Stunt rider Robbie Maddison has become the Evel Knievel of his generation and he has the scars to prove it.
Motorcycle madman eyes Dubai for record
Robbie Maddison has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the human body, which is hardly surprising considering the amount of time he has spent at hospitals and doctors' surgeries across the globe. The Australian motorbike stunt rider is just 28 years old but has comfortably picked up enough major injuries to last a few lifetimes.
"I've got a pretty gnarly medical history," he said. "Off the top of my head, I've fractured my skull five or six times, broken my neck twice, punctured my lung twice, I've dislocated both knees and shoulders, I've got no anterior cruciate ligaments left in either of my knees, I've broken my right leg and smashed out all my teeth, and I've torn my scrotum." Crashes go with the territory for a man who makes a living as a stunt rider and is the current world record holder for a motorcycle leap - that currently stands at 106.98 metres set in Melbourne, Australia, last year.
He is planning to break the record once more in Melbourne towards the end of the year before plotting a subsequent record attempt in the United Arab Emirates in 2010. "I love breaking records all over the world," he said, "and sometimes it's a case of sticking a pin in a map and going 'let's go there'. But Dubai in particular is somewhere that really appeals for a record attempt. I've had a couple of conversations about it in the past about coming out there but it's not come to anything in the end.
"It's the perfect place to break the world record - there's so much open space, there's some great buildings out there. In fact, I'd love to jump over a sheikh's house or something like that if someone gives me the chance. If someone could set that up for me, that'd be awesome." When Maddison sets his mind to something, he normally gets his way. He managed to get permission to recently jump across Tower Bridge in London, performing a back-flip with his hands off the handlebars 30m in the air while the drawbridge was open almost 8m.
Even more spectacularly, on New Year's Eve he successfully jumped 29m up onto the Arc de Triomphe in front of the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas before performing a 12m drop back onto a ramp down, an event that ended up with him injuring himself. But the gashes that littered his left hand after the jump were nothing compared to what remains the singularly most painful moment of his career, back in Ireland in 2005.
He recalled: "I jumped a quarter pipe there and fell badly and broke my leg in half. I basically had two big breaks between my leg and ankle, and my leg was just dangling off. But they got me on the happy gas in the ambulance and everything was OK until that ran out, which left me in complete agony. "When I got to the hospital, I think they thought I was some sort of junkie or something, I don't know. But they refused to give me any painkillers for 12 hours. It was so traumatic as I was in utter agony. Everyone at the event assumed I was in safe hands but I ended up getting locked up in a medical cabinet.
"No one would listen to my calls until I smashed everything in my room and the doctors finally came and helped me out." Ever since then, Maddison makes sure to have the right medical back-up in case things go wrong, and they do go wrong. He is currently nursing injuries from a recent crash, which damaged the ligaments from his stomach down to his legs. "It's not nice, I can't cough, laugh, have sex, do anything much in fact," he said.
But the injury has not stopped him from riding. He recently made an appearance on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien in the US, where he performed some of his trademark stunts. And just three weeks ago, he competed in the Red Bull X-Fighters World Tour in London, where, despite his injuries, he came in second overall behind Nate Adams of the US. Maddison masters his tricks at the home he shares with his partner Amy Sanders, a former wakeboarder, in California's wine country.
He has a series of ramps set up around the grounds of his home where he fine-tunes his latest moves on two wheels. "I've got some great ramps amid the wineries which looks a bit odd and I'm probably a bit of a noisy neighbour but hopefully my neighbours understand," he said. "I'm travelling a lot so I'm rarely at home and they seem OK with me doing the stunts in business hours. But that's when you give everything a go and have to take a real gamble, and every time you ride a bike you're taking a gamble."
Maddison is all too aware that every jump or competition could be his last, such are the risks he takes in bidding to be the world's best stunt rider, a title he currently lays claim to. "There are times midway through an attempt where you think 'wait a minute, you're not going to make this' and that's bad," he said. "So you definitely get hit by the fear. In fact, I'm scared with every jump I do, even ones that I've done time and again. That's just the nature of the sport."
That tends to make painful viewing for Sanders, who is by his side at every event as the loyal but nervous other half. And Maddison admitted, "It's tough for her, but she knows doing this is my dream and she knew that when we met. But she's helped me reach even greater heights in this and it's basically a business for us. She never puts any pressure on me. In fact, at the New Year's Vegas jump she came up to me before and said, 'Baby, you don't have to do this, we can go back to Australia now' and that's great. But this is what I love to do.
"I know it can be hard for her. There's times when she's in tears and that's when I have to tell her to leave me alone as I've got to focus. But we work well as a team." Maddison's path to being a stunt rider has been a rapid one. Not so long ago, he was working as an electrician before the buzz of motorbike riding, which had first bitten him as a four year old, bit him once again. He got his first dirt bike at the age of four. He recalled: "My dad had motorbikes but that's not what got me into it. It was this kid who lived down the road from us who had a dirt bike, who was about six years older than me. Every time, he rode past I'd jump up at the window. And then Santa Claus very kindly bought me a dirt bike. I'm sure my parents have since regretted that one.
"I did competitions growing up but, at 16, I came to a crossroads and I decided to become an electrician and do my apprenticeship. And to start with I absolutely loved it. There I was getting down and dirty every day. "I had five good years at it and then one day just had a bad day and decided it wasn't for me anymore. I was reading these dirt bike magazines and in them there were people who I'd beaten growing up and they were being treated like rock stars. So I remortgaged my house and went for it.
"It turned out I was pretty good at it and I went from being an amateur to one of the top riders pretty quickly. I guess it was because I was late to the game and was happy to take the risks that some other riders weren't just to get there, and thankfully it's worked out OK for me. And I've got no regrets about my past as an electrician as I like to think it's made me pretty grounded." It remains to be seen what lies in store for the Evel Knievel of his generation, but Maddison tends to be open to most offers.
"I'd like to travel the world and keep doing stunts wherever," he said. "They don't have to always be the toughest stunts but I'd like them to be the most iconic and coolest stunts I can manage." email@example.com