Eleven years ago Jimmy Button became paralyzed following a motocross training accident. [Click here to read Part 1, which shares the full story.] Docs told him he'd never recover movement below his neck. Bad call. Button is currently in week one of a two-month charity bike race across America, dubbed "Miles for Miracles."
Before he could ride, Button had to start back at the beginning. Months after his life-changing accident, he began to regain feeling in his fingertips. "That was the beginning of the journey," he says. "But after getting paralyzed, I had to relearn everything."
Jimmy had to learn how to stand up, walk, eat and do everything else most of us take for granted. "My rehab professionals had to teach me the basics that you learn as an infant," Button says. "I'm 6'4" and there were a lot of terrifying things to learn, especially how to fall."
Button's rehab started slowly, but the ex-racer pushed the limits every day. His first task was to learn how to stand. "I held myself up for two seconds and that's all I could do," he recalls. "Every day I would push myself to do more. I'd double what I did the day before from two to four, and so on ... continuing that progress until I was able to take my first steps a couple months later."
Button's motivation was to race motocross again. But nine months into rehab, it became apparent that this would never happen. "Once I got to the point where I could walk on my own, drive a car and take care of myself, I started to get tired of it all," Button explains. "The constant rehab started to drain me. It wasn't till then that I realized my life [had] completely changed."
It took three years for Jimmy to recover from his paralysis, and another seven to come up with a new mission: to raise awareness of and support for spinal cord research. Button says, "After watching a 60 Minutes special on Dr. Hans Keirstead's development of spinal cord treatments, I thought, 'What could I do to help this cause, which affected my life?' To get people's attention, you have to do something astonishing—like ride a bike across America."
Unable to ride 15 minutes on a stationary bike, Button turned to motocross trainer and riding partner Cory Worf for help. "I knew if I stayed true to a program and worked out hard, without losing focus, I could do this," Button says. "I started hitting the gym twice a week just focusing on overall strength, while riding 30 to 40 miles a day on my spin bike."
Button's first ride outdoors came in August, when he was finally strong enough to balance himself. "That was five months ago," he says. "Now we'll be doing pretty long rides throughout this two-month race."
Averaging 60 miles a day, Button and Worf are traveling across the country on their Sette road bikes. Raising money and awareness for spinal cord research may be his main priority, but Button also hopes to motivate others recovering from spinal cord paralysis. "Hopefully I can give them a little motivation to fight hard," he says. "Look at me; it's taken 11 years to get to this point. The light at the end of the tunnel may be dim, but there's definitely something shining. You just have to work hard to get it."
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock