News Release

From Para to Dakar: Mormon bike rider makes history, conquers Dakar Rally

A Dream Come True

Joey Evans, a South African dirt bike racer and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was told that he would never walk and that his future as a biker was over.

But this January, Joey made history by becoming the first South African paraplegic bike rider to complete the 2017 Dakar Rally, the world’s most gruelling off-road racing event. The rally represents the pinnacle of every racer’s success, from start to finish.

Joey, 41, returned to Johannesburg from Argentina on Tuesday, January 17, 2017, to a hero’s welcome at Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport by his family, friends and biking enthusiasts. A decade ago Joey was paralysed from the waist down but made a miraculous recovery, albeit without the return of any feeling to both his legs.

     

He was the only South African on two wheels left in the race and he finished 93rd overall.

Participating in Dakar marks a major milestone in Joey’s long journey – from an amateur bike rider to a world-class racer, who has now represented South Africa at the highest level of the sport he so dearly loves. In May 2016, he raced in the Merzouga Rally in Morocco to qualify for Dakar.

In 2007, Joey was paralyzed, losing use of both his legs and part of his upper body, following a bike racing accident. Joey lined up at the start of the Heidelberg Harescramble, which is among the many races to prepare for his goal of racing the Dakar. There were about 20 other riders alongside him.

He had a bad start at this race the year before, seating in the dust for ages unable to pass.

So, on the morning of October 13, 2007, Joey determined to get a good start. “And that’s all I can remember until I woke up facing the sky with paramedics and spectators standing around me,” recalls Joey. He was 32 at the time of his accident.

Later, he was told that going into the first corner about 100m after the start another rider had crashed into his swing arm. Joey was catapulted off the bike, landed on his head and was ridden over by other riders.

 

“I next remember lying in the dirt looking up at all the faces and realizing I had clearly crashed and been unconscious, I joked ‘did I win?’. They all laughed and were clearly relieved, but then my buddy Tristam’s wife Tiffany who had been standing next to me with my bent knees resting on her moved back. My legs just dropped to the floor like two big pieces of dead meat,” Joey says of his ordeal.

“It turned out I had broken my T8 and T9 vertebrae and broken them off the ribs and crushed my spinal cord, leaving me completely paralyzed from just below the chest down.”

After the accident, it soon became clear that the accident would almost put a stop to Joey’s bike riding career and change his life forever. Fast forward to 2016! After years of therapy, tears and pain, Joey is now looking forward to what almost became an impossible dream.

In a recent interview on The Leadership MasterClass on CliffCentral.com, Joey, shared how he had determined to overcome his challenge of being paraplegic to return to dirt bike racing. “Nobody knows the outcome,” said Joey as he reflected on what he had been told about his condition. This, he says, has been one of the biggest lessons from his ordeal.

Joey, who hails from Roodepoort in Gauteng, now plans to use his extraordinary experience to inspire South Africans about never giving up, and about the need to always push yourself in the direction of your dreams regardless of your setbacks.

In his youth, he served as a missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for two years in Durban. He is married to Meredith Evans, and they have four daughters.

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