Gravity-defying stunts that had once been part of Ashton’s repertoire, over a trial bike career spanning 20 years and making him a YouTube sensation in the process, were suddenly out of reach; or at least they would have been to anyone else in the same situation.
Ashton claims the moment he had the accident he knew that the impact was both serious and permanent. Anyhow, his positivity and ambition doesn’t appear to have wavered for a moment, however, as he told the BBC: “I spent about an hour telling myself it would be ok… then I had a really great moment once I got into the MRI scan, and in there that’s where I believed myself.”
Now 41, Ashton’s career started as a motorcycle trials rider, later taking up mountain bike trials. Front man of The Bike Tour since 2002, he is a four-time British Biketrail champion, former World Expert Biketrial champion and the High Jump World Record holder. He cemented his legendary status in cycling as a stunt rider, World Champion and team manager, as well as a proactive supporter of young riders.
The accident in September 2013 was not his first; he had previously broken his back in 2003 during another fall compounded by a misjudged landing, but this time it was different. It was career altering and life altering, but apparently the things that had not changed were Ashton’s own drive, determination and positivity.
From his hospital bed and with the help of friends and contemporaries Ashton edited and released his second film showcasing footage of his own stunts before the accident, bringing together films from others who came to his aid. Five months after the accident he returned home, faced with the challenges of adapting to a new environment without nurses and assistance, and adapting the house to his needs.
Dealing with the physical and psychological barriers of sitting up and bending made him ‘feel physically sick’ to start with, as he documents on Animal.co.uk, but with stretches, physio, time and the body’s own remarkable ability to heal the nausea subsided and little by little he had grown to understand his ‘new’ body.
Inspired by the ‘superhumans’ of the 2012 Paralympics, Ashton then started to research the exercises and sports he could try with the working parts of his body. He hatched a plan (and a blog) #TryBeforeJuly – to try as many disability sports as possible that June. Lo and behold, motorcycling and then cycling once again became a possibility.
He then phoned everyone he knew in disabled sports and found a passion for handcycling, which lead him to train in Newport’s Velodrome (an experience which proved that his need for speed and adrenaline is not dampened by his experience).
Two years after that life changing accident in July 2015, Ashton released a third cycling film that has proven to be even more impressive than the catalogue of stunts he’s famous for. Back on Track sees Ashton ride a modified bike down the Antur Stiniog mountain trail in North Wales, and the joy and excitement is palpable.
The bike has a sit-ski seat – a piece of kit designed for use in paralympic snowsports, and with a helping push Ashton sets off with the support of pro riders Danny MacAskill, Chris Akrigg and Blake Samson behind him.
Now supporting spinal-cord research foundation Wings for Life and aiming to help other disabled people to enjoy cycling it seems Ashton’s ambition and enthusiasm knows no bounds. Could this be Britain’s next cycling paralympian? Who knows? For now he’s inspiring cyclists the world over, and as he told the UK’s Telegraph newspaper, ultimately: “Mountain biking is just about being out, having a laugh with your mates.”