My name is Chris Bonneau and recently something happened that will forever drastically change my friend’s life and touch and affect many more people. At the very least, it has reaffirmed that the sport that many of us enjoy and take for granted has extreme risks. The incident which I am speaking of is one that took place in Lethbridge, Alberta on February 12, 1999 to my close friend Monte Perepelkin. Not a day has gone by that he doesn’t think about what he may have done differently, and now he may have paid the ultimate price for the pleasure of this sport with the loss of use of his limbs, possibly forever. It still is too early to say what may be the outcome and result of his accident, but Monte has requested me to tell his side of the story to put to rest all the false and unjustified rumors that fuel the negative side of some people.
Monte has been competing for several years as a pro racer and has even recently attended and received some instruction from former American Pro National champion Gary Jones. He was able to practice on his own track until mid-December, he spent several weeks this winter practicing in California, and was in great physical shape for our arenacross series. He always wears top quality safety gear because he knows that when he tries to push the limits, there is a risk and he tried to limit the chances of injury.
Previous to the Lethbridge race, I helped Monte compete in Red Deer and we even drove to Saskatoon to race a fun event to get more riding time in. By the time he arrived in Lethbridge to race, he had lots of quality saddle time. We prepared as best as we could so that Monte was pumped and confident that he would do well this weekend. On Thursday night, his wife Nicole, my girlfriend Anne, Monte, and I went for dinner, then headed back to the hotel to have a relaxing soak in the hottub. We joked over video footage of Monte doing a front wheel breakie in Saskatoon, where he exceeded the point of no return and sampled the Saskatchewan soil. It was a fun evening. We were ready for a great race weekend and looking forward to letting loose Saturday night after a couple days of hard racing. After running qualifiers all day Friday, the evening’s event started just after 7:00 pm. Monte was in the first qualifying heat going against Lane Oslanski. Monte pulled the hole shot, and was prepared to race as best as he could. Lane got by, with Monte close in tow. On the triple leading to the whoops, he had been taking the inside line as he was holding off BJ Lawson behind him. When Monte had enough room between him and BJ, he decided to go wide to triple in before the whoops. His approach was perfect but the bike bucked on takeoff and Monte went head first into the ground. The bike then hit him, leaving him lying motionless on the track.
Monte remembers almost everything. This was a crash like any other except the one thing was that he felt no pain and could not move. Even more frightening was that the bikes were whizzing by, seemingly really close, but his judgement as to how close was impeded. One thing that was foremost on his mind was “Oh my god, I can’t move. What did I just do?” After the race was red flagged, which seemed like hours to him, several people rushed to his aid. The EMT’s were to him in a matter of minutes, they assessed him, and carried him off the track on a body board. His wife Nicole was with him as he was taken to Lethbridge hospital. For the next few hours rumors were flying around the track but nothing was substantiated with facts.
Even before Monte was told by the doctors that he had broken his neck and was paralyzed, he knew he was in deep trouble. His mind was racing, thousands of thoughts were running rampant in his head, the predominant one was for the well being of Nicole and their two little girls, Danielle and Haylee. Also, he kept wondering “What did I do wrong?” He immediately gave Nicole financial instructions. It was lucky that he gave her instructions then because the doctors later put Monte on a respirator which disabled his vocal cords. The doctors decided that Monte should be flown to Calgary to the Foothills Hospital. Foothills Trauma Centre is better equipped to diagnose, treat and monitor his injuries. Unfortunately, Monte was flown by a tiny medical airplane that didn’t have enough room for Nicole. So there she sat in the emergency waiting room, not knowing what was happening with her husband, not being able to be with him in this time of need, and needing a ride to Calgary.
We were still at the track when word came back from the hospital that Monte had been flown to Calgary, but Nicole was still sitting at the hospital. My girlfriend Anne borrowed someone’s vehicle to go pick her up while I loaded my truck and Monte’s cube van. Anne brought Nicole back, transferred her to my truck and took off to Calgary. I still had to go to the hotel and clean out their room. Monte was being admitted to Foothills while we were speeding home. We showed up at the Foothills at about 1:30 am and had to wait until about 2:30 am for the doctors to assess Monte and come talk to us. Monte had fractured and shifted his C3 and shattered his C4 vertebrae; there was no way of telling yet what condition his spinal cord was in. They put Monte in a metal halo (which is an ugly- looking contraption) to keep his neck as immobile as possible and sedated him heavily. The doctor told us that Monte is a quadriplegic with paralysis from his neck down and that he would never be active again. In one split second his life and his family’s would never be the same.
On Saturday the doctor’s ran a MRI scan on Monte which showed that his spinal cord was intact and that sparked our hope. Monte had surgery on Sunday which straightened his vertebrae and in turn his spinal cord. They took a portion of his hip and repaired the shattered C4, and fused the C3, C4, and C5 together and put a metal plate in front of the 3 vertebrae. The metal halo was replaced with a very rigid neck brace.
These last couple weeks have been tough on everyone but no one more than Monte. For 24 hours a day, he has had nothing to do but think about what has happened. Nicole is holding up surprisingly well. Monte has some feeling in his left arm and has experienced pain in his left foot (when his dad was doing reflexology on him), he has experienced tingling all over his body (mostly at nights), he can shrug his shoulders, and just recently he has been able to breathe on his own. His tracheotomy tube is still in place so he is still not able to speak but we’re getting pretty good at reading his lips. Just yesterday, he was moved out of the ICU ward into the neurology ward.
Monte has now had several weeks – 24 hours a day – to think and has asked me to tell his story of what has happened. Firstly, he holds no one but himself responsible. Monte knew the risk of racing and competed in it because he loved it. Secondly, just because the CMRC was sanctioning the race instead of the CMA, doesn’t mean anything was done different than any other year. There have been several accusations that the event was unsafe. The event was put on by the same club that have put it on for the past 4 years. When you put on an event in the middle of winter, you are going to have riders go down and get injured due to the lack of riding time. Although this was not the case with Monte, he had lots of riding time. Thirdly, people got involved immediately from the moment of his accident, some with ulterior motives. They have taken it upon themselves to get involved in a negative manner. In their uneducated and simple minds, they feel that in every situation, there is always someone to blame and someone to sue. This type of behavior is totally destructive. Monte has requested that this stops immediately. One thing is definite though…everyone is affected by this tragedy and nothing anyone can do will change the current situation. Monte is handicapped.
As tragic as this situation is, so many positive things can be learned from this. Actions are being taken that this will never happen again; and if it does, new ideas are being introduced that would provide financial support to the injured rider and their families. We are already seeing this type of support and Monte will be forever grateful to those people. To all the people that have contacted us, we have passed your well wishes, moral support, and concerns onto Monte, He thanks you dearly.
The bottom line is that we have a fellow rider down. That is what we should be focusing on. It could have been any one of us. We must focus on positive thoughts and energy. Monte is faced with the greatest challenge of his life, trying to prove the doctors wrong, and we need to support him in this. We are focusing on hope and positive energy, and would like everyone to join us in supporting Monte in this.