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July 26th, 2011
07:40 AM ET

Human Factor: From catastrophe to blessing

In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle - injury, illness or other hardship –- they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn’t know they possessed. This week motocross champion Doug Henry shares how breaking his back may have paralyzed him from the waist down, but it didn't destroy his spirit.

Whenever something really bad happens to us, we ask ourselves, "Maybe things happen for a reason?" That seems to be the first thing we want to believe, hoping there is something good to come of a bad situation. Rarely do we say to ourselves, "We've been blessed."

Those of you who know my current set of circumstances may think I'm nuts for thinking I've been blessed but bear with me. I have lived a unique, passionate, fulfilling, life. I've seen the world, challenged myself, and pushed myself beyond what I thought I was capable of, and I've met so many beautiful people along the way.

Through all of this, I have experienced much pain, love, loss, fear, success, and failure... all of which I've learned a great deal from and all of which have made me who I am today. There's something else I've experienced along with my many challenges in life - and it often goes unnoticed in the wake of tragedy: generosity.

I've had many ups and downs in my lifetime, maybe more than average. Through all these ups and downs I have learned that I have not been alone. All the people I've touched along the way or who have touched me along the way, have been experiencing these triumphs and tragedies as well. It's not until we are struck with a catastrophe that we are reminded of generosity's warm hug.

Although it's not easy, I've always tried to be positive no matter what the circumstances. It takes a lot of strength and energy to put negatives aside and stay focused on what little positives we may find. It is a struggle, but knowing what I now know, I am glad I have always been willing to put in the effort that it took to overcome so many adversities.

One thing that I have learned, that seems to always pull me through a tough time is, "no matter what the situation... things can always be worse." This attitude has helped me and has also helped many people along the way with their hard times.

I want to say thank you... Thank all of you for your sincere generosity you have shown my family and me through our many triumphs and tragedies. Both friends and strangers have shared tremendous love and kindness with our recent setbacks. I just had to take this opportunity to express how lucky I feel knowing there is so much love and support around us.

Because of your support, I've experienced the amazing blessing of generosity. And for that, I thank you.

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soundoff (46 Responses)
  1. Jesus

    "Blessed"! There's a word that needs to be removed from the dictionary. It implies that some unseen hand of an invisible and imaginary being anointed somebody with a special benefit. How about engaging REALITY? How about accepting the FACT that LIFE IS RANDOM and outcomes are based on probabilities! For example, if you're lucky to be born of wealthy, healthy, and attractive parents, there is a high likelihood that you will live well and long. Is that being "blessed" or the luck of the draw?

    July 26, 2011 at 09:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kev

      I agree with you 100%

      July 26, 2011 at 11:10 | Report abuse |
    • May

      Maybe one day, you too will be blessed, and come to realize all that you should have been grateful for. Yes, there is an 'unseen' hand in our lives, and there is an eternity, time to start thinking about it today, lest you end up more unfortunate than parylization.

      July 26, 2011 at 11:11 | Report abuse |
    • The BadGuy

      He clearly says that he's been blessed by people, not by some unseen hand. True, random, natural laws govern our lives, but that doesn't mean I flip a coin every morning to decide whether or not I want to be a jerk for the rest of the day.

      July 26, 2011 at 11:24 | Report abuse |
    • Len

      would it kill you respect other people's beliefs?

      July 26, 2011 at 12:21 | Report abuse |
    • Jarrod

      Blessed is a real word – I broke my back too- paralyzed waist down – and I am blessed – chance, roll of the dice, no way. You will understand some day

      July 26, 2011 at 14:04 | Report abuse |
    • Beth

      Doug is lucky he's alive. Yes, he's very "blessed", but I agree with his wife that he should give up motocross, for something a little safer, even the snowmobile....it's safe if you land in the snow. But his need for speed should slow down a little bit, especially behind the wheel, before he gets killed. He doesn't want to leave a widow behind, and for all he's been through, his wife with breast cancer and a house fire, he should thank the Lord he's alive and able to do what he wants.

      July 28, 2011 at 06:52 | Report abuse |
  2. rsjacksonus

    Maybe when the article (not this person) says "blessed" he's not referring to a God of any sort. Many people use that word to describe everyday random things or just having good luck. He never mentions any deity so back off of the "there's no God" line. We have no idea what he believes other than he thinks he was blessed by generosity of other humans. But...if you break your back...twice...then what does that say about him?

    July 26, 2011 at 11:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Alex

    Are you stupid or something?

    July 26, 2011 at 11:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Aunt Sue

      no I'm definately not stupid and am no appreciative of being called that. It's very immature. Perhaps in your "less stupid" moments you'll understand everyone has permisson to offer teir opinion. I learned that from my parents, school and work. And by the way, I had a husband who is a quadriplegic – all he ever wanted was to be able to drive again. It was dangerous but he accomplished his goal....sort of like Doug.

      July 29, 2011 at 22:29 | Report abuse |
  4. Litmus

    Einstein thought it was insanity to repeat an experiment and expect different results.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Byrd

      Einstein's dead.

      July 26, 2011 at 11:49 | Report abuse |
    • You must be young

      Yes Byrd, he's dead. But that doesn't mean he's wrong... and in this case he wasn't.

      July 26, 2011 at 12:35 | Report abuse |
  5. May

    Thank-you for sharing Doug, you help us realize all that we have to be thankful and grateful for.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. SDN

    Dave: Thanks for so graphically illustrating the human sub-species we've spawned – bereft of any sense of empathy whatsoever. You make the world a far less pleasant place to live than it would otherwise be. You calling others 'morons' and "stupid' – now there is real irony.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Hutch

    In our industry it is difficult to let go of your passion. Doug's crashes in the beginning of his career were not any different than the other 200 riders of his era. Stuff happens when you ride a professional pace. If that is your job, to ride motorcycles at the highest level, then getting back on the bike, racing again and making money to support your family is the most important thing at the time. No one thinks they are going to be injured like that. Sometimes we joke about how many lives we have left, how fast our guardian angel can fly etc. If you look at his injuries as simply a moron who should have learned his lesson then you are missing the point of the article. This is a story about the triumph of will. Maybe Doug's bad luck will drive one rider to quit riding – maybe it will inspire another person to keep riding. But I dont think its cool at all to bash him after surviving tradgedy like this. He's a great human, nice as hell and he is an icon in the sport, a legend who happens to have experienced a terrible series of events over the course of his life. Very sad story if its anything, but have a little class & show some respect to people who could use it. Sure, you dont have to – but given the choice, maybe err on the side of compassion instead of showcasing your malevolence toward someone you don't know or a topic you don't fully understand.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • olskoolsteve

      Doug is a hero, and yes, probably still faster now than I ever was!

      July 26, 2011 at 11:48 | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Well said Hutch!!

      July 26, 2011 at 12:32 | Report abuse |
    • Name*1eyedcancersurvivor

      Thank you, Hutch. I'm sure the people that are bashing have no idea what it is like to live the life of a pro motocrosser. I will say it loud and proud! I WAS BLESSED BY THE HAND OF GOD!! I had sinolnasel undiferentiated carcinoma. I survived it. Trust me when I say it could not have been done with out faith in something greater that we cannot fully understand. Just because you can not see it, does not mean it does not exist.

      July 30, 2011 at 17:43 | Report abuse |
  8. Jarrod

    I remember watching him race when I was a boy. Seeing him continue to tear up the track in his current condition is VERY inspiring. He's probably STILL faster than me, lol.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Mark

    Doug is the man. It does not matter if you disagree with him, in fact go ahaead and be a hater. He gives his all and drives on. As far as I am concerned it does not matter why he does this, just that he does. We could all take a lesson. Quit being a whiner, do for yourself and get on with life.

    MAlways a fan Doug

    July 26, 2011 at 11:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. john (sci)

    I'm not on the same page with Doug relating to returning to dirt bike riding/racing. I'm paralyzed via a high-speed impact while I was riding my super-bike. My body...his body isn't the same, our muscle structure around our spinal cords are weakened, and this opens to door for more severe results, too name just one (and there are more). Doug, buy a race team, and remain off the track, be a mentor for new riders to the sport. It's just my opinion.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jarrod

      Doug is a pro – Yamaha is still paying him a small fortune- he is only riding at 50% -

      July 26, 2011 at 14:07 | Report abuse |
  11. Gort01

    I totally agree with you,....why should the medical insurance and bear the brunt of his stupidity...??? Cant believe he broke his back, then went right back at it....he'll be a Darwin Award Winner for sure...no sympathy...

    July 26, 2011 at 11:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. college.coach@hotmail.com

    As a person who played two sports at a professional level, and lost her running ability due to an injury, I have to say, I understand this man's position. Unfortunately, I really don't find this story inspirational but a lack of wisdom particularly since he has a family. He keeps doing the same thing in the same way and his results keep getting worse!

    July 26, 2011 at 11:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Pete

      Perhaps, before you pass judgement, you should learn Doug's story. The first time he broke his back was the result of a mechanical failure. Not a whole lot you can do when the throttle on your motorcycle sticks wide open. But, since you have clearly given up your "professional" sports careers, I suppose you don't know what it means not to quit. After his first recovery, he added multiple championships to his resume, while one can only assume that you gave up, and now sit on the sidelines, lamenting your position in life.

      July 26, 2011 at 12:00 | Report abuse |
  13. mag

    reallY? you're an idiot.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Jim

    This reminds me of the speech about the man in the arena. Doug has been a World Champion, race winner, father, husband and suffered a tragic crash, he is marred with the sweat and blood of his pursuit of a life worth living. Good on you Doug for being the type of person willing to be passionate and live with passion and then in the face of tragedy still have a positive outlook and see the good that is around you.
    All of the people with negative comments here are clearly those cold and timid souls who will never know victory nor defeat.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Keith

    Don't focus on the motocross and paralysis as causing him his troubles. Remember that his wife had cancer, and his house burned down! His motocross fans are some of the generous ones he is referring to as they donated precious photos of his kids to him (they lost all of their personal belongings in the fire).
    Thank you Doug for the story. Keep doing what you do and your fans will always be there to support you.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Chris

    I sure hope you don't do anything "stupid" in your life that would cause you to become sick or injured in a stupid way. Please note the sarcasim as we all...yes all...participate in activites in which we could become seriously injured. So unless you live in a bubble you have no right to judge. Way to go showing how nasty and hateful people can be. Good job.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Alec

    You think this one person is affecting your healthcare? ...Because I'm pretty sure the HUGE uninsured population is a bigger problem. This man has probably lived more in the past few months riding motocross than you have your entire life. This story is inspiring. I would never think of giving up riding no matter what happened. What have you done recently other than sit on the internet calling disabled people morons?

    July 26, 2011 at 11:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Byrd

    Wow. Semper Fi, dude! Now that takes guts!

    July 26, 2011 at 11:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. jmxjosh

    Doug was a professional athlete with real skills. But Motocross is dangerous even when you've got talent. Doug is in the history books as a national champion in a very challenging sport and more importantly he has the satisfaction of knowing that he accomplished something that few will ever achieve. It was due to hard work and talent. It can be hard to explain the mentality of champions to people who don't have any passion, drive or bravery to push limits and accept the dangers that can accompany them.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. A.C.

    To all the people that are calling this guy stupid and hope he paid out of pocket! You are the stupid ones. One he is a professional and has sponsors and medical insurance I'm sure of that. Second what gives your fat ass behind the keyboard the right to judge someone that does what they love and made a career out of it. Also the dude has overcome many more obstacles other than a broken back.There is a reason why he has come back and done better for himself. Its because he is better than you! Trolls!

    July 26, 2011 at 11:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Frank

    Where is my reply to Dave,CNN?

    July 26, 2011 at 11:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Primal X Motorsports

    Doug Henry is an inspiration…A sign of hope for other individuals who may have suffered an otherwise career ending injury… Doug is an individual who has the strength and courage to overcome adversity. Even though he was knocked down…his heart and will are still standing… If you’ve ever have a chance to attend an event like The Extremity Games or The Primal X Motorsports Adaptive Invitational…Do so…You’ll witness firsthand what we are really capable of…

    July 26, 2011 at 12:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. frank

    Doug, you are an inspiration. Thank you for taking the time to share and letting us see the other side. We all need to be thankful for what we have and enjoy every moment. Good luck to you and thanks.

    July 26, 2011 at 12:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. fritz65

    what an idiot.............hopefully he lost his testicles in the accident so that he can't reproduce more idiots!

    July 26, 2011 at 12:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Byrd

      That's no way to talk to your father, idiot.

      July 26, 2011 at 12:42 | Report abuse |
  25. Rachy

    It's great to see that he has so much determination and tenacity!

    July 26, 2011 at 12:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Jarrod

    I too broke my back riding Motocross @ Daytona. Doug and I had the same Neurosurgen,. We are also the same age. Its a choice – live or not. I have a 12 year old son and giving up was not an option. I dont ride any more and it is a painful experience. When I hear a bike in the distance, I want to ride. .however, I got the clue after the paralyzation. Its too much to put my wife and son through again. Case a triple once and I am done. With hard work I can walk with one cane. I am still improving and expect a full rcovery. This was a wonderful video.

    July 26, 2011 at 14:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Amaine33

    Doug means more to people than he will ever know. Beyond and great racer, He is a great person. What he has gone through over the years , and can still hold his head up is amazing. " I don't want to waste time being unhappy" Well said my friend...

    July 26, 2011 at 15:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Beatrice

    Pain reduces humanity's otherwise uncontrolable evil. It teaches us reality in life. It reminds us life is sacred. It leads us to the authentic knowledge of God.

    July 26, 2011 at 18:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Rusty

    Doug Henry is one of the best ever to throw a leg over a motorcycle. He's won some major championships and tons of races at multiple disciplines. Above all those accolades, Doug is one of the nicest people you could hope to meet. He is a real down to earth family man with an unreal talent for motorsports. As someone who has raced motorcycles at the amateur level I have a great appreciation for what he has accomplished in his career. He is a truly driven person who hasn't let anything slow him down. Whether there is or isn’t a god is quite irrelevant to this story as well as who paid his healthcare bills. Doug is an inspiration and that is why his story should be told.

    July 26, 2011 at 19:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Eric

    Had the chance to work with Doug on several occasions when he was riding SX/MX. One of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. A true talent and ambassador for the sport of SX/MX and a true inspiration for anyone faced with adversity! WAY TO GO DOUG!!!!

    July 27, 2011 at 16:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Aunt Sue

    Doug is married to my late husband' s niece. What we always saw was a talented and comitted racer, who loved his family. And his family absolutely committed to him and his passion. I don't think you can take passion out of someon's soul – he can't ever give up on racing.As with anyone who accept the life of danger he knows what lies ahead for him. And Stacey witih cancer, a paalyzed husand to care for and the consant fear of another serious accident is the anchor of the family. They are both blessed - by God, the Dalai Lama, Jehova or whomever.

    July 29, 2011 at 22:21 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.