Kyle Webster: Bouncing Back
Just over a week ago Penrite Pirelli CRF Honda Racing’s, Kyle Webster, celebrated what he describes as the “best moment of my career by far”. Why? He captured back-to-back overall MX2 wins in the double-header Rounds 4 and 5 of the 2019 Pirelli MX Nationals at Murray Bridge in South Australia.
Rewind back eighteen months ago, when Webster was dealing with the toughest moment of his career, after crashing and suffering four broken vertebrae at Round 2 of the 2017 Australian Supercross Championship at Bacchus Marsh in Victoria.
From that frightening moment when he briefly lost feeling in his legs in the immediate aftermath of the crash, the South African-born, West Australian-raised, and now NSW-based Webster has shown that with a determined frame of mind, and a powerful training and race preparation regime, he is back in fighting form and has one goal in mind: an MX Nationals’ MX2 Championship win.
Andrew Clubb from Penrite Pirelli CRF Honda Racing recently caught up with Webster to get an insight into his past and present. Here is that interview…
AC: Let’s turn it back to September 2017 and the first round of the Australian Supercross Championship at Jimboomba, Queensland, which can be described as anything but the start to the series you had hoped for?
KW: That first round at Jimboomba was pretty poor, to put it mildly. I’d had surgery a few weeks before that for a gash in my hip after I crashed while training and the bike hit me. I finished 11th at Jimboomba and it was a pretty average night, that’s for sure.
The next round at Bacchus Marsh, Vic, appeared to kick off better, when you were fifth in qualifying and then second in your heat race. But then it all went pear-shape in the final, when you crashed over the dragon’s back and your bike slammed into you. It was the kind of crash every rider fears and it was very quickly clear you were in a bad way.
Instantly after the crash I felt super-winded, like I couldn’t breathe. I had pain in my back, so I just stayed still as a precaution as the Racesafe crew got to me. They got me back to the medical truck to check me over and that’s when the shock really kicked in and I lost the feeling from my waist down. That was pretty intense and to tell the truth, it scared the daylights out of me.
Every professional racer knows the risk of injury, but a spinal injury takes those concerns to a whole other level, and this was obviously very serious?
I was fortunate that my injuries were able to be diagnosed quickly and then treated quite quickly as well. I had broken four vertebrae – T7, T8, T9 and T10 – and once the specialists determined how to fix it, we created a game plan and worked our way forward.
How soon after the crash before you had surgery?
I was taken to Royal Melbourne Hospital and by Wednesday morning the swelling around my back and spine had subsided enough that the specialists could operate. They fused my spine, from T5 to T11, and I have two rods and 11 screws up either side of my spine – which the doctors say will be there forever.
How long were you in hospital?
This was the amazing thing. I was operated on Wednesday morning and later that afternoon they had me up and walking after the surgery. Less than 48 hours after the surgery, I was out of hospital and on a flight back to Sydney – less than a week after the crash. I was amazed at how fast that part of it all transpired.
It must have been the heaviest of weeks.
Of course. It was like one of those situations where you think it will never happen to you, but when it does, you have to deal with it. I was fortunate to have some great friends and family to support me, and of course Mick and Linda [Lillis] and Mark [Luksich] from the CRF Honda Racing team, who were right there for me the whole way through.
Before the accident, you had already agreed terms to continue with the CRF Honda Racing team for the 2018 season. But was returning to racing always a given for you after fracturing four vertebrae?
Having a contract and knowing the team was there for me was reassuring, but I had to be pretty realistic about the injury and what the path back to racing might be. To start with, I was unsure if I could even ride again, let alone race again. I didn’t know what it would feel like when I did get to ride again; it was just an unknown.
How long was it before you knew you could race again?
When I got home to Sydney after the surgery, I bought a recliner chair for and basically guarded it for a month. Seriously, I did nothing. I could barely move after the surgery, because they had cut so much muscle and tissue to get to the spine and that took time to heal. Simple things like getting in or out of bed would trigger pain down my spine and I would have burning feelings down my back. I would just try stay very still, which is harder than you might imagine.
When did you finally get back on a bike?
In January, almost three months after the crash. It felt so good to be on a bike, but it was the most nerve-wracking moment of my life. I went out to Dargle, and just rode around a flat, grassy paddock, no jumps.
What did that tell you about your aspirations to get back to racing again?
I was happy, because I felt fine. I wanted to be back on the bike and it didn’t feel weird, which is what I had been worried about. I slowly built into it as far as riding went, and instead concentrated on rehab and training and building up my back and overall strength again. From that aspect, I was confident, and felt that I could be fine. I just knew that when I started to ride more, I just had to be easy and careful with it.
When was your first race back?
A few weeks before the first round of the 2018 MX Nationals, I went down to Maffra in Victoria and raced a local event. To be honest, that first race absolutely sucked. I was so nervous off the start and did not want to go near anyone on the track. But still, it was a race, and once I got that first one out of the way, I felt fine and knew that I could get back to normal again and go racing, properly.
The 2018 MX Nationals were a mixed bag for you, finishing seventh overall in MX2 and even winning a few races and taking two round wins, but there were some lows as well.
Sure, winning at Wonthaggi, Vic, and Coolum, Qld, was awesome, but Round 8 at Raymond Terrace, NSW, was a shocker. I had a mechanical issue one race, and made an error on the downhill and hit a water barrier in the second race of the back-to-back motos, and that crash cost me the entire round. So we had some issues through the series, but the good races were the ones we took out of last season.
And then when the season moved into Australian Supercross. Were you hesitant after what had happened the year before at Bacchus Marsh?
Supercross sure was nerve-wracking. I could train and practice fine (on a supercross track), but at the races I would just get so nervous. At every race, it felt like I couldn’t push and that was annoying. I’d had a feeling that it would happen, which made me hesitant, despite how much I tried not to be. I finished 11th in the 2018 SX2 Championship.
Did you have those apprehensions when racing motocross?
No, not really. Just occasionally, when I would get into a close battle with somebody and I wouldn’t push as hard as I could. That was last year though. This year, I feel like I have gotten over that.
Recent MX Nationals results would certainly support that comment.
Thanks, but the first two rounds of MX Nationals this year were not ideal. At Appin, NSW, I got fully stuck in the mud, and then at then at Round 2 at Wonthaggi, Vic, we had a bike issue, caused by the mud again. But since then, the championship has been good and we’ve got things back on track. Since then, my moto scores have been top two in the last eight races and we’ve jumped to second in the championship, so now I’m concentrating on finishing it off strong through the back half of the championship.
This is your fourth year with the Penrite Pirelli CRF Honda Racing team. That’s a long-term relationship.
Sure, because I really like the whole team atmosphere and like working with Mark [Luksich] and Mick [Lillis] and my new mechanic Craig [Bolton] this year. Having Craig onboard full-time is a massive boost to the program and we have a great working relationship going on and work well together. We started the year racing a couple of rounds of the New Zealand Motocross Championship, which Mark and the team made possible, which was another massive boost to preparations for this year.
Where does last week’s Murray Bridge double-header rounds win rank in your career achievements?
It’s by far the best moment. I could not believe how good it felt to do that and win two days in a row. The MX2 field is so stacked again this year and every rider brings their A-game to the track for every round, so the competition is fierce.
There’s a few weeks break now in the MX Nationals calendar. Do you get a breather?
I’ve had the week off straight after Murray Bridge, which felt great. Even Stephen Gall, who I work with for training, said to take a break, so that’s what I’ve done and I’ve been guarding the couch again. But now we’re off to WA to race Manjimup 15,000 and crack out a 450. It will also be a good chance to catch up with my family over there, and then I’ll be back east and into the MX Nationals in June.
What’s the plan for maintaining your recent form into the sharp end of the MX Nationals series?
It’s like a second championship will start all over again when we get back into the MX Nationals. So my plan is to keep doing what I have been doing and stick to my riding and training schedule. I’ve got a pretty close group of people around me for riding and training and I don’t see any need to change that.
Finally, what are your goals and ambitions for 2020 and beyond?
I really want to try and win an MX2 Championship and then that will determine what happens next year or the following year. Sure, I would love to race a 450, but I’m not rushing it. Winning an MX2 Championship is the goal for now.