Whitehorse’s Darryl Tait broke his back snowmobiling in 2009, but his spirit remains indestructible.
The 22-year-old paraplegic hasn’t let his life-changing accident slow him down. He has branched out to new sports and even continues to snowmobile. He is pertinacious.
“It’s what I was doing before my accident, so it’s what I want to keep doing,” said Tait. “It’s what I know and it keeps me moving forward in my life.”
In addition to riding his modified snowmobile the last two winters, Tait has started competing in handcycling and WCMX (wheelchair motocross). He severed his spinal cord while performing a backflip, a trick he landed many times before, during a practice session at New Hampshire’s annual Grass Drags. During the flip his snowmobile’s engine stalled, slowing his rotation, and his quarter-ton machine came down on him.
RELATED:View video on Darryl’s life.
“This October 11 will be three years since the accident and life is definitely moving forward,” said Tait. “The first year was definitely a lot of learning, learning how my body worked, learning how to get around and learning how to do the things that I used to love doing.
“The second year was a little more of a reality check – that this was going to be the rest of my life. So it was a bit of a depression, and I had to grow past that.
“Now into the third year, it’s more about acceptance and it’s easier with everyday things.”
WCMX is a new, evolving sport and Tait is at the vanguard of it. Basically, it’s doing tricks in a skatepark in a wheelchair. It could easily be called extreme wheelchairing.
Tait is able to draw on his skateboarding background when figuring out new tricks.
“You learn to judge transitions and judge speed,” said Tait. “I have the technicality of it in my head, it’s just applying it to a new feature. There’s other people doing it, it’s a new sport, so we’re all learning it together. Facebook is great because we can connect and show each other what we’re doing.”
Tait has competed in two WCMX events this summer. In June he placed second at Canada’s first-ever WCMX event, the 9Lives No Limits Adaptive Skate Comp in Burnaby, B.C.
“I talked to the judges and they said, ‘It looked like you’re going to take first, but it looks like you petered out.’ I recently broke a screw (in my back) so the doctors said don’t do anything,” said Tait, who had two rods and 12 titanium screws implanted in his back following his accident.
“So for the three or four weeks before the competition I was just sitting around, not doing much, waiting on the doctors and what they were going to do with me. They didn’t get back to me soon enough, so I went to the competition and just did my thing.”
The next month he snagged seventh at the Shoe City Open hosted by Life Rolls On at Venice Beach in Los Angeles.
“I didn’t do as well as I hoped,” said Tait. “I crashed in my run so I didn’t get judged too well on that. The year before I did pretty good. We’re starting to see more and more competition in it, more people getting into it. It’s definitely a growing sport and is spreading all over the world.
“It’s showing everyone that it doesn’t suck to be in a wheelchair. We like having fun with it.”
The newly formed U Kon Echelon Bike Club is a developmental club in Whitehorse with the goal of getting as many people cycling as possible. That’s how Tait got into handcycling and how he ended up winning his division at the Tour of Juneau this month.
U Kon Echelon founder Trena Irving “gave me the handbike and I got around on it,” said Tait. “I started trying it out and seeing what I think. This summer she approached me to see if I wanted to get competitive with it and join her club. So I’ve been riding with the club and doing time trials and then she invited me off to Juneau.
“That’s where I did my first competition, but there weren’t any other handcyclists, so it was pretty easy to come first.”
Not only is Tait back on his snowmobile in the winter, he hopes to begin competing in snocross – like motocross, but on a snowmobile – in an adaptive class.
“The goal is, now that snocross is back in the Winter X-Games, I want to shoot for that this winter,” said Tait. “It’s just relearning how to control it. I lost more than half of the functionality of my body so I can’t dominate the sled like I used to. The adaptation really helps. So I can control the machine now; I can jump it, fly it. The worst part about it is I’m fully strapped to the machine, so if it goes for a tumble, I’m going with it. So I really have to be cautious and think about what I’m doing.”
In his first competition since 2009, Tait placed seventh in the 700cc class at the Sima Uphill Challenge in Whitehorse this past April. He would have placed higher, but was unable to continue racing when his custom sled’s seat broke.
He was nonetheless awarded the King of the Hill Trophy at the event.
“It was the first time with the new adapted seat and I’m just starting to push limits, starting to jump it and see what I can do with it,” said Tait. “I have another design in my head, that I want to plan out.”
Tait was raised in Atlin, spent nine years in Yellowknife and finished high school in Whitehorse. He was also a skilled snowboarder, competing at the Canada Winter Games and winning medals at the Arctic Winter Games, including two gold.
He continues to use his snowmobile expertise as an employee of Yukon Honda.
“I’m not major into the sales, but I like to talk to people about riding the products – ATVs, dirt bikes, snowmobiles – and narrow down what they’re looking for,” said Tait.
“It’s definitely made life easier with all the support of everyone in the North,” he added. “Everywhere I go everyone says, ‘What’s up? Great to hear what you’re doing.’ That definitely helps. Whenever I need a hand with anything, getting up a curb or trying to build a new seat for my sled, everyone is there for me.”
Contact Tom Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org