Interview: Colton Aeck – Don’t call it a comeback

Between the MX of Nations, Monster Energy Cup and Red Bull Straight Rhythm October was a month packed with great stories. For the most inspirational one you have to see Colton Aeck. The Simi Valley Honda privateer is riding better than ever after a severe spinal cord injury sustained at the Arlington Supercross in 2017. Although he has qualified for three 250SX main events before, Monster Cup was his first ever 450 main.

Don’t get me wrong, Straight Rhythm is a lot of fun but Colton Aeck was set up under his Shot Race Gear canopy with a remarkable ear to ear smile, easily matching the one of Eli Tomac one week earlier. Sitting aside his spectacular CR125 he had all reasons to beam. His 2018 Supercross season didn’t exactly go to plan but the 23-year old Californian turned a corner this summer. Colton  has improved his fitness, grew stronger and he’s racing with more confidence.

Aeck himself extensively commented in his Project #526 video series why he continues racing even after breaking 2 vertrebrae and being temporarily paralysed. What it all comes down to is his drive to ride a motorcycle. Admittedly Colton’s passion for motocross has always been a consistent force in his live from a very young age. Hardly any surprise given that both his dad and grandfather raced and his uncle owned ‘The racer’s edge motorcycle shop’ and ran his own supercross team.

Regardless of what happened, Aeck feels he has unfinished business in this sport. “To be honest at first I didn’t want him to continue racing. But I think that’s what made him recover so well and work so hard. Returning to supercross was the carrot so to speak, it kept him motivated and gave him a goal. Now he’s stronger than ever,” confides Colton Sr. before his son returns from his track walk.

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So how was Straight Rhythm?
Colton Aeck:
 “Awesome, it’s an event that I really like and this year it was even more special with the retro theme. I had a CR125 project bike in the garage but it ended up being so much more work than anticipated that I got another Honda just a week before Straight Rhythm. Racing a vintage bike on a supercross track like that is definitely an experience and it can be a bit scary too! But I had a great time and it was awesome meeting the fans, the atmosphere in the pits was super laidback.”

Seeing you cross the finish line jump second at the Monster Cup LCQ it was clear how much it meant to you.
“Yeah man, I was so stoked! I had such a blast out there. I felt I was riding well all day, it confirmed the feeling that I had the last few weeks in practice too. I had a great start in the LCQ and I rode solid. To get to this level after everything I went through is amazing. It was so cool finally to get my first 450 main in the books and to have so many people coming by in the pits to congratulate me.”

The fight to get into the main always provides great action. Practice at Castillo Ranch must get tense between you, the Enticknap brothers and a couple of other guys at a similar level.
“It’s intense but it’s good it motivates everybody! We’re all striving for the same goals and we’re really close in speed so we can push each other at the track. Sometimes it gets a bit cutthroat and we get mad at each other. But at the end of the day we’re working towards the same things and we all like to ride our dirtbikes.”

In hindsight do you regret having come back too early to supercross this season?
 “It’s tough. Healthwise I was definitely not ready when I started racing again and it shows now because my riding has come a long way. But while I was in  the  hospital to recover and learn to walk again, being at Anaheim 1 was what drove me every single day.  Looking back on it, I don’t know if I recovered as well and as quickly as I did without that goal. I don’t regret it but I was riding a lot more with my will than I was with my body!”

Your L2 through T11 vertebrae are fused so your back is more stiff. Did you have to change how you ride a motorcycle?
Aeck: “It’s interesting because my technique got a lot better. I didn’t have a lot of strength or feeling in my legs and it really forced me to focus on my technique. I couldn’t get away with much, if I made a mistake thent it would cost me so I had to ride better technically.”

Christophe Pourcel stated that he became a lot more mindful about the risks assesment in a race after his back injury.
 “Yeah, I struggled with that during probably the first half of SX season. Getting the nerves out and realizing that I have the ability is one thing, so it just about getting over that fear I know just as well as anybody about the consequences if something goes wrong. That puts things in perspective and  perhaps you kind of think twice before hitting a big rhyhm or a huge whoops section.”

In what way has the injury changed you as a person?
 “It changed me a lot. The biggest thing I have noticed is the gratitude I have. To be up and walking, to be racing my dirtbike again is huge. When I was laying on the hospital bed  I couldn’t move my legs it really hits you hard and it makes you really appreciate the times when you could walk, jump, run or ride a motorcycle. That’s the biggest way in which it has changed me.  It makes me so much more grateful for my health and the things I’m able to do.”

What would you be doing if you were not a professional motocross rider?
“That comes back to my in jury. When I’m done racing I’d like to get into physical therapy or rehab therapy for people who had spinal cord injuries. It hits home with me and I’d really like to help people who struggle with similar injuries.”

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You help out Kris Keefer (ed. with some testing. Are you the type of guy who is very sensitive to how the bike works, your settings and what to change?
“Being a privateer you have to make the most out of what you have and what you can afford. All my I life I try to tinker with things to get the best results. A couple of years ago Kris approached me to do some test riding. It’s something that I really enjoy. It’s a lot of fun to do to get some media but also when I came back to my own bike it helps me to bring a fresh eye. You can consider extra practice to how you want to set up a bike. I really enjoy bike testing with Kris.”

How hands-on are you when it comes to working on the bike?
Aeck: “As far as engine or suspension tuning go I don’t dive too much into that.
Out necessity I know how to take everything apart and replace it when something breaks. I can strip a bike to the frame and build it back up but I leave the preparation and development to the experts.”

Any words to live by ?
  “It’s not involving motocross, but I think it’s a quote that comes from a marine who lost both of his legs in the Iraq war. He says: use the weight. Basically what he means by that is when life gives you struggles or life deals you hard times use the weight of that to make you better. I really embraced that with my injury. I tried to make the most of it in any way I can, to use the weight and to let it help me become a better person.”

What’s your goal for the 2019 Supercross season?
Aeck: “I really, truly feel that I’m a main event guy in the 450 so that’s my goal. I want to get into as many main events as possible and steadily improve my speed. I’m really excited about 2019. My fitness and my health have come around a lot. I feel I can put in a good effort now. In the next two months until Anaheim I’ll continue to develop my strength, especially in my legs. My feeling and my movement is all back to normal but fitness-wise I feel my legs are not as strong as they could be. That’s still part of the recovery. I think strength is going to help me a lot on the motorcycle. I’ve got the technique and I know I have what it takes. I just need to get my body where it needs to be.”

People know you best a supercross rider, will we see you do outdoors next year?
“The tentative plan right now -there’s nothing set in stone yet so I should emphasize the word tentative- is to race all the outdoors. I’m planning hopefully to team up with Tyler Enticknap to travel together and race the nationals.”

Sounds like Two dudes in a Tahoma
Aeck: “(smiles) They called themselves ‘Two dudes in a Tundra’! Yeah, something similar to that but hopefully not in a pickup truck. But however you need to get there, we will make it happen!”

Interview: Tom Jacobs

Pic: Jeff Laird