In 2020, extreme sports fanatic Jake Fox was riding high after the best mountain biking season he’d ever had. Fox had never felt better on a bike and was later rewarded with an exciting sponsorship with Knolly Bikes, a BC biker-approved brand.
Towards the end of the season, the 24-year-old Langley resident broke his leg but bounced back quickly. Like most extreme sport athletes, Fox said injury was a typical experience.
“Every year, I’d break myself off for at least two months, it seemed like,” he said. “[Injury] wasn’t a matter of if, but when.”
In July 2021, Fox was just getting back into the sport when a day spent at a friend’s homemade training facility went sour.
“It was my first time riding … an airbag landing, which is supposed to be safer in some scenarios. I wasn’t super keen on giving it a shot, but my friends convinced me I should try.”
“I went for a backflip-no-hander, a basic trick I had been doing successfully for years. On the landing, I sort of fumbled my hands … Then, when I rode off the end of the bag, I flipped over the handlebars and drove my head straight into the ground.”
Fox was not wearing a neck brace at the time and said he lost full sensation from his shoulders down.
A friend’s father witnessed Fox’s fall and rushed over to hold him in c-spine, a first-aid strategy that immobilized Fox’s head and neck, or cervical spine, to avoid further injury.
Fox suffered a broken neck and fractured vertebrae but said without the man’s help, his injuries could have been much worse. After a successful surgery and four days in hospital, doctors told Fox there was a five per cent chance he’d ever walk again.
“I initially broke down. I thought to myself … I’m never going to be able to walk or much less bike again.”
But Fox said he has always been a big believer in the power of optimism and was determined to have a positive outlook.
“Through other injuries, I noticed having a negative head space wasn’t helpful. I’d always heal better and faster when I’d think positive thoughts,” he said.
“With my neck, I was really stoked to have been able to move my arm on one day and then my toes on another … Each day, I was one step closer to my goal of walking again, and I really learned to praise the positive outcomes.”
From the start, he’d tell himself, “I’m going to be that five per cent.”
Optimism and its health-promoting effects
A strong body of literature suggests that having an optimistic disposition leads to health-promoting effects across various physical and psychological dimensions. Individuals high in optimism expect positive outcomes to occur in their future and, as a consequence, expect to cope effectively when stress or challenges arise in their everyday lives.
One study states, “individuals high in optimism are likely to persist in their goal-directed efforts, whereas those with low optimism are more likely to withdraw effort, become passive, and potentially give up on achieving their goals.”
As such, individuals with greater levels of optimism are thought to better handle stressful situations and experience greater physical and psychological well-being than those who are pessimistic.
In addition to optimism’s beneficial influence on pain, the same study found that greater optimism measured pre-operatively can result in improved outcomes following invasive surgeries such as the surgery Fox underwent.
Fox makes progress following his operation
Fox says spending time training at GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre after his operation solidified his belief in optimism. “I’d see these cranky, pessimistic guys that had it rough … like had been told they’d never walk again,” he recalls. “When I started making progress, it was sometimes hard not to feel like the villain.”
Fox says he couldn’t imagine going through what he did without the support he received from friends and family.
“I felt like the luckiest guy in the world after receiving so many messages of support from my close-knit circle of friends and others within the broader community of bikers,” Fox said. “Pro riders I’d idolized since I was a kid even reached out to me.”
Fox said encouragement from loved ones played a significant role in convincing him anything was possible.
In an Instagram post informing his followers he had started walking again six weeks post-operation, Fox shared that “all the support from everyone has made a world of difference … [I’m] so thankful and humbled to be in that small percentage of people that get the opportunity to make a full recovery from such a heavy injury.”
While at GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver, Fox surprised friends and family when he expressed his intention to ski without the help of any assisted devices that winter. At the time, Fox was still using a wheelchair.
His girlfriend, Katie Hutchins, said Fox even bought a Sun Peaks season pass the summer following the accident despite she and friends suggesting he should hold off.
Fox did end up skiing Sun Peaks this winter and said he met most of his goals for skiing this year. He’s already back on his bike this summer and said he’s made serious progress toward reaching his previous goals.
“My goal for the end of the summer is to be riding all the same trails I used to be able to … but I’ll be holding off on tricks for the time being.”
To those who have experienced similar injuries, Fox suggests focusing on those small victories. He also urges anyone wanting to chat to reach out at @fake.jox on Instagram.
“One of the coolest things about the accident has been [speaking] with other kids who have had similar injuries.”