Kyle Cunningham Is Down, But Not Out

Photos by Jeff Kardas

While plenty of attention in the 250 class was directed at the battle between Ken Roczen and Eli Tomac for the title and the young rookies making their own marks, little was given to MYPLASH/Metal Mulisha/Star Racing/Yamaha’s Kyle Cunningham. The veteran was in the top-10 of the championship standings all season long and was in the midst of a stellar run until a pair of bulged discs in his lower back disrupted the flow. Unable to practice or train during the week, Cunningham was only able to show up to the track on Saturday morning, grit through the pain, and turn the the best finishes he could. A crash during the final moto of the season at Lake Elsinore broke three of the major bones in his right foot and required surgery, pins, and plates.His 10th place final ranking is respectable in itself, but becomes even more impressive when one hears about the injuries overcome. 

On the 2013 season…

The season was a little up and down. I had a couple of good Supercross rounds, had some decent finishes and some bad ones, but overall it was a good series. I had a good race in Vegas, which is kind of usual, and went into the outdoors feeling good. At the first round, I did want I wanted to and had two decent motos. I had bad starts unfortunately, but still ended up sixth overall. Things were going okay but I messed my back up at RedBud and had a bugled disc in my L5 and S1. I tried to ride through it and the results were kind of there, but I had a big crash at Millville. After that, it felt like things were one after another. I’d have a good moto, then a bad moto, then a good one, then a bad one. I was a little inconsistent at the last four rounds, which was unfortunate, but now it is over and I’m focusing on next year.

Cunningham started the 2013 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross 250 National Championship incredibly well and was a common sight in the top-10 until a pair of bulged discs in his lower back made it impossible to train or practice. His results in the latter part of the season fell off, but he still claimed 10th in the championship standings.

The injuries that disrupted his season…

My back was pretty bad. I felt it after RedBud; I couldn’t even reach down and take my socks off. I tried to do some therapy before Washougal, and I showed up and raced there without any riding or training. After Washougal I had a MRI done, and that is when I found out what it was. It was the same thing for a few weeks, which was a bummer. I would just show up and race; I couldn’t train or practice. I was winging it on the weekends and maybe that lack of being able to train is what threw off the last four rounds. I wanted to get some motos in there, and it was unfortunate that in the second moto at Elsinore I crashed in a left-hander and broke my right foot. That was a bummer to have in the last moto of the season, because I would have liked to have gotten out of their healthy. Things happen in weird ways, and you can’t change them, but only work through them. I’m already going stir crazy and looking forward to getting back on the bike. It has only been a month, but I am hoping in three or four weeks I can get back on it.

Despite what he felt were bad starts, Cunningham notched 8-7 scores at the Hangtown opening round and claimed sixth overall, which was a solid start to his season. 

Explaining his second moto crash at Lake Elsinore and broken foot…

I landed off the finish line and there was a braking bump in the corner. I washed out the front and thought that I was going to be able to get up really quickly. But I felt my foot grab, and when you break something, you kind of know [Laughs].  I knew right away and they got me to the Asterisk rig. I was lucky that I didn’t break any of the joints, but just the first three metatarsals, which are the main bones of the foot. The first two were broken pretty good, so my big toe and the one next two it were stuck like I had dislocated them. They just sat there throbbing. Dr. Ryman got them in a splint. They got me out of there and to the hospital, where I hung out and the ended up doing my surgery that night. They put a plate and some screws in the first bone, a pin in the second, and the third was just fractured. I think of it like a wrist and with so many small bones being in my ankle, I got away with it being the bones in my foot.

If you had seen the crash, you’d have said, “Okay, he’ll be getting back up.” It wasn’t anything crazy, but one of those freak things. They had to put a plate and screw in the bone behind my big toe, because it was in a few pieces. The second bone was in a few pieces, too, which is why they put a pin in, but the big thing was the pain. The feeling I can explain it is when my foot muscle would spasm, it would cramp up. My sister took me to the hospital; they didn’t take me in an ambulance. I couldn’t take anything at to help with the pain at the track, so I just had to get to the hospital to have it taken care of there. I thing everything everyone in the Asterisk rig did helped me get out and into surgery that night. It is feeling better already and I have a splint that I am able to take on and off, and I have a bone stimulator that is really nice. From the scars on my foot, it looks like they did a really good job.

Right now, I have the pin in so I can’t do too much with it. I know that I am supposed to get a heel boot so that I can walk on my heel. It’s going to be a big thing and I will have to strengthen it up before I get on the bike. The last time I went to the doctor and got the stitches out, they said there was a possibility they were going to pull the pin out this Friday and I’m hoping that happens. It’ll still limit what I can do, but it has already been said that once the pin comes out I will be able to swim and maybe get on a stationary bike. It’s just making sure that everything is healed up where the pin is and once it comes out, I’ll be able to start doing things again. I don’t want to rush it with, since the next race is the opening round of Supercross. I want to be at 100-percent when I get back on the bike, and the best chance of that for is at the end of October.

Although he failed to get any points in the first moto at Thunder Valley, Cunningham rallied through the middle portion of the season and averaged 11-points per moto until a DNF at Millville. 

Working with Star Racing, Bobby Regan, and Ryan Morais…

I thought the team was really good. I had some small struggles here and there with setup on my part and I think that there were some changes that could have been made on my part when I hurt my back. I didn’t have the opportunity to do some testing when I needed to, which was a bummer. I was there for three years and they did a great job. Bobby Regan is a good guy and Ryan Morais did a great job, so if I can figure out how to get out of the gate, I’ll be better off then when I start at the back of the pack. With this foot, I have a lot of time to think and I want to be ready for next year and be more consistent.

After three years with Star Racing, Cunningham is looking at his options with a handful of teams.

His options for 2014…

My options are open right now. I have talked to a few people and nothing is set it stone. I’m sitting here while I am hurt trying to figure out what exactly I will do for next year. I’d definitely trying to figure out what the best option for me will be so that I can accomplish my goals and be where I need to be. It is tough right now and with nothing being done, I will take what is the best decision for me.