Aaron Chase was paralyzed from the waist down. A stupid error, really, his back wheel slipped from a ladder bridge and he landed on his tailbone. He heard his spine compress, but there was no pain, there was no feeling at all. It happened in 2007 while riding at the Nissan Qashqai Challenge in Newcastle, England. This was Chase at the height of his powers, only two years removed from winning the Red Bull District Ride; he was a podium threat anywhere he rode. The fall compressed his spine and fractured his L1 vertebrae. The L, for lumbar, vertebrae form the base of the spine and are used structurally, for protection, and for movement. The spinal cord, which runs through the vertebrae, is as thin and delicate as al dente spaghetti. It is responsible for carrying the electrical impulses that allow someone to walk, run, or ride a bike.
|You never fully recover from an injury at that level, you just learn to work with it.|
Chase was strapped to a spine board and rushed to the hospital. Sometime during the ambulance ride, feeling returned to his legs, he could wiggle his toes again. After testing, surgeons implanted a medieval-looking collection of rods and screws to stabilize his spine. It looked as if a metallic spider clung tightly to his spinal column, locking bone into place and preventing further damage. The hardware from England would remain in Chase’s back for seven years; it was there during our shoot for Builder, a constant source of pain until specialists at DISC Sports and Spine Centre removed the metal in October 2014.
|It's funny because when Chase and I started riding together, I didn't know about ''Aaron Chase.'' I started from BMX and didn't know how big of a deal he was and still is. It's so cool he's always trying to think of something new, and making all these out of the box ideas we BS about actually happen. Other times it can drive you crazy. He definitely pushes me as a rider. He's got a way of making me think it's a good idea to send some wild and weird things I probably wouldn't have. Chase has always been the pack leader getting trips together and looking out for me big time - I owe that dude a lot! |
|The kid is pretty much fearless, he pushes his riding so hard every time we go out. His confidence and control reminds me to keep my riding progressive.|
|When I was posting photos of the dirt pipe people wouldn't stop asking where it was. Everyone had to know. I'd always give the same answer: ''It's obviously hidden, go find it!'' I ride with a bunch of BMXers all the time and Merrit wanted to have Brian Foster and Chris Childs come ride it for an edit. I had to shoot that one down this time, but maybe after our seggy comes out...|
Aaron Chase and Adam Hauck (pronounced ‘How-k’ not ‘Haw-k’) are close like brothers. They push each other relentlessly, providing encouragement and putdowns, sometimes getting on each other’s nerves, but mostly the best riding buddy the other could ask for. Chase is tall and lean, and his riding seems to mimic his physicality. He is smooth and technical, almost lazy looking. He has an ineffable style, as if the bike were an extension of the body. Watching him, it's easy to believe that anything is possible on two wheels. Chase, 36, is married to Kara, his high school sweetheart. They have two children, Kendall, and Bode (you can already tell Bode takes after his dad), and a dog. Kara is equal parts spouse and manager; she helps with his business, organization, and scheduling.
Hauck is built like a pitbull, compact and muscular. You can tell he’d win in a street fight. He beat Garrett Reynolds at a BMX contest back when they were teenagers, but he had more fun on 26’’ wheels so he turned to mountain bikes. His style is aggressive, it looks like he could manhandle any trick in the book – and he usually does. Hauck, 26, proposed to his longtime girlfriend Sonia, on July 4th, America’s Independence Day, and the day Paris Gore and I flew home from shooting. In a few years I’m sure we’ll see Chase passing on fatherly wisdom to Hauck. How to balance family time and riding, difficult combos like a barspin to diaper change.
The last time we saw Chase and Hauck in a segment together was in New World Disorder 10. Their video legacy seems intertwined because of their split parts, and their shared vision for the sport. Chase, deservedly, is an icon, an inspiration to a whole generation of riders. I don’t think Hauck gets the credit he deserves though. He doesn’t ride many FMB events, nor does he live in a mountain bike mecca like BC or California. He goes about his business quietly, honing his craft and becoming one of the most technically skilled dirt and street riders in the world.
|Hot Jersey summers with 85% humidity and 90 degree days make any summertime build HELL! But it was worth it.|
New Jersey in the summer feels like the inside of a crowded sauna. It’s hot, and humid, and no one told us about the ticks. Lyme Disease is a huge problem in the Tri-State area (the junction of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut) and nightly tick searches found one burrowing into Pinkbike photographer Paris Gore's stomach - he managed to remove it.
What you don’t see here on Pinkbike is just how hard the riders work for a video segment; the sweat equity that goes into the builds, and the bruises that come with testing them out. On our third day of shooting, Chase washed out in some loose gravel. He fell, and gashed his hands and arm. He cleaned himself off and rode all day. No biggie.
We got a call around 10:00 p.m. that night: Chase was in the hospital. The anti-bacterial cream he’d used before bed had caused anaphylactic shock and his throat had started closing. At the hospital he was stabilized, and the next morning he appeared on time, tired, but ready to shoot. He’d had less than four hours of sleep but was still ready to go.
|Don't try to be the next _______. Just be yourself. Take a look and figure out what you do best. Have a plan and work at it, life ain't easy for anyone but you can make it fulfilling. Whatever you do, go all the way.|
Live Free or Die
‘Live free or die’ is the state motto of New Hampshire and it’s tattooed across Chase’s shoulders, above the scar from his surgery. Both Chase and Hauck have pursued that ideal away from the comfort and safety of desk jobs and into a riskier career riding bikes for a living. Chase’s tattoo is actually a shortened version of the full quote, ‘’Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils.’’ It’s a constant reminder to follow your passion, wherever your wheels may take you.