There are similar degrees of calmness, courage and gratitude in Bruce Cook’s voice when he reflects on the day that changed his life forever.
In January 2014, during a Nitro Circus action sport show in Hamilton, Ont., Cook was seriously injured while attempting the world’s first ever double front flip on a motorcycle.
The trick didn’t go nearly as planned as Cook slid off the back of his bike, breaking a vertebrae and damaging his spinal cord. Cook had lost the use of his legs and would spend the next 66 days in hospital. The road to recovery wouldn’t be easy.
Still, once the initial shock had subsided, and as dire as his situation may have seemed to others, Cook quickly decided the injury wasn’t going to take control of his life or his passion.
“I knew (the injury) it was bad, but at the same time I realized I was alive and the situation I was in was a lot better than the alternative, a little bittersweet I guess you could say,” Cook said.
“I think I decided pretty early, that isn’t the way I pictured going out, on a stretcher and being wheeled out of an arena,” he added. “I decided it wasn’t going to be my last time. I had to get back out on that bike, get in front of a crowd and do it least one more time.”
Four years later, using a modified bike, the 30-year-old Cook is going strong, displaying his talents at Nitro Circus shows all across North America.
Next month, for the first time ever, Cook will perform his trademark backflip in his hometown when Nitro comes to Kelowna’s Apple Bowl.
“I’m sure it’s going to be pretty overwhelming,” Cook said of the Kelowna show. “There have been fans and support from all over the world, so to finally be doing it at home will be exciting. Obviously most of my close friends are here, the majority of them have never seen me in Nitro, let alone anywhere else, so that’ll be pretty special.”
Growing up in the Cook household, the word “can’t” simply wasn’t part of the family’s vocabulary, he said—a theme that formed the basis of what would be a long and challenging recovery.
“My dad and grandpa were the kind of people who said ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going’ and that’s always stuck with me,” he said.
After undergoing treatment at GF Strong in Vancouver, followed by several visits to Project Walk in California, Cook steadily regained his strength and confidence. Nine months to the day after the accident, with his newly-modified bike, Cook was riding again.
Then, a month after that, in November 2014, the moment Cook had long anticipated, he landed his first backflip in Maryland.
“That was a pretty emotional moment for me,” said Cook. “Before that, I really, honestly didn’t know if it was possible. It was feeling I’d never experienced.
“A lot of people think it’s stupid, getting back on something that almost killed me,” he added. “But it’s an extreme passion of mine, I’ve been riding since I was five. It was something I had to do or I’d regret it. I had so much support from family and friends along the way, and that was really important.”
Now more than 100 shows later, close friend Kevin Bosch continues to admire Cook’s resolve, passion and dedication to his craft.
Then again, Bosch, who has supported Cook throughout his journey, isn’t the least bit surprised his friend has overcome the odds, both in life and in his work.
“There were a lot of questions at first, what being a paraplegic would mean, him not being able to walk,” said Bosch, who met Cook on a job site 10 years ago. “But in my dealings with him, I knew he would get through it. I’ve seen the guy bouncing off the pavement from 50 feet in the air, get up and give a thumbs up. I knew mentally he would be OK.
“He was positive from day one in the hospital and that has followed him all the way along.”
In addition to his exploits on a motorcycle, Bosch marvels at how Cook’s example serves as inspiration and motivation for so many others facing challenges in their own lives.
“I’m proud, beyond words, proud of what he’s accomplished post-accident,” Bosch said. “He’s encouraged people literally across the world. It’s unreal to hear a mom talk about her little son who has been down and out, in a wheelchair for example, and how Bruce puts a smile on his face and gives him hope. Or just kids who are struggling day to day. It’s amazing, inspirational.”
As for Cook’s future plans as a performer, he has no specific plans to retire but knows change will soon be on the way.
“As far as a dirt bike goes, I have nothing to prove,” Cook said. “I think I have at least another year or two of touring in me, then maybe look at other things. “When I get some time, I would like to do some keynote speaking, to try and help people who are injured or down on their luck,” he added. “I’ve had a long career and a good one, and I’d like to give back.”
Cook is about to hit the road for another season on the Nitro Circus tour, beginning with the first show April 28 in Edinburg, Texas.
Four weeks later, on May 25, Cook will perform at the Apple Bowl in Kelowna.
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