x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Sam and his bike split asunder by kangaroo Down Under

Fear a reality as motorcyclist Sam Sunderland meets roo and comes off second best in Australasia Safari.

Sam Sunderland, a motocross rider in the UAE, pictured at the Motocross Park in Jebel Ali.
Sam Sunderland, a motocross rider in the UAE, pictured at the Motocross Park in Jebel Ali.

DUBAI // It was not the harsh terrain that worried Sam Sunderland as he prepared to compete in the seven-day Australasia Safari for motorcycles. It was the kangaroos.

And last Friday, on his second day of racing, Sunderland's fears were realised.

Before leaving for Australia, Sunderland, 22, a member of the KTM-UAE Racing Team, was well aware the marsupials decided the fate of a few riders in last year's race.

"You can't ride cautiously to miss them, otherwise you'd lose too much time," he said. "They're random.

"It's like trying a catch a rugby ball that's bouncing everywhere. You just don't know where it's going to go."

Mark Montecillo, the marketing manager at KTM, said the Dubai resident was going through tough times in the race, which ends tomorrow. During the prologue, the steering on Sunderland's Husa-berg 570 locked twice, causing him to crash.

"Then the next day he hit a kangaroo," Mr Montecillo said. "Because of the accident he wasn't allowed to start the next stage.

"This made him start from the very back, which is tough as there are many riders ahead of him kicking up dust. Visibility is the main issue."

Sunderland spent the second leg recuperating from the crash. Then he finished 13th in the third stage and eighth yesterday.

He stands 37th out of 38 competitors, with two days to go.

"I felt all right today and my riding is a lot better than the last few days," Sunderland told the official website on Monday.

"I made a few navigational errors and I've realised that I've been pushing it too hard and need to focus more on reading the road book. I had a small crash today, nothing major and luckily no kangaroos."

Sunderland is no stranger to accidents, but there have thankfully been none worse than the one that nearly ended his career just as it was starting, at the age of 16.

He was practising on a 38-metre jump and overshot the landing, ending up in a wheelchair with doctors telling him he would not walk again.

"It wasn't that I was riding dangerous," Sunderland said. "I had jumped it a thousand times. I landed a bit too far."

The damage was severe. He shattered both ankles, fractured the tibia and fibula in both legs, broke his pelvis and had hairline fractures in both knees.

Sunderland has broken his collar bone four times, as well as his right wrist and his right arm, but he said he had not experienced anything like that since.

The accident put him in a wheelchair for six months. "I was devastated," he said, adding that he had to go through therapy to learn how to walk again, and get his balance back.

"I was like Bambi on ice. I've seen people in accidents before. You know it can happen. It's almost like a matter of time."

Sunderland, a Briton, has lost several friends to the sport.

"All motorsport is dangerous and you've got to take the rough with the smooth, and there have been some very rough parts," he said.

But the smooth part came back fast and furious. Four months after he began to walk again, he was riding a 250cc bike - twice as powerful as the one he was riding when he crashed.

"Once I walked I knew I wanted to ride again," Sunderland said. "I was back after seven or eight months. Things happened fast."

After riding in two national races in the UK, he was right back in the saddle.

That same year, 2006, Sunderland visited his aunt and uncle in Dubai, his first visit to the UAE.

Three years later, he packed his riding gear and swimming shorts for another quick visit to the UAE.

"I knew there was awesome riding there," Sunderland said.

He met Tim Trenker of KTM and after a few laps at the moto-cross track in Jebel Ali, he was offered KTM sponsorship.

Now, with a number of titles under his belt, Sunderland hopes he has made an impression in Australia. His next goal is to compete in the world-famous Dakar Rally next year, and he has been approached by other bike makers that want to sponsor him.

Winning the endurance race in Australia, said Mr Montecillo, was not Sunderland's main objective.

"This event is part of his training for going to the Dakar Rally in 2012," Mr Montecillo said. "The experience on different terrain and climates, plus navigation, are all in preparation for his future events."

Finishing the race in one piece is the plan. A good position would be an added bonus.

"And so far, it hasn't been ideal but that's part of rallying. Even the best of the best go through these things," Mr Montecillo said.

"Luck plays a major role in this sport."

eharnan@thenational.ae