We caught up with Team Honda HRC’s Ken Roczen on the phone earlier this week to see how his training, testing, and recovery is going. To say that Kenny is confident about his “comeback” at Anaheim 1 would be an understatement…
Kenny, it's been awesome journey to see the recovery you've made from the horrible injuries you sustained…
Yeah, I actually feel awesome. I've put in a lot of work over a long period of time. It's kind of tough in the beginning because when I first started, even going on a walk was a big deal for me. It came from then and if you look at it, once you start working out a little bit and you do the slightest little bit but you feel like you've ran a marathon you're like, 'Oh boy. I have a long road ahead of me.' Even a couple of months later on after I started working out a little bit, I was like, 'Man, I feel good. I feel fit,' but I was nowhere near 100-percent. It takes a lot longer than just a couple of months. You've got to start slow with this stuff because my plan was coming back for Anaheim, so I had a lot of time on my hands. There was no reason to go completely ape shit even though I could have. Yeah, I could have gone ape shit and put in a ton of work and be fit four months before the season started, but I knew it was going to be a long road. Even when I thought I felt really good, I was nowhere near being back. I'm just now starting to feel like myself when it comes to putting in work and suffering and riding. I have to say, at first, I was very timid when I got into Supercross. For me, Supercross is very precise and there's no room for error. You do lose a little bit of that feeling over a period of time. Let's say you take eight weeks off, that's fine. I'd go right back to ripping. Once you're off for months and months at a time, it's different coming back. I started off obviously with riding motocross and I struggled a lot with soreness in my hand. I still do actually. My left hand has some calloused areas on the palm, but it's super sensitive anyways. I struggle with it a lot, so I put all kinds of padding on my hand. That said, I put in a lot of work and a lot of riding so I think that anyone else would probably get raw hands too.
I know that you have been sleeping with that apparatus to get full extension of your arm. How is the extension coming along?
My wrist is very, very limited. I've got 10 or 15 degrees. Going down seems okay, but extension I almost have nothing. Having said that, I ride with the Mobius brace and I wasn't even down to try it in the beginning, I was like, 'Hell no, I want to try to ride and get more extension,' but I'm so glad I tried that thing. Without it, I would have a serious problem. It's kind of funny, when I first started riding my wrist is what bothered me. I don't have a good range of motion with my elbow, but – well, I shouldn't say that because my range of motion is pretty good, but with my extension I have about 20 to 30 degrees to go. That doesn't bother me really at all actually. I'm starting to do full pushups and all kinds of stuff. Actually, I did one when I started, but it was a pretty heavy load on my arm. At first my wrist was bugging me and then it got good, but then my elbow started kind of bugging me. It's always a little bit different.
Does the Mobius brace offer support or prevent it from overextending past where it should?
Both. Mainly, I ride with it because it supports it. It supported it and makes it feel not so wonky. My wrist at first was so weak. I don't get arm pump in that hand at all because there's pretty much no muscle in my forearm. You know when you wrap up an ankle or a wrist in pain, and all of the sudden it feels a lot stronger? I mean, having said that, I haven't crashed yet other than a tip over. I'm glad that I have that wrist brace because if I were to fall on it and try to catch myself, and it was to overextend, I have a lot of stiffness pain in it still.
You don't need to be a big meathead to ride Supercross because it's a lot of finesse and technique. Would you say that you have built yourself back up to attack at 100 percent yet?
Absolutely, do you want me to send you a body picture [laughs]? You need strength. Obviously with a guy like Marvin [Musquin], it works for him, but I think he could do more strength training. Plus, I don't know what he eats, and everyone has different body types because some people gain more weight than others, but he would get a little bit bigger too. Strength is basically protection for your body. Those guys, they're fit, but they're not strong. You don't want to be big, but I feel like I'm pretty good where I'm at and I could gain a little bit more. I would rather be a little on the stronger side for sure.
Man, Anaheim 1 is less than four weeks away.
I'm so excited. I'm like a little kid.
Right now, are you where you thought you'd be or are you ahead of that?
If I'm completely honest, my doctor told me that I could start riding around and whatnot I was like, 'Are you sure?' My arm still felt mangled and like I said, even a couple of months ago when I was riding outdoors still, I was like, 'My arm is pretty bad still.' It was so limited in range of motion, my wrist bugged me because it was so straight, and my whole shoulder – actually it was a big deal with my shoulder. When you're in a sling for that long, all of my muscles around my shoulder blade and rotator cuff, they were all gone. I had huge problems with my shoulder. The humerus was grinding on the shoulder and I had a shit ton of problems with it. It took forever to get the strength because you have to start with Thera Bands and the slightest little bit of work. It fatigues super quick, and then you compensate with other muscles and you have to stop already. That took forever and that's the one thing that was pissing me off because I was riding dirt bikes and my shoulder was bugging me because it was so weak. I would say I was riding like nothing ever happened and I was allowed to ride, but my arm was nowhere near race-ready. I would say I'm just now starting to come around, especially in the last few weeks of riding Supercross. That gives me a lot more confidence when I'm on the track.
When I spent some time with Adam Cianciarulo he said that the thing Kenny has going for him more than skill or speed is his mental strength. Would you agree with that? Even in your posts, it's great reading how confident you are.
For sure, I mean, I think without mental strength, certain other riders might not have been able to come back. Don't get me wrong, I'll be smiling like a mother f-er at Anaheim 1 because I'll be glad that I'm back racing. I've already won. I do what I love and I'll be able to come back. That was the biggest shit I had to deal with: I was away from racing so long and I felt useless. I miss having the butterflies, I miss having everything and your heart rate racing up. It's such a sick feeling when you're in the middle of fans and your team and fiancée and working together. It's something you take for granted because once you don't have that, it's big shit. I'm going to be smiling no matter what, but I will come back to Anaheim 1 like nothing ever happened, I can guarantee you.
Looking back now, tell me about the darkest day you had.
I think that it would have been the point after the first four weeks in the hospital when we came back and I got really, really sick. I seriously told Courtney, 'I can't f-ing do this.' My body was so weak and my pain tolerance was gone. I was absolutely miserable. I had a 102-degree fever, my arm was swollen and sore, and I had a huge cast. My arm was already hurting as it was, but it also burned. I called the doctor and I said, 'I think there's an infection in there.' It was burning so badly that I literally was unwrapping it at one point. We unwrapped everything so it could breathe for a second. Having said that, my elbow was still mangled like I couldn't go anywhere and hold it at 90 degrees because it would dislocate again, which would have not been that nice. That happened and then we went back for surgeries and with all of the pain that I've been through I was taking pain medication and I thought I was taking a lot, but they said I hadn't taken hardly anything. I would say that I have a little bit of a higher pain tolerance, but that was super rough. I was 144 lbs and normally I'm around 150 or 160. I don't have a gram of fat on me so try to imagine me at 140. We went into surgery after surgery after surgery and once I came home again that was pretty mentally big for me, but I was so low on energy. When Daytona came around I was already a lot better, but I seriously took like 10 naps throughout the day. I would wake up, eat some breakfast, go back to sleep, and I noticed my whole body being trashed from all of the morphine and lying in bed for four weeks straight. I had a yeast infection around my nuts because I was lying in bed. That might be gross, but you sweat when you lay around and I didn't get up much because it was so bad and I was so out of it. I think it was just all-around low energy, I've never felt that bad in my life.
Was there ever a point where you thought, 'I'm never going to race again,' or were you always just determined?
Yeah, there was. When I first went into the hospital I had the compartment syndrome and all of that. The doctor came in and said that if we hadn't have done surgery now we could've lost your arm very easily. At first, it was normal because the swelling was they couldn't really see how bad it actually was because there was so much inflammation and other things going on. A few days later they realized. It was like the worst I could possibly do for my arm. My scaphoid was so shattered that in too many pieces. That's why they took bone out of my leg to put it back together. At that time, we didn't really know much, we were like, 'Let's save the arm and then worry about being able to even eat dinner with that arm.' That was the thing, we worried about being able to do somewhat normal things in life like dinner or grabbing a drink. That's how bad it was. In the beginning, I wasn't sure. I was just going to have to wait. As soon as things went further and further I said, 'Fuck it,' I can't let this happen and right there that changed my mental state, I couldn't wait to be back 100 percent. I've made so many little steps and weeks where I didn't feel anything. It almost had to heal a little bit to feel a difference, but in the beginning, it was so bad that the swelling and everything else that I didn't see any progress. Maybe the doctor did, but I didn't see any. Think about it, when you have something that bad and say, on a normal bone break you have six to eight weeks, you feel your arm getting better almost daily. Well, I didn't feel any difference from one month to another month and another. That's a pretty long time to not feel anything to feel like your arm hasn't gained anything, nor does it look better or feel better. That's a long time.
With Anaheim coming up and you being so excited, where do you place yourself?
I'm shooting for a win. Whether it happens or not is one thing, but I know I can. I'm going there telling myself that I'm one of the top guys, if not the top guy. I know I can do it. I'm not freaking out, I'm just doing everything I can to prepare and I just want to race for pure joy. I want to race for my team and the people that have helped me in this time. I'm looking forward to the absolutely most; going with Courtney and Oscar [Wirdeman]. Oscar and I are really tight. I love this team and our year was way too short for how awesome everybody is there and how much I love it and how much extra work they put in. I'm going there wanting to race and whatever happens, happens. If I get 15th, guess what? I love that. Yippee ki yay!
Looking back, you've won so many races, but the way in which you won early this year was so dominant and there was no question who was the fastest. How did it feel to win the way you did with a new bike and a new team and win?
I've said it before, it was almost too good to be true to be honest. I was so happy with everything, I was so happy with the team and I loved my bike. My home life was good. Everything was very good. It couldn't have gone better than making a statement at Anaheim already and then showing up at round two and backing everything up. It was a great feeling. I miss it and I will be back there.
Have you analyzed your crash?
Yeah, not a bunch, but yeah, I've watched it. I like a bit of a softer bike so I think my shock was just soft. We were trying some things, but I was hauling ass though and I felt good, I didn't want to change anything. It was kind of a freak accident, but I think it would have helped if my suspension had been just a bit stiffer. It is what it is.
I can't wait to see you on the line. It's really inspiring to see the progress you've made and you've come back from such a devastating injury. I think your autograph line is going to be off the hook.
I hope so man! I miss all of it. As much of a hassle as it is sometimes – maybe not outdoors, but Supercross because it's such a tight schedule – we take it for granted. It's like that saying with a chick, sometimes you have to lose her before you know that you love her. It's similar to that in my eyes. I love it!