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Greg Hartman's Changing Tracks

by Susan Guynn + photos by Chris Jackson

Greg Hartman

After an injury, former X Games winner Greg Hartman learns how to keep both wheels on the ground.

At 13, Greg Hartman discovered Freestyle Motocross (FMX) — with riders doing tricks on dirt bikes that defied gravity — when his family went to a national motocross race. “I was blown away. It was so cool!” says Greg, now 30.

On the way home, he read an article and one sentence caught his attention: “Like it or not, Freestyle Motocross is here to stay.” At that moment he thought, “God said, ‘Greg that’s what I want you to do with your life.’ Really? Me? You want me to do that?”

For a kid already passionate about dirt bikes, it was like an answer to an unspoken prayer. He began learning tricks — simple at first like hitting little jumps in his parents’ backyard. “You start out small and work your way up to a 120-foot backflip,” Greg says. By age 16, he was already touring and earning a little money through motocross.

At 18, Greg quit the construction job he had in Hagerstown to join bigger FMX tours. “It felt like the next transition. “I had no idea what it was going to turn into,” Greg says. “But I was faithful to do what God wanted me to do. I was still willing to give it a shot — even if I didn’t make any money.”

He toured in the U.S. and Europe, and in 2007 was invited to Mexico to compete in his first X Games, where he placed fourth. Later that year, he won Gold at the X Games in Dubai, and the next year he took Silver in Brazil. In late April, 2011, the unthinkable happened during a practice run at X Games Asia. He overshot a 75-foot jump and bailed in a horrific crash. Greg suffered multiple broken bones and a traumatic brain injury.

Greg can’t tell you what happened; he doesn’t remember that day, the trip, or the next month in a hospital in China, or the weeks at hospitals in Baltimore and Hagerstown, before returning home to Greencastle.

“I was so messed up. I vaguely remember getting off the plane (arriving in China) and I vaguely remember the room our bikes were in,” he says. The brain injury affected the right side of Greg’s body, requiring him to learn to talk and walk again. Physical therapy was a grueling five days a week. “I kept thinking it could get better,” Greg says of his speech and mobility. One day the therapist told him, “‘Dude, you have brain damage. That doesn’t get better.’ That hurt, to lose hope.” In November 2011, he officially retired from FMX competition.

The first six months after the accident, “I definitely had regrets,” he says. “I really wrestled with my physical limitations. I didn’t like life back then. Now I’m so over that. I don’t have a single regret. God is still awesome. “I can’t flip dirt bikes, but big deal. I firmly believe when I get a ‘grown-up’ job, me and God will do something cool again. I want to glorify Him in whatever I do.”

Freestyling New Memories

Today, one of his two FMX bikes is parked in the garage, where it’s been for two years. He’s not ready to sell it. The other is shiny and clean and parked atop a table between his living room and dining room. “I think it’s awesome I have a motorcycle in my living room,” Greg says. “It makes me happy.”

Greg is adapting to changes, like being single, college life, and his physical limitations — his speech is still not as quick as before the accident, and he has limited mobility of his right arm and walks with a limp.

ESPN doesn’t show up at his door these days. “My life is not nearly as cool,” he says, but it is super busy. He has a lawn-care business and will be a junior at Shippensburg, majoring in social work. Twice a year Greg judges X Games events. Despite his accident, he still rides — motorcycles and bicycles — and participates in the annual Brain Injury Association of Maryland’s ride in Westminster. He’s also a youth leader and teaches Sunday school at Otterbein United Brethren in Greencastle, which he says is, “By far, the most positive thing in my life this past year.”

Is he done with Freestyle Motocross? “I’m not sure yet,” Greg says, though he knows his days of competing are over. “I do miss the bikes like crazy. It used to feel so rad that my entire day could revolve around dirt bikes!” What he doesn’t miss is the anxiety before an event. “I don’t miss that feeling of ‘tomorrow could be it.’ The next jump could be fun or, you know, you could die,” he says. “I used to live with that fear. I didn’t share that because I didn’t want my family to be concerned for me.”

Greg says he would still like to be involved in the sport in some way. “Even though that’s where my heart is and that would be so cool, I feel like if God can use me through social work more than working in my sport, I’m cool with that.”

Read more articles from the September/October 2014 issue