RAWLINS – Out on a rugged dirt bike track that overlooks the desolate, bristly green highlands west of Rawlins, a group of nervous spectators surrounded David Trujillo and began to pray.
Nobody, according to this call to deity, wanted to see this end with an ambulance appearance.
Trujillo, a 29-year-old Rawlins native and Laramie resident who a decade ago was left paralyzed from the waist down after crashing at this same track, was just a few throat-swallowing moments away from once again cheating death; or, more accurately, what he considered to be a bold attempt at “redeeming himself.”
That is, mount up on his trusty Yamaha and muster enough courage to hit – to conquer – the same “step up” jump that changed his life forever.
Whether this anniversary jump would turn out for better or for worse, however, didn’t matter.
“My mindset is, my next jump can be my last jump,” Trujillo, who uses a retrofitted bike controlled by an electronic shifter, said a couple days before the event. “At the end of the day I ride dirt bikes, and nobody’s going to live forever.”
But following an ominous yet inspiring “amen” on this overcast Thursday afternoon in Carbon County, Trujillo gracefully soared to the occasion.
When time came, Trujillo’s father, also named David, his wife, Evelyn, and his childhood friend, Lauren, helped the rider onto his bike seat. A custom seatbelt strapped him in, while a metallic cage built around the bike protected his legs, which are the most vulnerable part of his body.
One false move could mean disaster.
“The errors other people are able to make? I don’t have that type of cushion,” Trujillo said. “You have to be a little smarter.”
After a circling the track a few times, poppin’ wheelies to get comfortable, and riding up to the lip of the step-up to know what he was dealing with, Trujillo finally cranked that sucker into gear and let ‘er rip.
Not once but twice did Trujillo levitate above his wife and his gleeful daughters, Darby, 13, and Ireland, 10, who stood anxiously atop the jump, to make a safe and successful landing.
At this moment, the sun literally shined through the listless clouds on Trujillo’s back as the spectators – people legally forced to sign a waiver prior to the jump – cheered in as much relief as it was bliss.
Trujillo would masterfully kick up dust as he blazed down the track after he landed, giving everyone one last bit of reassurance that he was just fine.
He’d be greeted by his emotional father and mother, Lisa. His wife hugged him and gave him a high five. The rest of the spectators encircled him with wide smiles on their faces.
One of the spectators, an out-of-towner by the name of Brian Brittain, a U.S. military veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq, was inspired by Trujillo’s efforts.
“There’s so many things you can do,” Brittain said overcoming adversity. “Just keep it going.”
And just like that, once the dust settled, Trujillo regained a part of himself, an event long in the making.
“Don’t give up, live your life,” Trujillo said after the jump. “Don’t be scared to face your fears. This is like the biggest fear of mine – jumping my bike again. It’s good. It makes you feel alive.”
Trujillo added, “Most people go their whole life avoiding pain… I pretty much search for it.”
On Saturday, June 20, 2009, just weeks after Trujillo graduated from Rawlins High School, was when the local rider, who’d been dirt biking since second grade, overshot this massive jump, something he had hit 40 or 50 times before, only to land hard on the dirt, without his bike safely under him.
“I knew it was all over as soon as I hit the air,” Trujillo said. After he hit the ground, “I don’t really know what happened.”
When he regained consciousness, he remembered his friends called an ambulance. He remembered being placed on a backboard. He remembered being administered morphine.
He was then flown to Casper, where he underwent surgery the next day.
“I had a couple rods and a cage put into my back,” Trujillo said.
From there, Trujillo found himself in a rehabilitation unit at the Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colo.
“Craig was an experience,” Trujillo said. “I compare it to the school of learning how to live with a disability.”
During this time, Trujillo said he was optimistic and that he was just trying to do everything he could to get back home.
But, for a man hoping to get back on his feet, the next two years, he admitted, were spent living in denial as he’d never regain the ability to walk.
“It was pretty hard coming back; just kind of a slap to the face, really,” Trujillo said about being back home. “Your whole entire world is different. You have to relearn how to do everything.”
But it wasn’t just the physical obstacles that posed as nuisances to Trujillo’s life.
Ever since he was a kid, the man who overcame that same jump that left him paralyzed 10 years ago only wanted to do motocross for the rest of his life. No confining business cubicle, no boss telling him what to do, just the pure freedom of flying through the air, enjoying a lifetime high of unadulterated adrenaline.
Not being on the bike left Trujillo, he admitted, a bit cranky.
Something had to be done.
Not too long after the hospital, Trujillo essentially said “screw you” to his self-inflicted disability and got back on the bike. Through “trial and error,” he said, he was able to get riding again.
“Nobody gets to the top overnight; it’s a process,” Trujillo said. “You have to be somewhat patient sometimes.”
Things got to such a favorable point that, just this past January, in fact, Trujillo bravely competed in the Winter X-Games, a world-renowned spectacle of all sorts of winter-related events, in Aspen, Colo. He’d participate in the “Para Snow BikeCross” race.
“It was one of the greatest moments in my life,” he said. “Being able to compete with those other guys was a once in a lifetime experience.”
Despite all his adversity, David Trujillo still keeps the same bike he was riding when he suffered his horrific injury 10 years ago.
As to why?
“It’s a part of me. It’s a part of my legacy, really,” he said. “It was kind of like a piece of me; a piece of the family. When you have something that you enjoy doing, like a car or an activity, it kind of becomes a part of you, like an extension of you. I could never really think about getting rid of (the bike) … it’s priceless to me.”
Yes, Trujillo’s back is broken, but his spirit has never been stronger. Now that he’s gotten back into the groove of things, Trujillo has his sights aimed at competing once again at X-Games.
Asked if has any regrets about his past, he said it merely shapes the future.
“I think a part of me will always regret it, no matter what,” he said. “But I try not to focus on that. We would all like to change different aspects of our life, but in all actuality it makes us who we are today.”
To keep up with Trujillo’s riding and competitions, visit his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/trublue.riding
He can also be found on YouTube.