the hardest parts has been being OUT of the rehabilitation hospital! Just meaning that you have so many people there for you when you first get hurt. You've got tons of people emailing, calling, showing up at the hospital, sending notes and flowers, and on and on. The thing is that when I was in the hospital I truly thought I was going to walk out of there but I guess I just didn't understand at the time how bad it was. On one hand I'm so very glad that I was so in the dark about the reality of it because if I had known that I wasn't going to be walking out my attitude could very well have been completely different? Instead I had bucket loads of hope which I think it really helped pull me through. Don't worry....I still have tons of hope but I think the difference is that I feel a bigger sense of reality. Man o' man...I feel a book coming on! LOL!

Love ya' Fee and can't wait to go for a ride!
  • + 2
 Ah so deep we are. Wink
I'm gona have to borrow a bike if we are riding in Feb, skiing on the other hand... I'll have my planks with me. Smile
See you then, I can't wait!
x
  • + 12
 Just when life gets stressful and you get caught up in all the action, its humbling to read something like this and catch a glimpse in the life of someone who has really come to appreciate life and the strength to pursue dreams no matter what the obstacles are. Amazing story and I'm blessed I had a chance to meet you Tara, keep being awesome.
  • + 9
 Matthew Reeves - I don't believe we've ever met but what you said was hurtful. Some people might say that I shouldn't respond to you but I see it more like if I don't then that's when and how the problem perpetuates.

"If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner." The great Nelson Mandela
  • + 1
 Tara, don't let a little 17yr old pos bring you down. Your a decorated Champion and he's......what???
  • + 7
 I really blew it when I forgot to say THANK YOU to Fox Racing Shox, Mark Fitzsimmons, Elayna Caldwell, Mike VanLienden, and Mark Jordan. I've been using Fox Shox ever since I raced for team Yeti which makes that about 10 years. You guys have always been behind me and even now when I needed some suspension for my new 3-wheel mtn. bike Fox Shox helped me out.

Also, I really want to say thank you to my mother-in-law. You're amazing and I'm lucky to have you in my life! :-)
  • + 6
 "I was coming up to a tricky rhythm section and remembered saying to myself, ''Jump it! No, don’t jump it! Jump it!" And as soon as I doubted myself, even for a second, that was probably the moment I should've backed off. "

I think I have gotten away with having moments like this in my head and then doing it anyway just out of feeling that I had to do it. But unlike when you really commit to doing something and want to do it doesnt feel good afterwards, it just feels like you got away with it. It's definitely important to not do things when you aren't confident about them and to learn how to admit that to yourself.
  • + 4
 Tara - don't know if you will recal our meeting on Commercial Dr. a few years ago, but you and Elladee were standing on the street, and i found myself impulsively responding to my love for you as a courageous sister by walking up to you, and with hardly an introduction, giving you a hug which delighted me to no end that you responded, as Elladee [ who i know as an acquaintance but consider her a friend ] said ' hey i'm here too ' with a smile on her face, so i got two hugs and was sent on my way with a day to remember - Tara's courage has been a factor on occasion to pulling me out of my own trite issues; i am not one to easily put someone on a pedestal but Tara and Elladee are both strong women role models who deserve to be put on the pedestal as well as the podium, but more, together they are living proof that the only 'disability' is in a bad attitude that needs be replaced with...Gratitude; as crazy and toxic as life is, and can be in so many ways, they are also proof in spite of this, there is still much that holds beauty and promise in this world.
  • + 2
 If this is Jesse then yes of course I remember you! And so does Elladee! :-) Your comments were so sweet and just made me feel that much stronger. Thank you and I'm sure we'll bump into each other again. :-)
  • + 1
 :-)
  • + 7
 In the time of weakness only the real athletes simply carry on. Inspirational.
  • + 3
 Keep it up Tara, you're awesome! I remember watching you race when I was getting into riding. In 2007, we shared some common ground - I overshot a double at the bottom of the Keystone bike park, went over the bars and slammed the top of my head directly into the vert section of the next jump. Flipped over the jump and I remember lying there, in pain and scared of the outcome of my crash. Somehow I pulled another card from the deck and came away with just a compression fracture lower in my spine. Still scary, but I recovered. These days I find it easy to complain about this and that, work sucks, blah blah blah. It's easy to lose track of the big picture and focus on the insignificant stuff. Then I read how stoked with life you still are despite what happened and all my gripes are immediately meaningless. You're an inspiration and we can all learn from you!
  • + 3
 Tara has been an inspiration for me, even though she's a female mtb'er, since I was young. I think anyone that gets their own character in a mountain biking game obviously means a lot to the industry. Keep pushing Tara, we have faith in you!

A little interview i found from Downhill Domination: www.youtube.com/watch?v=THLpHU85FV4
  • + 3
 Truly inspiring. A great example of the great mental capabilities of an individual/athlete. You've gotta deal with the situation, no matter how bad it is. Staying positive and focus on reaching new goals, step by step. To train for your sport means you've also gotta think of the mental aspects. Since in the end your mindset determines your success. Especially on the 'cloudy days' you're gonna need it.
  • + 3
 Thanks for the article Riley and great pics Danielle. Inspiration through your determination Tara.
Anyone interested in our shared journey can check out the plan here:
nsmba.ca/content/2013-12_all-access-trail-begins
  • + 5
 Tara you are a badass - We the Tippies send love to you two! Both Tara and Elladee are legends in MTB and awesome people all around. Keep charging! Great photos DB
  • + 2
 The first bit of writing by Riley about the spinal cord was powerful, and Tara, your ability to speak so openly and honestly about your crash is humbling and something to learn from. It's an inherently dangerous sport but it's so much fun it at times seems innocent. It's strange that even when confronted with these stories we don't back down much, you'd think maybe we might be content to enjoy a more leisurely pace in light of the potential consequences, but I guess the adrenaline is too addictive, it's what we have become used to and desire even if it is all so temporary and the consequences so permanent. I guess we're spoiled and even selfish, but it's not the worst way to be selfish..you do get to share it with others. Good to hear you are still able to enjoy riding a bike, I'll try to keep your advice in my head when it matters.
  • + 2
 thanks for the article. Enough said : Tara, you're such inspirational ! We'll probably never know how much it takes to do half of what you did these years... no words, no need... you ARE "bravery", "confidence", "strength" and "will" ; thank you !
  • + 5
 Thank you Tara for sharing your story. You're a special person and I really learned a lot today!
  • + 4
 I was always a huge fan of Tara as a rider and now equally impressed on how she is handling this recovery. Best wishes to her and know she will continue to progress.
  • + 5
 i'm sure this will make us all appreciate our mobility and how lucky we are to have it.
  • + 1
 What a great article. Working as a PT, and also being a rider I have seen both sides of the fence. Thanks for giving kudos to CORE for pushing you to reach your maximum, I know they really appreciate a pat on the back for sure. It is always a gift for therapists to work with super motivated patients. We often don't know the patient before the accident, so we focus on where we begin and then how far we can get them towards their goals.

I also like the emphasis on family/spouse and friend's support. This is so critical in keeping you moving forward and having someone to vent with or bounce ideas off of especially on those bad days.

I wish you luck in continuing to reach your goals, and stay positive :-)
  • + 1
 So glad that I actually took the time to read this article. It not only reeks determination but also should make all readers very appreciative of what they have in life. I would highly suggest that any mountain biker, as well, as any extreme athlete that has experience similiar challenges to read this. And personally I think it takes an amazing person to be willing to start a relationship with someone who's experienced an accident in which they did not recover from entirely. Tara, you have made the absolute best of the situation.
  • + 1
 Tara: The day of your crash was my first DH race, a 5k DH race at WhiteFace, only two girls entered, in which I broke my ankle. My boyfriend at the time had told me all about you and I had begun looking you up just prior to this race. I have been following your recovery ever since, and you have inspired me to work harder to attain my goals as a rider. I have been surprised each time I see you your doing something more amazing, walking in those braces?? riding your custom hand bike?? and your 3 wheel DH rig?? YOU are awesome and I hope I get to ride with you one day!! Take care and keep working hard, you rock!
  • + 1
 Be Well Tara. Miss you out here. You are absolutely inspiring. On a lower level of inspiration but equally surprising, I have to give major props to Giant and other sponsors that have maintained their relationships with Tara. A rare example of corporate commitment to their people... Thanks soo much Pinkbike, Riley and Danielle for this thoughtful article and the gorgeous photos.
  • + 1
 She's in better shape than many of us walking. Love to see someone like her working so hard with CORE and spinal research. Hopefully she continues to have those big sponsors behind her. Because she is hope for family, friends and persons with paralysis. There is something very special about her. Maybe she will help bring about a great medical advancement to heal spinal cord injuries?
  • + 1
 Sometimes I think what if I break my back. End up in a wheel chair.? I can only hope I have half of Tara,s strength and determination.
Mark Wood wont let you down. One day I will see you on that Canadian trail riding your trike.
  • + 1
 Thank you Tara. You know, its funny how it seems that life is just out to get us, and then we can read your story and feel kinda silly about those "serious" problems. Remain continuous Tara. Thank you as well to Riley, actually brought tears to my eyes.
  • + 2
 Cheers to you Tara. Strength like yours is something that I dont think I can truly fathom. Hi fives to Riley and Danielle too Smile

Im gonna see if I can get on the trail crew with Mark. Itd be great to take a lap with you.
  • + 1
 Keep riding new machines till ya drop awesome! Narley hard core represent! Here's some Intel reports for you Tara, I'll be by Core to drop them off on the KTM Supermoto when they are done
youtu.be/MYj9zeDnfCo

You rock and showed them how to ride the brink and fight for it! True warrior no doubt !
  • + 3
 Thank you, Tara. You are an amazing woman and an an amazing role model. Keep inspiring, going strong, and pushing boundaries like you always have. XOXO.
  • + 4
 Yes, echoing the other comments: truly inspiring Tara!
Another great story Riley, keep them coming!
  • + 1
 Hi Tara. We've never meet, but I remember watching you race back in the day. I learned of your crash and hotel experience from a Facebook posting by Eddy King. Like everyone else, I was saddened by what you had gone through, but was so stoked with how you handle yourself, then and now. You instantly became my #2 LIFE HERO, only being out done by, (waaaait for it).... EVEL KNIEVEL. I just wanted to take a minute to thank you for making the trip to California and visiting Eddy King. He and I only recently meet, (before his accident) after years of "knowning" him from magazines, in the ol' BMX days. Eddy King the man, is just as impressive as Eddy King THE SILVER BULLET!! I'm proud to able to call him friend. I have to admit though, I worried how a person like him, with this full tilt,larger than life, life style could handle the new challenge. You put my mind at ease. After reading your story and seeing pictures of you at the hospitol, on The Caring Bridge website, I now know, my friend Eddy, will be alright. And enough can't be said about Patty. What an ANGEL!! Anyway, I just want to say Thanks.
  • + 4
 Awesome to see you making those first steps towards walking again. Keep at it. Everyone is wishing you all the best!
  • + 2
 what an incredible athlete. im sure stories like this can help others pull through similar situations like the one Martyn ashton is in. good luck with the recovery.
  • + 5
 inspiration for all
  • + 2
 Way to go! That is inspiration to all! Reminded me of another great physically-challenged athlete, Stacy, riding his fourcross on the DH trails at Whistler.
  • + 3
 Solid article and great photos. Tara, you are a damn strong woman on and off the bike.
  • + 2
 Thank you Riley for shedding some light on the amazing people and places in our mountain bike world. Beautiful shots too!
  • + 3
 Great job Tara! You inspire us all.
  • + 4
 I love you T.
  • + 7
 Right back atcha' Lindz! ☺️
  • + 4
 I have so much respect for your perseverance and determination.
  • + 2
 My big thumb hit the down arrow and it won't let me fix my props @Tyler Maine where are you? Props to you both!!! Hero & LifeGuide :-)
  • + 3
 Nice piece Riley! Tara, you are an inspiration!
  • + 2
 Just a champion. Looked up to you when you were racing. Nothing has changed. xo
  • + 2
 Great article. I remember watching her race years ago when I was first getting into the sport as a youngin
  • + 1
 Wow, what an inspirational read. keep on keeping on Tara, you have an amazing, aspirational attitude :-)
  • + 1
 great article and kudos taking advantage of the unfortunate turn your life took.
  • + 2
 A very inspirational story. Thank you!
  • + 3
 Great article, Riley.
  • + 2
 Best one yet, great inspiration.
  • + 2
 God be with you ! Your character is so great.
  • + 1
 Tara you sound like an awesome lady. Stay strong.
  • + 2
 Your a hero Tara!
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