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Family and Passion for Motocross Hold Key to Spinal Cord Injury Grad's Recovery

April 23, 2021

Nick Rietz, a motocross rider who was given his first dirt bike at five years old, loved to ride. He began racing at age six and over the years felt the risks were worth the reward. But in September of 2019, as he was coming over a jump in a practice lap at a motocross facility, he didn’t quite make the landing. Nick was thrown from his bike and sustained a spinal cord injury in the crash.

Two weeks after being rushed to a local hospital, he was transferred to Craig Hospital on October 13, 2019. He learned about Craig from his surgeon who told Nick that every patient he sent to Craig came out of rehabilitation more independent than anywhere else.

Nick recalls his second day at Craig when he already had a full schedule of therapy: “It was like having a high school schedule. It was exhausting for the first few days but then I got used to the routine. It was hard work.”

Nick Rietz in physical therapy at Craig

He jumped right into activities, including attending peer mentor group meetings, participating in gaming, and joining every therapeutic recreation and Teen Rehabilitation at Craig (TRAC) event the hospital offered. “If it got me out of my room, I was in,” Nick says. “My favorite activity was archery. And going to game night and seeing all the adaptive video games was really eye-opening and cool to see. I also did the adaptive driving program at Craig.”

Nick’s family often visited throughout his rehabilitation. “My grandparents and aunt even came out to see me,” he says. “One of the cool things is that my aunt was able to fulfill a lifelong dream of going to a Broncos game.” His mom and dad were usually at the hospital with him while they lived in Craig’s family housing; however, his mom left for Christmas to see his older sister, brother-in-law and their children. But Nick said the staff made him feel like he had family there with him while he was away from his own family during the holidays.

Nick Rietz at a Broncos game with family

When he returned home, his whole family helped with preparations. His aunt and uncle helped raise funds through a recyled cans and bottles drive for home renovations. His brother-in-law installed new lights that turned on and off from Nick’s phone. His sister helped with ramps by sending a video of dimensions and steps to the Craig community reintegration team who helped with the building specifications. “Then my brother-in-law connected with a friend and one of my high school teachers who helped build the ramps. All of my family pulled through in some way,” he says. “The hardest part was renovating the bathroom.”

Nick now works part-time for his uncle who owns a machine shop and helps sharpen chainsaws for the logging company near his home in Sweethome, Oregon. He currently drives a friend’s van and is working on getting his next vehicle.

Nick Rietz sit skiing in Oregon

He also learned to sit-ski through Oregon Adaptive Sports at Mt. Bachelor and recently started monoskiing. “It is a fun challenge,” Nick says.

But his true love is still motocross. All of his friends who raced with him check in periodically. At first, he thought that if he couldn’t ride he wouldn’t want to participate in motocross again. But now, he helps two teens in his town by coaching in a “side-by-side” and comes out to watch the races.

“I have to keep my mind busy, especially during COVID. I’m thankful for my family and community support,” he says.