The Race That Changed Chet Dyreson’s Life

Editor’s Note: 49 year old Chet Dyreson of Perris, California has always been involved in motocross–racing high performance motorcycles on off road terrain and going through obstacles that most people never attempt. This week you’ll read a story of a man who has refused to be limited by a tragic accident. Part 2 of a 5 part series.

In 2000, I was practicing before my race, running my bike along the motocross course at the Los Angeles County Raceway in Palmdale, California. As a racer, you’re permitted four or five laps around the course before the race begins. On the second lap, I overshot the landing spot of a very small jump. I was going a little too fast over the jump and landed past the spot where the bike should touch down.  A friend of mine had passed me on the inside of the jump just before it. He was going too fast into the corner of the 180 degree turn that came up after the jump, and he overshot the landing spot. When I saw him crash, he tried to steer his bike over the berm, so I steered just past him to keep from running over him and his bike. When I hit and tried to steer over the berm, I felt the seat of my bike hit me in the butt and throw me over the handlebars. As I flew over them, my feet were stuck on the motorcycle. Once I hit the ground, I folded up in half, and the motorcycle came down on top of me. I never lost consciousness, and as soon as I hit the ground I felt sharp shooting pains all over my body.

Chet Dyreson was injured from motocross riding.

Chet Dyreson was injured from motocross riding.

I was able to move my hands, and I prayed, “Thank God, I still have my arms,” because I knew I was hurt badly. When a friend came up to help me, I immediately said, “Don’t touch me. I can’t feel my legs.” I’ve always been involved in first aid, and I knew that the worst thing that anyone trying to give first aid could do was to try and move the accident victim. At the track every weekend, there were always trained medical personnel. They came to me in an ambulance, checked me out and called the fire department to come in and bring a backboard. When the fire department arrived at the scene, they called for a helicopter to fly me to an emergency trauma center.

My biggest concern while being transported to the hospital was, “How am I going to tell my mom what I’ve done?” My mom always worries, and she didn’t like any activities that involved risk or danger. She never really was happy with my family being involved in motocross, and I dreaded having the conversation with her to explain how I’d gotten injured. At the hospital, there were a lot of x-rays taken, and the pain I felt was more than the pain I’d felt right after the crash. Their first concern was that I had separated my sternum, so the real pain I was feeling was in my chest. My back just felt like I was laying on a sharp rock. I’d also broken four of the ribs in my chest, seven ribs in my back, bruised my heart, and caused bleeding to my lungs. I’d broken parts of my T1 and T2, and I had crushed the T4 and T5 vertebraein my back. A number of bone fragments went into my spinal cord from the crushed vertebrae as well.

Chet injured the T1, T2, T4 and T5 vertebraes. After all was said and done, he was paralyzed from T3 down.

Chet injured the T1, T2, T4 and T5 vertebraes. After all was said and done, he was paralyzed from T3 down.

The doctor explained that I would probably never walk again, and that I was paralyzed from just above my sternum all the way down to my toes. I’d always thought I was indestructible, and I never bought into the idea that I would never walk again. For 2 or 3 days I was in denial, before I finally accepted the fact that the doctors knew more than I did, and that I was going to be paralyzed for the rest of my life. Specialists had to be brought to the hospital, so I didn’t have surgery until Thursday. The doctors weren’t sure about what to do with my separated sternum. They brought in a heart specialist, because they are familiar with sternum separations.

The doctor told me that, “You have two choices.” They were afraid that if they pulled my sternum back together and tried to patch it up, it might break again. But they decided that my back surgery was more important than fixing my sternum, so the doctors did my back surgery first and put two steel rods in my back. They opted not to operate on my sternum, in hopes that it would grow back together naturally, which it did. My two rods extended from T1 to T9 along my spinal column, which left me paralyzed from T3 down. After the operation, I was willing to accept that I was paralyzed. I decided to do everything I could and get back to being a normal person as quickly as possible.

Chet was ready to go back to normal life after being in the hospital.

Chet was ready to go back to normal life after being in the hospital.

My biggest concern was my children. My sister lived fairly close to me, so she was taking care of my children, along with my mom, while I was in the hospital. Now my personality is such that I think I can do anything. There’s no hurdle I wouldn’t attempt to jump, and I wasn’t at all worried about how I was going to take care of my children and earn a living for my family. What bothered me the most was when my mom and sister started trying to tell me what I was and wasn’t going to do. They decided that my three kids and I should move out of the house we were renting and live with my sister. I had to explain to them, “No, we’re not going to do that. When I leave the hospital, we’re moving back into our home.”

My mom and my sister have learned over the years that they really can’t argue with me, once I make up my mind. They knew that I’d never think the decisions I made were wrong, even if they were. I’m one of these types of people who will fight to the death, rather than give up when I’ve made a decision. Eventually my mom and sister came to understand that we really were going to move back into our home.

To contact Chet Dyreson, visit his webpage at You can email him at

Next: Chet Dyreson’s Journey After His Accident

About the Author: For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at

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