Catching up with Mikey Aitken
I was back in my hometown of Salt Lake City the other week and had a chance to sit down with one of my good friends, Mike Aitken. I met him in 1997 when we were both 15. I was a grommet casing the local jumps on my sketchy complete bike with twisted one piece cranks while he was doing barspins and 360s over everything in sight on his badass chrome Supercross. I know what you are thinking, barspins? Yeah, he had that shit dialed when he was 15 and could do them over every jump at our trails like he was bobbing for apples. He might tell you different or be modest about it, but I am convinced that he mastered that trick at 15 and never felt like he had to do it again, that’s just how good he is. I knew from the instant that I saw him ride that he was different, something truly unique and magical and that a lot of people were going to know who he was. I had no idea that he would completely change the way people ride BMX, but I knew he in his own league. He did everything so effortlessly and smooth that it didn’t make sense to me. Hell, it didn’t make sense to anybody. The kid just got on a bike and did whatever he wanted. If he didn’t pull something new the first time then it was most definitely the second. I remember the day he learned turndowns on his red Hoffman Flash and was doing them clicked the first day! Anyone that has seen him ride knows exactly what I am talking about. It wasn’t just his riding style that became known across the global BMX community, kids actually mimicked his every detail down the very jeans he wore. Michael Bernell Aitken became the Michael Jeffrey Jordan of BMX. The crème de le crème. The fucking dope jam.
Fast-forward to October 2008. I was abroad in Latin America traveling for a year when I heard the news that Mike crashed really hard and was in a coma. I was told that it was really bad. For anyone that knows Mike and has seen him crash they can attest that he is one of the toughest people you will ever see go down. I saw him crash one time and he hit the ground so hard I could feel the vibration in my feet from at lest 20 feet away. I have never seen him go down and stay down. That’s why I knew it was bad when I heard he crashed. I was in Colombia at the time and I remember going out in front of the hostel I was working at and crying. I had no one to talk to and no way to see him. It seemed surreal, here I was in the middle of Latin America and I just heard that one of my best friends was in a life-threatening coma, might not ever walk again, and could very well have severe brain damage. A little while later when he came out of a coma I learned that he would have to relearn virtually every basic motor function on his right side, as well as his entire body: Eating, talking, writing, walking, remembering, driving, seeing, breathing. Just think about that for a minute, having to relearn something as simple as raising your arm above your head, or having to reorganize your memories because they have been scattered throughout your psyche and subconscious like a filing cabinet that has been split on the floor, or having to relearn something such as swallowing. Despite all of this he cannot be stopped. The gods must be crazy because there is one thing that Mike Aitken will never forget how to do or be prevented from doing…Riding.
It is now October 12, 2011. I write this almost exactly three years after the crash at Posh that dramatically altered his life. We are catching up on life and I ask him how he is doing and how he feels. He tells me that he is feeling great, that he is finally beginning to “see the light at the end of the tunnel.” He tells me about a trip that Joe Rich recently made out to Salt Lake to shoot some stuff for the new Fox ad and how the visit that Joe made was a defining point in how he feels both physically and mentally. He has always told me that everything is still “there” mentally; the only problem is that his body is not yet at the same level as his mind. He is continually progressing. He tells me that he feels better than he has ever felt since the crash. This is not to say that he is not challenged day in and day out with the frustrations that his injuries have bestowed upon him, but to hear Mikey tell me that he is beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel is amazing.
I have always looked up to Mike and been amazed by his riding and artful expression on a bike. The kid that I always thought had an innate ability to inspire and do anything he wants on a bike is in fact more of an inspiration as a human being. Not many people can go through what he did and not only walk out of the hospital own their own two feet, but continue to ride, laugh, love, and smile at life the way he does. If more people would stop trying to be like him on a bike and more like him as a person then the world would be a lot better off. However, I am perfectly fine with both!
Ahem, I heard that someone is doing 360 one-footed darksides again…
By Yoda 10.19.11