[Features]

FMX Insider No.2: Andy ‘Maddog’ Hensel’s Story

10 years ago | Words: Ben Heidrich | Photos: Ben Heidrich

Welcome to our brand new weekly web-exclusive column, Transmoto‘s FMX Insider. Penned each week by South Australian rider, Ben Heidrich, the FMX Insider will present the story-behind-the-stories of the Aussie and international freestyle motocross scenes. 

Imagine being told you were never going to ride your dirt bike again, but worse, told you had very little chance of ever walking again. Lying in a hospital bed unable to feel the lower half of your body… This is a rider’s worst nightmare; the one thing we all dread, but with the love of the sport, we push this thought aside, every time we throw a leg over the bike.

For South Australian FMX rider, Andy ‘Maddog’ Hensel, now a paraplegic, sitting back and letting his hopes and goals disappear was not an option. Taking one of life’s hardest obstacles straight on the chin, he has found the passion and motivation to push on and chase his dreams. This is Andy Hensel’s story.

One of the earliest memories I have of Andy was sitting outside during recess with my school mates and along comes this kid… Black Dickie shorts, a black Metal Mulisha shirt and a Mulisha SnapBack. This little dude looked as though he was on a mission to prove something, even then ready to take on the world. Andy was always headstrong on the bike, twisting the throttle like he had no fear. He started jumping ramps a few years after myself and the other local riders, but it didn’t take him long to catch up. He would usually learn a trick or two every ramp session and push himself to the absolute limits, twisting his body unnaturally and only just getting back on the bike before landing. At times, scary to watch, but always very impressive!

https://vimeo.com/90642776

June 29, 2012, Andy and I set off to Coonabarabran for the second round of the AFMXC series. During practice he was racing around the X Games-style course hitting every jump and keeping up with the Pro riders. It all happened so fast; one minute this talented young rider is on top of the world then from the smallest slip up he came crashing down to earth. He was lying on the ground, fully conscious telling us he could not feel his legs. It was like a scene from a movie – it seemed like a bad dream. Andy had broken his T6 and T7 vertebrae and damaged his spinal cord. He was flown to the Sydney Royal North Shore Hospital where he was operated on and then spent the next few weeks contemplating his future. This was followed by six months of intense physiotherapy and a whole lot of hospital time in Adelaide. “Tough times, but it made me stronger, definitely,” said Andy.

Andy was then adapting to life in a wheel chair, but was ready to start living again. “My goals and dreams haven’t changed,” said Andy. “Only my body has changed. I can still do most things I want to but I now have to execute them differently.”

During his entire recovery, I’ve rarely seen him down on himself. He stays as positive as possible and talks about what great things the future holds. Confident in his wheelchair, he was eventually lifted onto mini bikes and quads so he could ride with the boys again, using tie downs, duct tape and anything that would help strap his legs to the bike.

It was eight months after the accident and Andy was back hanging with the guys at Adam Grope’s Nuriootopa compound, where he previously spent a lot of time riding and learning new tricks. It was too windy for the guys to ride that day, so Andy suggested he have a play in the foam pit on the mini bike. On his first attempt, he pulled a perfect Backflip around into the pit. This was the beginning of his goal to be the first paraplegic to pull the Backflip to dirt on a motorcycle.

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With the help of Steve Sommerfield and KTM Australia, he was back, riding a full-size 350cc KTM.

Andy was ready to pursue his dreams and set off on his tour around the east coast of Australia; riding with friends, filming and meeting new people along the way. Andy spent a few weeks in Melbourne riding MX tracks and gaining bike skills with the MDP boys. He then took off to Wagga Wagga where he jumped his first FMX ramp and spent a bit of time in X Games gold medalist, Jackson ‘Jacko’ Strong’s foam pit. Andy rotated perfect Back flips into Jacko’s foam pit with ease. He then took off to Wollongong to spend a couple of weeks at the Fish Fingered FMX compound, where he pulled another 30 Flips into the foam pit.

It was March 22, 2014, and Andy’s last Backflip for the day. He told the boys to move the ramp over to the dirt down ramp. They fired up the flood lights, shifted the ramps and got prepared to make history. “The nerves, the adrenalin and the atmosphere were all running (f#@king) high. I took a few run ups, said a few prayers and went for it,” said Andy.

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He pulled a smooth rotation on his first Flip, landed two wheels down but bounced off from the impact. Andy was winded for 15 minutes. Once he came good, he went for it again, pulling another Flip which was better. Still winded, he went for it a third time. Andy was feeling so worked and punished by the landings he had to call it a night – he was so sore.

“I just wanted to complete my vision on riding away from the Backflip, then riding back to the boys in excitement, keen to crack a tinny,” he said. “The emotions that were happening that night were so intense, creating an unbelievable atmosphere, risking a lot to make myself feel confident that this injury isn’t going to stop me from doing what I want. My confidence after the attempts is very high; I can roll around in a crowd and not even think of the wheelchair, because it doesn’t change everything. I can, and do more than a lot of able-bodied people can.”

“I couldn’t have done any of this as easy without my boys behind me helping me on the way,” Hensel continued. “I’m so lucky to have this much support from so many people.”

Andy has started intense physiotherapy at Making Strides on the Gold Coast in Queensland and is still working hard to get his legs moving again.

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“It is a difficult thing to commit to when everything is up in the air about my recovery,” he said. “Facing it head on and giving it everything will give me satisfaction and increase my mental strength. When I’m up and walking again, I would like to get on the bike but probably concentrate on just having fun with it; whips and maybe a Flip every now and then (laughs).”

Andy would like to thank MxStore, Freerider, Spy Optic Australia, Thor, Rival Ink, Heidrich Films, MDP, Fish Fingered FMX and everyone involved in helping him fulfil his dream…

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