Behind The Scenes Of Deegan’s XGames Comeback

It occurred just shy of six months ago, but I remember the tragic event like it happened yesterday. I was standing in the Aspen snow, my toes numb and possibly frostbitten, but my curiosity flamed. “What is he going for?” I thought to myself as one of the most prominent names in freestyle sized up the icy 90-foot gap that lay ahead of him and his Jesse James-built CR250R. The apprehension lingered in the cool mountain air like dense fog as Brian Deegan sat idling his bike, waiting for the signal from the television crew that it was time to hit the frozen, ice-covered ramp.

The weeks prior were filled with suppositions and rumors about what the former X Games gold medalist might try in the snow following his successful Mulisha Twist at the previous Summer X Games, and it all led up to this moment. The TV guy gave Deegs the go-ahead, and in the wink of an eye Brian clicked his black and candy apple red West Coast Choppers Honda into gear. Deegan approached the peaked 90-footer with plenty of speed, perhaps a little too much. Either way, as he launched off the lip in third gear he was committed. The rumors were now confirmed-Brian Deegan was going for the Mulisha Twist in the snow!

I had already loaded a new roll of 36 fresh exposures into my Canon before the run, knowing that this was the pinnacle moment of Winter X 2004. Either Brian was going to pull the impossible and walk away with an uncontested Gold or he was going to die trying. As my camera’s motordrive whirled away, I can recall hearing the echoed panic rev the CR let out while trying to regain its upright stance in the air. Deegan had just approached the peak of his jump’s height when he stalled 30-some feet above the Aspen snow. Then, all of a sudden and without any warning whatsoever, the rotation just stopped. I don’t know how else to explain it… the bike literally stopped its twisting movement as quickly as it had started it, and Brian was in trouble indeed. With no time to think and a bike that was facing the exact opposite direction it needed to be to land safely, Deegan was left with no choice but to abandon ship.

When he finally catapulted to the rock-hard ice below, the imminent damage unraveled into what snow skiers refer to as a classic “yard sale.” I can still hear Brian’s screams echo through my head as he was being loaded onto the snow toboggan; the type of blood-curdling shriek that makes you sick to your stomach. A broken femur and two shattered wrists were the result of the crash, and as the medical personnel prepared Brian for his transport to the Aspen hospital I wondered if I would ever see my friend Brian Deegan ride a motorcycle again.

BACK IN THE SADDLE AGAIN

“Damn, you had that one!” exclaimed Twitch from behind the video camera as Deegan launched another flawless, spinning Mulisha Twist into the foam pit at his Temecula, California, training facility/backyard.

I couldn’t believe my own eyes. Sure, Brian had now been riding for a couple of months since what could have been a career-ending injury, but he had mostly just been on the Crusty Tour, doing the same tricks that he already had down pat. For Brian to be back practicing the very same 360 flip that a half-year ago sent him writhing in pain to the nearest hospital could be labeled psychotic even by Brian’s own lofty standards. Yet there he was, tempting fate once again with the most difficult, impressive trick in the business.

“My ultimate goal while sitting in that hospital bed and contemplating what I’d do with my life was to get back on the bike as quickly as I could and immediately start going upside down again. I wanted to be back to flipping and spinning threes before I even knew what in the hell happened to me in Aspen,” joked Brian later in an interview.

That’s right, just over three months after severely shattering his femur and snapping both wrists in half, Brian was back on his bike doing backflips again, new hardware in his body and all.

“It’s alwaysn my head, 24-7. It’s all I think about. It seems like every time I pick up a mag or watch TV, there I am in Aspen eating sh*t again. That crash just keeps coming up to haunt me, but that’s life. I just have to push past it and continue doing what I do,” said Brian.

And that’s exactly what Deegan’s doing. With just under a month to go before Summer X, we joined Brian as he went into full boot camp mode while preparing for the comeback of the year. Will Brian defeat the likes of Travis Pastrana and Nate Adams in L.A. this summer? Only time will tell the final tale, but until then Brian’s working his ass off to give it his best possible shot…

X IS EVERYTHING

So what’s the big deal about X, and why is Deegan spending every waking moment preparing for the made-for-television event?

“X is pretty much the only thing that matters in the world of freestyle motocross,” admits Brian. “You can go out and win every little weekly IFMA contest there is all year long, but if you don’t do well at X you’re nothing. If you win that one event you can just chill all year long, and you’re still pretty much set; you’re the man.”

In Deegan’s eyes, the X Games are not about the money, the fame, or any other tangible items (though he’s quick to point out that those aren’t bad, either). X is all about respect. “It all goes back to day one, when Metzger and I and the other O.G.s of the sport were battling it out in the hills, small contests, or whatever. We would all just go out riding and try to outdo one another. The whole ego trip of being the best guy out there on that particular day is what keeps us doing the crazy sh*t we do. It’s not about a check; if it weren’t for our sponsors, we would hardly make anything off X. They (X Games promoters) don’t pay us much to ride in or even win the event because they know they don’t have to. They’ve targeted that competitive side of us all, and they know that we’d ride for a thousand bucks if we had to, just to be the best in front of all those people. We want to beat each other so bad that we’re willing to risk our lives for it.”

CRUNCH TIME

With only a few weeks remaining, things were getting pretty hectic around the Deegan household when I arrived to begin this feature. In the short span of time that I was there he had phone calls from sponsors like Boost Mobile and visits from other FMX heroes like Twitch, Doug Parsons, and Ronnie Faisst, all of whom were also getting ready for X or whatever other event that might be coming up. Each rider has his own program or method of preparation, but as competitive as these guys are they all still seem to help each other out in the end.

“X is as much a mental game as it is a physical one,” explained Brian. “About a month before the event, every day starts to count. You start getting all of these funny phone calls like, ‘Dude, did you hear? Travis (Pastrana) just pulled a no-handed something or other, and Nate is doing this.’ It all just turns into a silly game, but at the same time it’s all serious. I never want to show up at X knowing that someone is already pulling something gnarlier than me. If I’m not going in with a trick that I can potentially win with, I don’t even want to be there. I’m not there to be part of the show or whatever, I’m there to win.”

The only exception to the unwritten rules of secrecy, it seems, is when it comes to tight friends. Every day I hung around the Compound shooting photos, half of the Mulisha was present. They were all learning new things and basically just helping one another out in general, from operating the foam pit crane and videotaping to offering coach-like support and critique. (Even if the support came in the form of comments like, “That was weak, bitch… My mom gets more extended on her Kiss of Deaths than that!)”

THE PROGRAM

With plenty of X Games experience under his belt, Deegan has the last crucial month of training down to a science. His secret for success consists of a fairly strict diet containing mostly protein-loaded meals like steak and eggs, chicken and salad and tuna straight from the can. Beyond the diet, Deegan’s boot camp might pale in comparison to the likes of Mama Carmichael’s, but it works for Deegan.

Just like Ricky, though, Brian does ride daily and emphasizes going back to the basics, spending lots of time on the motorcycle. “We used to just ride at the actual events and party the rest of the week, but with all of these kids coming up on the tours and stuff, that doesn’t work anymore. You used to be able to just skip school all the time, show up on the final, and ace the test. These new guys are going to school every weekend on the IFMA tour, so if we don’t stay on top of our game and ride a lot somewhere somehow, we’re going to get beat.”

Brian tries his hardest to now ride twice a day, every day, for the entire month leading up to X. A normal day for him goes something like this: get up, eat breakfast, throw some water on the course and be riding by eight or nine in the morning. In this first session, Deegan brushes up on his “normal” tricks like Rock Solids, Double Seat Grabs, and even backflips. This is the fun, relaxing part of the day that he enjoys. When it either gets too hot or too windy, the a.m. practice session ends and Brian rests his body in the hot tub for a while, eats, and handles the other side of the whole gig; the full-time job of being a bonafide rock star. Granting interviews, doing photo shoots, and all the other stuff that’s required of a celebrity like himself are just the start of the activities his midday consists of.

By late afternoon, Brian kicks everyone not essential to his training out, and things are dead serious once again as Deegs gets down to business. The evening session is normally the foam pit session, and this is what really counts to Deegan. “I don’t care what anyone says, the entire rest of your freestyle run is all just a filler for that one big trick that everyone remembers. Do you remember anything else I did in my run last year, besides the Mulisha Twist? Nobody cares about all of the little double grabs and nac nacs you do, they’re there to see you throw down the big sh*t, straight up. That’s what makes your run successful and is the difference between winning and losing.”

This is where the foam pit comes in. Brian estimates that in the month before X he’ll throw an estimated 200 practice spins into the pit, all off the 75-footer and all painful on his still-tender hip/femur joint.

A big part of the drill is analyzing what happens in each jump, whether it was right or wrong. Having the safety net of foam under him eliminates much of the chance that Deegan will get hurt while practicing his tricks, but the big thing to remember is that no matter how many times he tries something into the foam, if the trick isn’t landed perfectly 100% of the time, it’s not ready to be done in the dirt yet. That’s why personal video cameras are such an important tool; they are an open window on the precise mechanics of each attempt and provide the framework for dialing in difficult tricks like the Mulisha Twist.

Beyond analyzing his own jumps, Brian also admits to spending many an evening in front of the big screen, checking out his competition in slow motion and seeing exactly what they are doing, frame by frame. Hey, that’s not cheating, it’s just being smart!

After everything Brian goes through to prepare, perhaps the most surprising thing of all is that Deegan will head to the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles this August having never actually landed and ridden away from another Mulisha Twist since that fateful, femur-shattering attempt in Aspen last winter. Shockingly, unlike his competition who practice the move onto dirt for weeks prior to X, Deegan employs an entirely different philosophy on practicing.

“Why would I go do it on dirt, at home in front of nobody but my buddies?” asks Brian. “If I crash and get hurt at home practicing, nobody rt containing mostly protein-loaded meals like steak and eggs, chicken and salad and tuna straight from the can. Beyond the diet, Deegan’s boot camp might pale in comparison to the likes of Mama Carmichael’s, but it works for Deegan.

Just like Ricky, though, Brian does ride daily and emphasizes going back to the basics, spending lots of time on the motorcycle. “We used to just ride at the actual events and party the rest of the week, but with all of these kids coming up on the tours and stuff, that doesn’t work anymore. You used to be able to just skip school all the time, show up on the final, and ace the test. These new guys are going to school every weekend on the IFMA tour, so if we don’t stay on top of our game and ride a lot somewhere somehow, we’re going to get beat.”

Brian tries his hardest to now ride twice a day, every day, for the entire month leading up to X. A normal day for him goes something like this: get up, eat breakfast, throw some water on the course and be riding by eight or nine in the morning. In this first session, Deegan brushes up on his “normal” tricks like Rock Solids, Double Seat Grabs, and even backflips. This is the fun, relaxing part of the day that he enjoys. When it either gets too hot or too windy, the a.m. practice session ends and Brian rests his body in the hot tub for a while, eats, and handles the other side of the whole gig; the full-time job of being a bonafide rock star. Granting interviews, doing photo shoots, and all the other stuff that’s required of a celebrity like himself are just the start of the activities his midday consists of.

By late afternoon, Brian kicks everyone not essential to his training out, and things are dead serious once again as Deegs gets down to business. The evening session is normally the foam pit session, and this is what really counts to Deegan. “I don’t care what anyone says, the entire rest of your freestyle run is all just a filler for that one big trick that everyone remembers. Do you remember anything else I did in my run last year, besides the Mulisha Twist? Nobody cares about all of the little double grabs and nac nacs you do, they’re there to see you throw down the big sh*t, straight up. That’s what makes your run successful and is the difference between winning and losing.”

This is where the foam pit comes in. Brian estimates that in the month before X he’ll throw an estimated 200 practice spins into the pit, all off the 75-footer and all painful on his still-tender hip/femur joint.

A big part of the drill is analyzing what happens in each jump, whether it was right or wrong. Having the safety net of foam under him eliminates much of the chance that Deegan will get hurt while practicing his tricks, but the big thing to remember is that no matter how many times he tries something into the foam, if the trick isn’t landed perfectly 100% of the time, it’s not ready to be done in the dirt yet. That’s why personal video cameras are such an important tool; they are an open window on the precise mechanics of each attempt and provide the framework for dialing in difficult tricks like the Mulisha Twist.

Beyond analyzing his own jumps, Brian also admits to spending many an evening in front of the big screen, checking out his competition in slow motion and seeing exactly what they are doing, frame by frame. Hey, that’s not cheating, it’s just being smart!

After everything Brian goes through to prepare, perhaps the most surprising thing of all is that Deegan will head to the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles this August having never actually landed and ridden away from another Mulisha Twist since that fateful, femur-shattering attempt in Aspen last winter. Shockingly, unlike his competition who practice the move onto dirt for weeks prior to X, Deegan employs an entirely different philosophy on practicing.

“Why would I go do it on dirt, at home in front of nobody but my buddies?” asks Brian. “If I crash and get hurt at home practicing, nobody really cares. I’d be at X Games spectating, and people would just blow me off, like he’s done, whatever. But if I get it down perfectly in foam and wait ’til X Games to actually land it, for some reason in my mind it’s that much cooler. The guys who spend all day landing it in practice, they show up, land it and ride away with their hand in the air, but the crowd knows and it’s not that gnarly. For me, I feed off the crowd and all its energy. I’d rather go there healthy, stick it for the first time, and just get so amped by the crowd that they feel my success with me. That’s worth ten times more than being totally prepared and rehearsed. With these types of tricks it’s almost better to land a little sketchy, but just be so stoked that you pulled it. That’s what the crowd wants to see, and they identify with it.”

THE FINISHING TOUCHES

After an exhausting month, Brian Deegan finally faces Hell Week on August 5-8. He’ll compete in a total of four events; Step-Up, SuperMoto, Freestyle and Big Air, and it’s then that he’ll find out if all of the hard work will pay off and result in more shiny X Games medals for his trophy cabinet.

Once at the event the last-minute prepping is plenty intense, as you can surely imagine. The two events most important to Brian are Freestyle and Big Air, and these are the ones that consume most of his attention. “Right when I get to the event, it’s on. In practice, I ride the course and get a feel for it, deciding which ramp I should do which trick off. Before I leave, I draw the entire course on a piece of paper and go back to the hotel room to study it, analyze it, and decide exactly how my run will go. I make sure I know which trick to throw off of which jump. A good judge knows, too, that certain tricks are harder off of certain jumps and they score your run based on that. If you do a Rock Solid off of a 90-foot dirt-to-dirt you’re going to get more points than if you do it off a 75-foot ramp gap. I have to take all of that into consideration when planning my run, but the most important thing of all is to figure out where I’ll throw my big tricks like flips and threes, because those are the ones that really count.”

After the course is drawn, the jumps are connected, and the run is mentally rehearsed, the only thing left for Brian to do is sit back, relax, and hope that it’s all enough to add up to Gold. Characteristic of his mysterious “tough guy” image, Deegan is all set to add a perfectly dramatic climax to this story. Whether or not it will have a happy, fairytale ending remains to be seen on that fateful day at the X Games finals, when Deegan will finally roll the dice and try to once again claim the trick that claimed him.

dy really cares. I’d be at X Games spectating, and people would just blow me off, like he’s done, whatever. But if I get it down perfectly in foam and wait ’til X Games to actually land it, for some reason in my mind it’s that much cooler. The guys who spend all day landing it in practice, they show up, land it and ride away with their hand in the air, but the crowd knows and it’s not that gnarly. For me, I feed off the crowd and all its energy. I’d rather go there healthy, stick it for the first time, and just get so amped by the crowd that they feel my success with me. That’s worth ten times more than being totally prepared and rehearsed. With these types of tricks it’s almost better to land a little sketchy, but just be so stoked that you pulled it. That’s what the crowd wants to see, and they identify with it.”

THE FINISHING TOUCHES

After an exhausting month, Brian Deegan finally faces Hell Week on August 5-8. He’ll compete in a total of four events; Step-Up, SuperMoto, Freestyle and Big Air, and it’s then that he’ll find out if all of the hard work will pay off and result in more shiny X Games medals for his trophy cabinet.

Once at the event the last-minute prepping is plenty intense, as you can surely imagine. The two events most important to Brian aree Freestyle and Big Air, and these are the ones that consume most of his attention. “Right when I get to the event, it’s on. In practice, I ride the course and get a feel for it, deciding which ramp I should do which trick off. Before I leave, I draw the entire course on a piece of paper and go back to the hotel room to study it, analyze it, and decide exactly how my run will go. I make sure I know which trick to throw off of which jump. A good judge knows, too, that certain tricks are harder off of certain jumps and they score your run based on that. If you do a Rock Solid off of a 90-foot dirt-to-dirt you’re going to get more points than if you do it off a 75-foot ramp gap. I have to take all of that into consideration when planning my run, but the most important thing of all is to figure out where I’ll throw my big tricks like flips and threes, because those are the ones that really count.”

After the course is drawn, the jumps are connected, and the run is mentally rehearsed, the only thing left for Brian to do is sit back, relax, and hope that it’s all enough to add up to Gold. Characteristic of his mysterious “tough guy” image, Deegan is all set to add a perfectly dramatic climax to this story. Whether or not it will have a happy, fairytale ending remains to be seen on that fateful day at the X Games finals, when Deegan will finally roll the dice and try to once again claim the trick that claimed him.