From the moment he hopped on a dirt bike, Westen Erwin knew that motocross was for him. Between the speed and the jumps, the adrenaline had Westen hooked on racing.
“I’m the shy person when I go home but when I’m on the bike, I’m a whole different person,” Westen said, the 14-year-old boy from Augusta, Kansas.
Racing at the Bar2Bar MX race track in early May, Westen’s life changed forever after he tried to avoid a collision during a jump.
“When I came up over the hill for the jump, I saw the person in front of me and I didn’t want to hit him. When it happened, I just froze. I didn’t know what to do,” Westen recalls. Landing head first on the track, Westen lay motionless. His mother, Nicole, watching from the stands, rushed onto the track to check on her son.
“As he’s lying on the track, I just asked him, ‘What happened?’ He said, ‘I thought I was going to hit somebody and I didn’t want to hurt anyone.’ So he let off the gas and hit the back brake.”
After the crash, emergency crews rushed Westen to Wesley Medical Center in Wichita, Kansas. Doctors later confirmed he had suffered a complete spinal cord injury affecting him from the chest down. Days later, he arrived at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals–Lincoln Campus. Early on his care team discovered his need for speed, fueling his recovery with work on the Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) bike. Westen was also among the first to use the Action Trackchair, Madonna’s new all-terrain wheelchair, completing laps around campus.
“He has a very adventurous spirit and really likes to push the limits,” Scott Fandrich said, one of Westen’s inpatient physical therapists. “He is driven to return to his active lifestyle centered around motocross and fishing.”
“In the first week, he went from not being able to do anything by himself to a lot by himself. He just pushes and asks to do it on his own,” Nicole said, who’s stayed by her son’s side during his recovery journey at Madonna.
An adrenaline junkie, Westen’s positive attitude makes him standout. In addition, playing table tennis and video games on the pediatric unit keeps him active. Back in his room, Westen proudly displays memorabilia of his favorite sport including a dirt bike helmet and motocross pictures. The motocross community has rallied around the athlete to keep his spirits high by tagging him on social media with the hashtag #14Strong and sending letters, texts and calls.
“It’s a lot to take in when people say you’re a hero and you’re inspirational. I don’t know what to say to that.”
Westen is letting his hard work and recovery do the talking. The soon-to-be high school sophomore is setting his goals sky high and has dreams to one day race again.
“Even the night of the accident, he looked at me and my husband and said, ‘I will walk again. And if God has other plans, so be it.’ He keeps saying he has no regrets,” Nicole said.