After fracturing his L2 and L3 vertebrae, Peabody native Jimmy Decotis won’t be in the starting gate for Saturday’s supercross race at Gillette Stadium. Decotis, a professional off-road motorcycle rider, is in rehab mode and rues the fact that he’s sidelined for the Monster Energy Supercross Championship. That not only means the five-figure payout to the top finisher is out of his reach, he’s also scratched from a competition in his hometown region. “To say that I’m bummed is an understatement,” says Decotis, 26, who now lives in Cornelius, N.C., to be closer to his team, Joe Gibbs Racing.
Although he doubts he would have made the winners’ podium, “Jimmy D,” as he’s nicknamed on tour, was pumped about racing in Foxborough in front of his family and friends. His recent crash at the Daytona Speedway wasn’t his first — he’s had reconstructive surgery on his ACL, dislocated his elbow, and broken his ankle — but after a recent debilitating bout with Lyme disease, Decotis is especially disappointed by this latest setback.
Decotis is a recognizable name in the New England motocross community, thanks to his father and brothers, who were regulars on the local track scene. He first straddled a 50cc motocross bike as a 5-year-old in his family garage. He was hooked. “I felt the rush, that adrenaline of being on the bike,” says Decotis, and motocross became his life. He rode during the week and raced on Sundays.
The sport bred discipline, work ethic, and structure, says Decotis, who spent his youth competing at various New England racing tracks, and enjoying the close-knit fraternity of racers. It prepared him for turning pro, which he did when he was 18. He began competing in supercross, which is more of an extreme sport than motocross. Instead of dirt tracks, supercross takes place in stadiums and arenas, and includes stunt jumps of up to 70 feet — the distance of two school buses parked end to end. Decotis spoke to the Globe about what it’s like to ride off-road motorcycles for a living.
“Motocross racers don’t get the respect they deserve. Spectators think we are just sitting on a bike giving it gas, but during a 30-minute race I’m running a heart rate of about 195. It’s one of the most physically demanding sports, and I need to be a top-notch athlete to compete. It’s all about speed, controlling the bike, and attacking corners and jumps. I’m taking the machine to its limit, while still being safe.
“I race a Suzuki 250, but practice on a Suzuki 450, so that when I get on the 250, it feels a lot lighter and responsive, even though it weighs around 215 pounds. I’m 5’4 and 140 [pounds], so I’m one of the smaller guys in the class. I compensate for this with high foot pegs and smaller handle bars. My size is an advantage at certain points on the track. While the bigger guys get more leverage on the bike, I deal with what I have and get the bike to work for me. My mechanic and I switch things up, whether forks, shocks, or tire choices.
“I’ve had some amazing moments on my dirt bike. It gets my mind working. I’m challenged by the track conditions, whether hard-packed, sandy, muddy, or rutted. There are obstacles, turns, lines to follow — and new lines to create in the dirt. And yet, it’s a hard sport because of the danger and risk of being hurt.
“So many thoughts are going through my head at the starting gate: Will I win? Will I get lapped? Will I get injured? The biggest thing is staying focused and believing in my ability. In my most recent crash at Daytona supercross, I went over the front of my bike after missing one of the jumps. I was too aggressive, too excited, and didn’t take my time. Boom — I was on the ground just like that.
“I’m on the road to recovery now, and I’ll be watching at Foxborough. We have a pit party on Saturday before the racing begins, which is a cool fan experience. I appreciate the fans I have, and it’s great when someone comes up and says, ‘Hey, man, you give us a reason to watch the race. We love cheering for you.’ This helps keeps me going, especially when I’m sidelined. It’s been over a month since my accident, and I’ll be able to get on my bike again in five weeks. In the meantime, I’m riding a stationary bike, picking up weights, and staying in shape. I’ll race as long as I can, till I start questioning why I’m out there. What I love about racing is that whether you’re 5 or 50, a beginner or a professional, you can have fun, no matter what your skill level.”Cindy Atoji Keene can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.