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It was all down from there for Stenberg

He was injured in freestyle motocross crash, but it could have been much worse.

June 21, 2007|Pete Thomas | Times Staff Writer

A year ago Sunday, Jeremy Stenberg's life turned upside down.

From 35 feet high, having been flung from his motorcycle while attempting a back flip, he watched helplessly as hard-packed earth rushed toward him.

Miraculously, he landed on his feet. But the crunching thud still caused onlookers to cringe in horror.

"We were already running toward him," Ronnie Faisst, a fellow freestyle motocross rider, said of Sternberg's mishap that occurred during the finals of the season's first Dew Action Sports Tour event, at Louisville, Ky.

Stenberg was fortunate to have only compound fractures in his left leg and a nearly obliterated right ankle. "I felt like I got hit by a car," he said.

He was confined to a wheelchair for months and could not ride for nearly a year.

Today at Baltimore, as another Dew Tour season begins, Stenberg will resume competition, out of practice and lagging far behind in the sport's rapidly advancing progression curve.

And that's not a safe place to be in a discipline that involves soaring from ramps and flipping and spinning 250-pound motorcycles, often letting go in flight and repositioning just before landing.

"I was irritated, bummed and angry because I didn't need to go out and flip that trick," Stenberg said of the Louisville quarter-pipe ramp, on which he did not feel comfortable. "I should have just dealt with it and took third or fourth place, or whatever I got" based on his previous run.

Stenberg, 25, who has Tourette's Syndrome and goes by the nickname "Twitch," had already attained superstar status.

He won the Vans Triple Crown title in 2004, and struck X Games gold in 2005 by winning the best-trick competition with a 90-foot no-handed back flip.

He finished second to Kenny Bartram in the inaugural Dew Tour in 2005, and followed that up with a 2006 Winter X Games gold on the snow in Aspen.

Stenberg then set the freestyle motocross world abuzz with a record-shattering back flip that spanned 154 feet. "Nobody is more comfortable flipping a bike than Jeremy," said his agent, Rich Swisher.

Stenberg, a high school dropout who has a daughter from a previous relationship, became engaged and bought an expansive new home in the Temecula wine country. "He saw other guys around him cashing in and becoming financially successful and realized he could do that too," said Brian Deegan, 32, an FMX icon. "So he kind of got more serious about it, and he began making money."

Stenberg, who had not suffered a serious accident, went into the 2006 Dew Tour feeling "overconfident" and "unstoppable."

But he did not flip the Louisville quarter-pipe, one of several features on the track, on his first run, which put him in third place.

Riders are scored on their best of two runs and Stenberg trailed Nate Adams and Ailo Gaup, with Travis Pastrana in fourth after an uncharacteristically poor first run. Having to complete his second run before Adams and Pastrana, the world's top FMX riders, Stenberg decided he needed to flip the quarter-pipe.

"And as I hit the jump I just got sick to my stomach, and I just kind of knew I was going to get weeded," he said. "I just gassed it and leaned back a little too far and my bike just slingshotted out from underneath me.

"I saw the ground while I was upside down face-first, and I was just cat-scratching the whole time trying to get to my feet."

That seems like yesterday, Stenberg said, but the time off the bike seems like an eternity.

On the bright side, he got married "as soon as I could walk" and moved into the new house with bride Susie and 6-year-old Katrina.

He signed a three-year, seven-figure endorsement contract with Rockstar energy drink, which Swisher says is the biggest deal for any FMX rider. "He'd be set off that one deal alone," the agent said.

Stenberg next month will launch a pro-model shoe through Etnies. He also has a signature helmet through Thor. "Really, all of his deals went up" after the accident, Swisher added.

Now there's the matter of getting back on the bike, with screws and rods in his ankle and leg, and maintaining poise and control.

"I've just got to put it behind me and move forward," Stenberg said. "I'm just going to have fun and try not to worry so much about the result."



Action sports

What: Dew Tour.

* Where/when: Baltimore (Today-Sunsay); Cleveland (July 19-22); Portland, Ore. (Aug. 16-19); Salt Lake City (Sept. 20-23), and Orlando, Fla., (Oct. 18-21).

* Disciplines: Skateboarding (vert and park), bicycle motocross (vert, park and dirt) and freestyle motocross.

* Last year's Dew Cup champions: Bucky Lasek and Ryan Sheckler (skateboarding); Jamie Bestwick, Daniel Dhers and Anthony Napolitan (BMX); Nate Adams (FMX).

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