Telling Yuri's Story

Nov 4, 2018
by Jan Valaska  

Yuri’s story

My name is Jano and I am originally from Slovakia. I came to Whistler in 2009 on a one-year work permit, and I immediately fell in love with the local lifestyle. I moved to Canada because of skiing, but 9 years later and I am still here mainly because of mountain biking. In the meantime, I married a Slovak girl and moved to North Vancouver, but I never stopped riding and exploring mountain bike trails in the Sea To Sky region. My young family (wife and 1-year-old daughter) now calls Canada home and life has been really great until recently.

One and half years ago my wife's brother Yuri came to Canada as a temporary worker and him being a bike mechanic and biker his whole life in Slovakia, he got addicted to local trails instantly. We were riding together a lot, and Yuri quickly built up his skills and soon enough he was able to tackle the gnarliest trails on North Shore and in Sea To Sky region.

One evening in late August, I got a phone call from my riding buddy who told me that Yuri had a very nasty crash on steep rock-roll on the new trail we had recently found on Mt. Seymour and they need help to get him out of the mountain. Two hours later Yuri was taken by helicopter to Vancouver General Hospital and underwent emergency surgery. Next morning the doctor informed us that Yuri suffered severe spinal cord injury and will most likely never walk again, but they hope that he will have at least limited functionality in his hands which will allow him to live his life independently to a certain extent.

For the next few days I had a feeling that what is happening around me cannot be real and it is just a bad dream. “How is it possible that my brother-in-law, normally a very active guy is suddenly laying down in the hospital bed all day long, is being fed via tube, a machine is helping him to breathe, and all he can do is just blink with his eyes?” I hoped that I would wake up from this nightmare soon, but eventually I realized that this is not a dream, this is our new reality.

Yuri spent first 10 days in ICU (intensive care unit) and once his vital functions stabilized he was transferred to spinal unit, where he was currently waiting for an open spot in GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre. His condition got much better since his first day in ICU, but this is just the beginning, and there is a long road ahead of him. His current state is that he can breathe on his own, talk, feed himself and he is exercising every day to build strength in his muscles. He can control his biceps, wrist and partly triceps. Unfortunately, he is not able to use his fingers yet, but Yuri is a tough guy with an extremely positive attitude to life so we all believe he will regain functionality at least in his fingers one day.

Immediately after his accident, I kept asking myself “what could have I done better or differently to avoid this situation?”. The simplest answer that came to my mind was “not ride at all”, but that is of course not acceptable for a biker. I realized that I should be asking myself “how should I ride in order to minimize the chances of getting into a similar situation?”. Yuri and I brainstormed about it, and we came up with the following list, which might help you to ride in smarter, safer and more sustainable way without sacrificing joy from riding.

Never ride alone

Yuri would most likely have died (frozen to death) on the trail if he was riding alone that day because after his crash he wasn’t able to move at all. It happened in the evening on the remote trail so no one would be able to find him until next day.
Please do your best to ride with at least one, ideally with two buddies. If something goes wrong, one person can stay with the injured rider, and the other one can go get help.

Carry essential gear

Even if you are going just for a short ride on your local mountain after work be prepared for the unexpected. Your bike might break, you could get lost while exploring a new area or someone might get hurt. You will be able to deal with an unanticipated event more easily if you pack following items with you: multi-tool, tube patch kit, pump, headlamp, first aid kit, charged cell phone.

Please be wise and do not ride without essential gear.

Keep your body ready

Most of us bikers find stretching lame and time-wasting, but as we all know mountain biking is a very demanding sport for our bodies. Regular stretching and exercise (e.g. yoga) will help to prepare your body for a ride, will reduce chances of you getting seriously hurt and will significantly decrease your recovery times if you get hurt. This does not apply only to “more experienced AKA older riders”, it is very beneficial for youngsters as well.
Please invest time in your body and give it some love regularly. It will reward you by allowing you to continue to enjoy riding for many more years and with fewer injuries.

Do your warm-up lap

Starting your ride on a gnarly and challenging double black trail is much more fun than an easy peasy ride down the blue trail, but your body needs a bit of time to reach proper operating temperature, which will allow it to function at its best. Warmed up muscles or ligaments absorb impacts much better and is less likely to get damaged or torn during the crash.
Please take it easy on your first run of the day, especially when you are shuttling (not pedaling) to your trail.

Follow your gut

“Should I go for it?” you might find yourself asking this question when you are standing at the top of the drop or in front of the gap jump. One day you might feel strong and confident, another day you might feel weaker and not so sure about same drop or jump.
Please don’t go for it if you are not feeling it that day - you can come back and try again another day.

Have appropriate insurance

Most of us bikers would choose to spend money on “drivetrain upgrade” or “fork tuning” instead of purchasing proper insurance. This is totally understandable, but it might not be the wisest thing to do. This applies especially for bikers who are riding outside of their motherland.

From my understanding, there are 3 types of insurance at play when biking abroad. The first one is your home country’s medical insurance. It covers you when you get hurt in your homeland or once you are transported back to your home country in the case you get injured out of the country. The second type is travel insurance which covers unexpected critical care abroad and cost of transporting you back home. If you have been living long enough in a foreign country, you might become eligible for insurance offered to local residents. That is the third type of insurance. The catch with this type is that it does not cover your transport home. Additionally, your coverage might get cancelled by issuing country under certain circumstances, and you would have to pay for your stay in the hospital out of your pocket. As an illustration, be aware that one day in Canadian hospital can cost you up to 15,000 CAD, your bill for surgery will be at least 50,000 CAD and price of transportation with a medical team from Canada to Europe is somewhere between 60,000 to 80,000 CAD.

Please be smart and always make sure you are covered by adequate travel insurance when riding abroad. And make sure that it covers high-risk sports like mountain biking.

When I saw Yuri in ICU for the first time, I was convinced that I would not want to ride my bike ever again. Today I feel different, and I know that I will not stop biking because it is a big part of ‘me’ and it gives me too much pleasure. But I will definitely ride differently...

I hope Yuri's story will not discourage you from biking. I hope it will provoke you to think instead and will encourage you to take steps to minimize risks associated with the sport we love to prevent life-changing injuries similar to the one that happened to Yuri.

Most of the people might consider Yuri’s accident devastating for him and his family. I concur that it is life-changing, but definitely not life-ending. I already noticed a few very positive effects it had on us - closest people around Yuri. It made us:
- more grateful for everything we have
- more careful about everything we do
- more caring for people around us
- more united as a family

Have fun out there, but please PLAY SAFE.

If you are interested in how Yuri is doing, you can follow him at on his Facebook page.

Jano

Must Read This Week

105 Comments

  • + 81
 Might be a good idea to start doing a series on bike safety and preparedness. Gear (protective, first aid), techniques, etc (insurance too but I was thinking prevention in the first place).

Safety Sunday?

Sidenote - there appears to be a gofundme for Yuri. Was a bit surprised to not see it in the article. It's on the facebook page.
Best of luck and wishes of a full recovery... you never know Smile
  • + 19
 Hi Wolf, I like your idea about regular articles promoting smart and safe riding. RE GoFundMe - The reason why link to fundraising page it is not in this article is becuase PinkBike do not promote crowdfunding pages, unless it is for professional rider like Jared Graves .
  • + 17
 Normally i’m not the biggest fan of Go Fund Me campaigns, but this one seems warranted.

www.gofundme.com/lets-help-yuri?fbclid=IwAR2EsjbnclxJBJFtnOr9xOL48cZ5SAr4FvdiN9eC1lluazVGiEL83ciwFvU
  • + 13
 @janovalaska: Hello PinkBike - why can't we use this forum for crowdfunding when it is a biking related accident? I thought we are all part of a larger bike community. Pro or no pro, when someone is hurt and needs a hand, I don't see the distinction. Maybe time to reconsider this policy?
  • + 12
 @trillot: Because bike injuries aren’t rare, and everyone and their brother would be hitting up the kind hearted people with a disposable income on this site for money. It would in itself become a fundraising site.

I think putting the cut off at the Pro rider who’s occupation is to directly contribute to sites like this is perfectly reasonable. Pinkbike makes money posting articles about Jared Graves, so helping him out with a favor makes sense.
  • + 9
 @ninjatarian: You are absolutely right - unfortunately there are many injured riders and and it is totally understandable that PinkBike cannot promote every fundraising campaign of every injured rider in the world.

This article wasn't supposed to be about fundraising. It was about spreading awareness in biker community about how to ride in smart, safe and sustainable way to reduce number of serious injuries.
  • + 2
 @janovalaska: Can you give us an email address we can e-transfer money to rather than wasting some of the donation on GoFundMe?
  • + 2
 @trillot: PinkBike is in very difficult position - they want to help, but they cannot help everyone...
  • + 2
 @ninjatarian: - interesting. But, then again, if serious, life altering bike injuries are so commonplace, then maybe we need to increase their visibility - and maybe then it would give riders a better perspective of the real risks and get people to exercise more care. Again, I'm distinguishing the sort of accident that Yuri had, from someone who breaks their arm.
  • + 16
 I'd rather quit than have to ride with people every time. I actually solo night ride just I so dont have to even see people. ...I understand the advice. I just won't heed it.
  • + 7
 @scary1: Agreement here. Also, when I ride with another person, I match up with their pace, either faster or slower. Both tend to be much more dangerous for me. Faster, for obvious reasons. And slower, because either my timing gets off on known features or because I start screwing around by seeking ugly, risky lines to feed my adrenaline needs.
  • + 3
 @scary1: I like to ride alone as well. What I do is use the emergency alarm function on my Garmin which would notify my wife in case I crash and don't get up anymore. It would be good for me in emergency situations and it's good for her every day, as she is more at ease when I'm out on the trails.
  • + 1
 @wejblaney:
Hi Wejblaney, if you are interested in supporting Yuri via Interac e-Transfer, then please send it to Yuri's sister email address p.jakubacova@gmail.com. Please use word ‘Yuri’ as security question answer. We will add your donation to campaign manually. Thank you very much.
All options how to financially support Yuri are described on very top post of his FaceBook page.
  • + 3
 @wejblaney: agreed. I do not donate via gofundme due to them taking a monstrous chunk of the funds. They are serving a purpose, but their cut is way too much. Just calling it like it is.
  • + 2
 @rexluthor: i think you can edit the Gofundme % amount to zero and give them non of your money.
  • + 1
 @Yaan: what part in this poor guys post did anyone mention giving money ?
  • + 1
 @Matt115lamb: Mentioned it at the end of my first comment, seems to have picked up steam more than the safe riding/emergency skills thing.
  • + 2
 First of all: My thoughts are with Yuri and his whole family. Heal up as good as it can be! Keep your strength and your sense of humor!

Second: You're right with your safety points, but one I'm missing. Protection. Yes, I know it might sound old fashioned amd I don't know if Yuri wore it. I never ride without it. Not only because I do always ride alone, but because I think of my wife and little daughter, I wear backprotection, knee guards and also my neckbrace. Yes, even in summer. Sometimes I think it's too much and I could ride uphill easier with less, but nevermind. Safety Gear is now light and safe. Yes I can get badly hurt with this stuff too, and maybe it would not have helped Yuri in his case, but it definitely reduces injuries.

WISH THE BEST FOR YURI!
  • + 43
 hey yuri i'm c6/c7 quadriplegic recovering after injury in whistler as well, when youre ready hit me up on pm or instagram, ill help you with some knowledge
  • + 2
 Hi Niki, thank you very mcuh for your offer. I just sent you a message. I hope we will talk soon. Jano
  • + 21
 Thanks for the well-written and sobering story Jan! I personally struggle with this because the way I ride now compared to the way I used to ride 5-20 years ago is so different, yet the risks are still there. People are getting injured all the time on regular trail situations. All we need to do is be grateful for everything we have and be as safe and prepared as possible... and accept the possible consequences of the sport we love if something happens.

želáte vy a vašu rodinu všetko najlepšie
  • + 4
 ďakujeme veľmi pekne za podporu / thank you very much for your support
  • + 12
 After all the tragedy, you managed to give needed advice. More people need to read this rather than watching videos of people taking huge risks all the time. I hope your brother-in-law gets well soon.
  • + 10
 Just a thought....instead of a fresh tire or new jersey you may not need on Black Thursday...send Juri some love and support, and back it up with GoFundMe......................................This is a life-changing event. Juri is changing our lives with his story. Let's change his life with some assistance from the ridership.
  • + 7
 I wish the best for Yuri! Only thing I´m 100% proud of Spain is health care is free and universal. It is a good thing here anybody is let down by the money. A close friend suffer a motorbike crash this summer and it sucks,it is a life change event no matter if you can walk again or not. Last time we end a ride in the Hospital was with a guy from Taiwan with a broken finger,anybody ask him for money or insurance data or something like that.
  • + 7
 Í recovered myself from a espinal injure a few year ago. Doctors said Í wasn't be able to wallk again. It took me two and a half years to ride again with some limitations. So keep yourself strong.
  • + 5
 This year I crashed up in whistler and broke my neck, I was lucky... but over the 10 years of riding I never would have thought it could happen to me. People reading this should take the advice seriously, it can happen to anyone on any trail. Respect to Yuri, my best wishes
  • + 5
 Hey man, one of my friend just pointed me to your story. I think we've heard about you from some guys there when it happened (around 27 august if i'm right).

We rode the same trail 1 day before and i was really lucky because my handlebar broke in half at the end of the ride. No serious crash happened but i think i know exactly the rock roll you were talking about. I had a short travel bike and i was not feeling enough confident to ride it so i bypassed it. I had a lot of luck because for sure that my handlebar would had broke there..

Wish you a fast recovery buddy!
  • + 1
 What kind of handlebar just breaks in half?
  • + 1
 Might be a carbon handle bar. I’ve seen one before on a gryphon race here in squamish. @colincolin:
  • + 2
 @colincolin: Raceface SixC ..
  • + 1
 I ride Seymour all the time. What trail is this?
  • + 4
 I understand about not riding alone but good riding buddies are hard to come but sometimes if I was waiting g for 1 or 2 riding buddies I would had week over half my rides this year BUT if you alone you need to ride smart go slower and ride trail you know blue and easy black I text my girlfriend my route and text her back when done saying I'm ok
  • + 3
 I feel you. It’s sometimes hard to find riding buddies who will not treat every ride as a race. That’s no fun at all. Hence, I ride Hans style, SOLO.
  • + 4
 a few years ago I went out of my typical casual attitude about riding and bought real good armour. it has saved mybass a number of times. yeah, i look like a ninja with the gear on under my sweatshirt...but this stuff enables me to actually get back on my bike after a serious toss. thanks for this, Jano
  • + 4
 Man this hits close to home. Since my SCI I have came across so many others who were also dealt this terrible injury. I can't agree more about riding with others (especially on difficult terrain). If it weren't for the two guys riding with me I would have been relying on a passer by in the middle of the woods to save me since I couldn't feel anything from the neck down. Yuri, keep your head up! They might tell you you may never walk but nothing is a definite! Give PT and OT your all! Every little improvement is huge and don't tread on the past! These gofundme's are so important for this injury with all the accommodations needed after discharge, so I'm happy to help as others helped me. Best of luck!
  • + 7
 Powerful story! Thank you for taking the time to share it for the betterment of your biking brothers and sisters.
  • + 4
 I heard about this and feel for your friend.

These trails are not to be taken lightly. If you do get hurt extraction is not simple. This is also an important consideration.

My mantra is, I’d rather walk this today to ride another day.
  • + 2
 I wish mountain of patience and strength to Juri to deal with his new situation and work through it to a new and a bit different life that he'll surely enjoy. Let the power of family and his dearest help him with that. As a father of two little speedy elfins I changed my riding tactics basically the same way as you advised in your spot-on article. You named it very well. Pavol, Bratislava.
  • + 1
 Hi Pali, thank you very much for your support and kind words.Yuri will be transported to Bratislava at the beginning of January so lets go for beerSmile Cheers. Jano
  • + 1
 @janovalaska: Hi Jano. Then we must go for a beer, definitely. Will try to keep it in mind, and you too:-) and we'll meet. I wish Juri safe transport.
  • + 3
 Sending much love (and GoFundMe support) Yuri's way. It takes incredible spirit to endure such an event, and even more to then share your story with grace in hope that others will learn from your experience.
  • + 1
 Just keep defending yourself, justifying what you said, and pat yourself on the back. It would have been easier to go, "yeah, I guess yoga doesn't hurt, perhaps the writer could have also noted the critical role of strength"....achieve the same point, without going "I'm so right, he's wrong"....get more people to listen to your point without alienating those that think yoga has its benefits (which it does)....I;m not puzzled at all, I know an over-inflated douchebag when I read one. I never mentioned veganism...but feel free to drag in whatever unrelated bullsh*t you need . You still can't argue your way out of a wet paper bag, no matter how many plates you stack on the bar. Good times.
  • + 1
 My father slipped off a ladder and hit his head on the bottom of a pool. He had very similar mobility that was described here, with only being able to use part of his arms and limited use of his hands. After a full year in the hospital and period of heavy bitterness, he learned to love life again, and my hope is that Yuri will as well. I'll echo some of what was stated in this article. Always ride within level, never hit anything you're not comfortable doing and warm up. At the tender age of 45, I've found I need to do this more than ever, especially before hitting BC parks or shuttles. As some others have mentioned, I too have been considering on getting more encompassing body armor as I know I will get injured more easily and not recover from those injuries nearly as quickly as my 25 year old self used to.
  • + 1
 I was diagnosed osteoporosis after having a crash in Sochi and fracturing a couple of vertebrae last year. Fortunately the spinal cord is ok. I am still riding. With the new information I consider this activity way more dangerous for me, but cannot stop riding trails. I decided not to do any big gaps or other high consequence things. But the danger is always there. Wish all the best for Yury
  • + 2
 Hi everyone, thank you very much for your kind words and positive healing energy sent Yuri's way. All this support means a lot to us. Jano
  • + 2
 A buddy and I are riding a new area today and this was a good but very unfortunate reminder, thank you. Best of luck to Yuri and your family!
  • + 4
 Sending strength vibes to Yuri !
  • + 4
 Damn...biggest fear right there. Stay strong fellas....
  • + 1
 @WAKIdesigns: You know what? I shot off my mouth enough. You just wrote a stupid thing. Fair enough. I provided an initial response that then derailed into a defense no one was wanting to make.
  • + 1
 Thanks for sharing the story. This article and seeing some of the Rampage riders struggle with dislocating joints is a reminder to me that there are life-altering risks involved with some of the bigger stunts out there.
  • + 0
 Just went otb in a techy rock roll and smashed my elbow to bits. Lots of other scrapes and bruises so am lucky it wasn't worse. At 33 I'll probably be riding again next summer. Don't let fear and common sense hold you back.
  • + 1
 And it should go without saying but wear the tight gear, last year I saw a guy on a 4K bike hitting trails in knee pads and a snap back cap
  • - 19
flag LOLWTF (Nov 4, 2018 at 9:49) (Below Threshold)
 I might or might not have forgotten my helmet on a bike trip once and might or might not haven't been able to wait in the car.

Sorry(not)
  • + 26
 @LOLWTF: i'm (not) sorry but you are or aren't an idiot
  • - 15
flag LOLWTF (Nov 4, 2018 at 10:05) (Below Threshold)
 @nikifor88: do your kids wear a helmet to school too?
  • + 14
 @LOLWTF: my kids do wear helmets or don't, couse they do exist or don't
  • + 1
 Go Yuri. I read the above and I hope you continue to heal. Thank you for the tips too; it's so easy to forget the obvious essentials.

Thoughts and healing vibes from the UK
  • + 1
 Healing vibes, man. Good luck in your recovery. Be careful out there people.
  • + 1
 Great story. Though, I will still ride alone. Sometimes it's just too hard to find someone to ride with.
  • + 1
 @janovalaska Jano, good luck pane ! Doufam ze se Yuri brzo uzdravi. Prispeli jsme neco malo, snad to pomuze. Baza
  • + 1
 Cau Peto, dakujeme za podporu. V Januari sa stahujeme spat na Slovensko tak mozme sa stretnut na pivo ak ste v cechach.
  • + 1
 Thanks Jano for the post and best wishes to Yuri. Stay strong!
  • + 1
 Sorry to hear and I hope the recovery goes better than expected.
  • + 1
 newly discovered trail means Cambodia, right?
  • + 1
 Thanks for sharing Jano. Best wishes to you and your family
  • + 1
 All the best for your recovery Yuri.
  • + 1
 I am sending healing vibes! Keep your Head up Yuri!
  • + 1
 Excellent advice. Yuri stay strong!
  • + 1
 Best wishes to this Guy! some good tips but I Have No Insurance
  • + 1
 Having an insurance minimises the burden for the family. Ride safe mate.
  • + 1
 Best of luck and thank you for your advice!
  • + 1
 Thank you for the post Jano.
  • + 1
 Jano dik za pekne citanie nech sa Jro uzdravi.
  • + 1
 Respect Yuri!
  • + 1
 Thanks for sharing
  • + 1
 a great update
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