Although he has spent most of his adult life jumping over things on bicycles, doctors have advised T.J. Lavin, the extreme sports artiste and virtuoso, not to jump over anything for at least 18 months.
That’s because the last time the Las Vegan tried to jump over something — the barrier where the mind questions what physicists have deemed humanly impossible — he about killed himself.
Literally about killed himself.
It happened at the Dew Tour Championships in Las Vegas on Oct. 14, when Lavin biffed like he had never biffed before.
When he woke up, it was November.
“I can’t remember too much of October or November, really,” Lavin said Wednesday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, looking remarkably fit for a guy who had his brain scrambled like a Denver omelet. He is serving as a spokesman for the track’s new “youth initiative,” in which kids 15 and under will be admitted free to the Neon Garage on NASCAR weekend, March 4 to 6, and receive a 50 percent discount on race tickets.
His advice to the skateboard crew: Get your free and discounted tickets now. And wear a helmet.
“When I woke up, my mom told me I wasn’t paralyzed, and I was holding my girlfriend’s hand,” said Lavin, whose close friend Stephen Murray had suffered a spinal cord injury in a Dew Tour crash in 2007. “That’s about it.”
When Lavin woke up, his brain was the size of a beach ball. He had a broken wrist, a broken eye socket and major swelling and bleeding on the brain, which prompted doctors to induce a coma. His spirit, however, remained intact.
When he tried to use a fork and stuck it in the side of his head, he didn’t get discouraged, depressed, dejected, demoralized or despondent. Lavin isn’t big on bummed-out words that begin with “D” or, for that matter, any other letter.
But, he admits, the first time he looked in a mirror since the crash was two weeks ago. “And that was just to brush my teeth,” Lavin said.
He still has dark circles under his eyes, as if he has been up all night studying for a trigonometry final. He sort of lists to one side when he walks, like a battleship that has taken a hit. If his right eye seems to lose focus, that’s because his vision on that side, his bad side, gets blurry after a while. His speech is measured, but at least he doesn’t slur his words anymore. His right arm is shot. Other than signing cool autographs that are even harder to read than normal ones, it’s pretty much useless until the radial nerves in his wrist grow back.
He’s getting better, but, yeah, he knows he biffed it pretty darn good this time.
It was the fifth time Lavin woke up in a hospital. That’s nowhere close to the record for guys who jump over things on tricked-out bikes, but he’s really not all that keen on challenging it.
“It’s given me a little bit of perspective,” said Lavin, a former X Games champion who hopes to return as host of MTV’s “Real World/Road Rules Challenge” when his recovery allows. “It only doesn’t affect me. If it only affected me, it would be on, bro. But there are a lot of people around me who care about me.”
Lavin has a beautiful fashion-model fiancee (Roxanne Siordia), and she has a beautiful daughter, and they tend to be happier when T.J.’s not jumping over stuff and banging his head. And his mom, Barbara, has been after him to quit riding his bike, or at least jumping over stuff, for years.
He was starting to wind it down, anyway, when he crashed, and isn’t that how it almost always happens? He turned 34 in December, right after he stuck that fork in his head. Maybe it’s time to try something else, he said, something where you don’t bang your head as much.
Lavin and business partner Chas Aday are marketing an alcohol-metabolizing agent that Lavin says will prevent guys from “talking stupid to girls when they get drunk.” He has developed a passion for photography, a result of his last big crash before this one, when he broke his leg. His mom would wheel him out in the backyard, where Lavin would take photographs of anything that moved and a lot of stuff that didn’t. He has also taught himself to play piano.
“I’m a little long in the tooth for my profession,” said the former 103-pound wrestler at Clark High School. “I’m 34, and if I’m a NASCAR driver, I’m right there, I’m ready to go.”
“My new career is going to be racing off-road trucks.”
Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352.