The History of Mick Doohan: Only the Strong Survive
When it comes to professional motorcycle racing, though the sport might be exciting and adventurous, it is also perilous. Often, once a racer becomes severely injured, they hang up their helmets and move on with their lives. This cannot be said for racing legend Mick Doohan.
During his tenure on the motorcycle racing circuit, Doohan suffered a few injuries so severe they not only would have made those with much weaker constitutions tuck tail and run from the sport forever; he was lucky to have survived with his life. Regardless of the adversity he faced because of his injuries on the track, Doohan’s never-say-die attitude means he is still known as one of the greatest racers in the sport’s history and an inspiration to those who strive to be great themselves.
Doohan: The Early Years
Born in Australia in June of 1965, Mick Doohan hopped on to a motorcycle at the age of 8 and his path to becoming a historic racer began its course. The youngest of three motorcycle enthusiasts, Doohan had the fever, and it never went away.
His family was supportive of his racing career at a very young age, as they encouraged all of the boys to participate in the racing circuit. Through most of the ’70s, Doohan raced for multiple local championships and was already making a name for himself by the age of 12.
In 1977, when Doohan was 12, his biggest supporter passed away. When his father died, Doohan lost interest in the sport for quite some time, and he was off of the circuit. While many young men may have completely lost interest in the sport due to such a tragedy occurring at that age, Doohan allowed himself to grieve, and then it was back to his bike he went. Through his brother’s encouragement, he reentered the racing world at the age of 18.
Is the Professional Racing World Ready for Doohan?
The late 1980s saw Doohan getting serious about his professional racing career, though he was still not very well-known outside of his native Australia. However, in 1988, when Doohan entered the World Superbike race as it came through his neck of the woods, he began to gain more notoriety in the racing world outside of his homeland when he surprised everyone by coming away the race’s big winner in the 500cc category.
Thanks to this win, Honda took note of Doohan’s talent and they signed him to their team the following season. Just six races into that inaugural season, Doohan walked away in one of the top three spots, cementing his place as a prominent figure on the professional circuit.
His history of finishing at or close to the top continued on into the next year. The following year, in 1991, Doohan finished in the top three in all the races he participated in save one.
1992 and the Big Fall
While he seemed to be on top of the world in the early ’90s, 1992 would bring Doohan’s career to a screeching halt. Truth be told, he was lucky that his life wasn’t brought to a halt.
While participating in the Dutch TT, one of the most treacherous courses on the professional motorcycle racing circuit, Doohan fell victim to the track and had a crash of epic proportions.
While the actual cause of his crash is not 100% certain, it is believed that Doohan wiped out due to hitting a patch of liquid spilled by another competing bike. That crash caused him to break his leg, almost completely obliterating his tibia.
While most racers would have been concerned with just getting to the hospital in hopes of stopping the pain, Doohan claims his first thoughts upon processing that he’d been in a horrible crash were centered around planning the quickest return possible to the track.
Unfortunately for Doohan, he received poor medical care. Due to the doctor’s lack of knowledge or professionalism, Doohan almost lost his leg when the doctor used the wrong type of material to repair it. Initially, the doctor simply gave Doohan an epidural rather than proper anesthesia, so he was conscious during the surgery. Doohan reported telling the doctor that he would have to knock him out because he could feel and hear the medical tools rattling on his bones throughout the procedure.
The following day, Doohan could not feel his toes, and he knew that something was wrong. His leg had swollen to many times its normal size, and it was not receiving any circulation. He had to have another surgery to alleviate the swelling and pressure and hopefully get his circulation working correctly again.
It is reported that the doctor in charge of Doohan’s care felt no sympathy towards any of the racers who were injured and under his care because he thought their injuries were “self-inflicted.”
Doohan reports that the care he received while in Holland was beyond deplorable. He said that he had to request his bandages to be changed because his leg began to smell as if it was rotting. After the doctor was made aware of Doohan’s complaint, he reportedly came in and ripped off Doohan’s bandages in such a fashion that he would have to have stitches and a blood transfusion to repair what the doctor did when checking his wound. The doctor’s solution was to amputate Doohan’s limb within the next 24 hours if drastic improvements did not occur.
The track doctor, who was from Italy, reportedly “kidnapped” Doohan and other racers who were hospitalized in that facility and flew them via a medical helicopter transport to his practicing facility in Italy so that he could oversee their care personally.
For Doohan, before his leg could even be of concern, many other medical issues had to be cleared up caused by his Dutch doctor’s negligent care. For one, his blood was thinned so much to regulate his circulation that his internal organs were on the verge of a complete shutdown.
About a week into treatment, Doohan’s leg was still not showing signs of improvement. In fact, it was quite the opposite. His leg was turning black, not a good sign that amputation of his limb was off the operating table, so to speak.
The treatment process that Doohan underwent was almost unthinkable. At one point, doctors basically scooped out all dead skin, muscle, and tissue on the infected leg in hopes of reversing Doohan’s imminent fate. Finally, his doctor decided that the only way the leg could be saved was to allow his left leg to supply his injured right leg with blood, and the only way that this could happen effectively was to sew both legs together.
An archaic process that was not often performed anymore, the legs were usually bolted or screwed together, but because Doohan insisted that doctors administer treatment that would get him back to the races the fastest, his legs were then plastered together for the next two weeks.
The Fast Track to Recovery
Once the two-week treatment was up, and doctors felt that Doohan’s leg was out of danger of needing to be amputated, his goal became preparing to race again within eight weeks of his release, something that most people would never fathom.
Even up until the night before his first race after the accident, Doohan was still dealing with his leg’s infection, and the track’s doctor who oversaw his treatment in Italy had to open Doohan’s leg to flush out as much of the infection as possible.
He finished 12th in that race, and his thoughts were only focused on the next race just two weeks later, where he finished 6th, giving him a second-place overall finish for the season even after his hiatus due to his injury. Had the points system not changed that season, Doohan would have actually finished first overall for the season, showing the talent and determination he had to be on top.
The Off-Season and ’93
Because Doohan pushed himself so hard to recover and because he still had infection present in his leg, his bone became very soft. It also did not help that he had another crash that year, and he reinjured his leg.
Doohan continued to push himself to improve and continue racing to be the best in the sport even though the odds continued to be stacked against him. Because he lacked feeling in his foot, he could not brake correctly, which led him to develop a brake system that he could employ using his thumb. Once the kinks were worked out of the new braking system, the wins started coming Doohan’s way.
From a Curse to a Blessing
While Doohan seemed to be back on top of his game, that position did not last long. Due to his overuse of his upper body, Doohan’s balance was not on par, and he soon had another crash in which he broke his shoulder. Once again, he would not give up on racing, and getting back on his bike was his number one motivation for recovery.
This time, the doctor in charge of his care used a new treatment that had been developed in Russia and had just become available outside of the country. With that treatment, doctors could bend Doohan’s leg back into a straighter position.
His doctor marveled at Doohan’s ability to take the pain he endured with virtually no pain medication and at his determination to recover and return to the circuit to compete. He commented that Doohan seemed to possess an almost superhuman ability to withstand pain. Still, the patient simply chalked up his ability to get by without the excessive use of medication to feeling that they would slow his recovery to racing.
Time to Take a Bow
Returning in ’94, Doohan had several more banner years, winning the premier-class crown for the next five years in a row. In ’99, Doohan had another serious crash, once again severely breaking his leg, and he finally decided that it was time to hang up his helmet from professional motorcycle racing.
The History of Mick Doohan: The Best Never Rest
Though there appeared to be roadblocks at virtually every turn of his career, Mick Doohan is a living testament to the fact that determination can be a potent medication. He never allowed his injuries to deter him from doing what he loved: motorcycle racing.
Doohan suffered unimaginable pain and almost insurmountable odds to stay in his beloved sport, and his story is beyond inspirational, even to those who are not motorcycle racing enthusiasts. Mick Doohan is proof that the winners never settle and the best never rest.