WINNING AGAIN AFTER LOSING IT ALL

The many life chapters of Paul Basagoitia

It was a relatively simple crash when slopestyle and freestyle athlete Paul Basagoitia flipped over the bars during his run at the Red Bull Rampage in 2015. But, a branch caught his foot, and he landed on his back, burst-fracturing his T-12 and damaging his spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Paul took everyone on an inspirational journey when he picked up his camera and documented his return to the bike in Any One of Us, a film that would go on to win an Emmy award.

Paul has continued his passion for cinematography by producing a short movie called The Bass Way. It is the first in a new series of films presented by Paul’s employer, Ride Concepts. In this movie Paul talks not just about his injury and the past, but, more important, about the next chapter in his life and the direction it has taken him—a big part of which is his involvement with the High Fives Foundation. We caught up with Paul to find out more about his inspirational story and what he is up to.

Paul was a top freeride and slopestyle athlete before his injury in 2015.
Christian Pondella / Red Bull Content Pool photo.

MBA: How did you get hooked up with Ride Concepts?

Paul Basagoitia: I met up with the founder, Brandon, and I came in and helped develop the whole mountain bike program as far as the team and helped with the edits and moving images. We kind of just connected right then. I thought it was gonna be a one-year gig. I thought it was gonna be … I didn’t think we were gonna make it to be honest with you. When we jump into the shoe market and you have these massive players that own that market? Here you have this little company that has three employees trying to make it against the big dogs? I’m thinking, man, we’re gonna have trouble getting the thing off the ground.

MBA: Was it tough?

PB: It was a struggle in those early days. I’m calling Rachel (Atherton) and saying, “Hey, would you want to ride for us? I’m a team manager for the shoe brand called Ride Concepts. Would you like to ride for us?”

And she kind of laughed, “What is the shoe company?”

I said, “It’s gonna be good; trust me.” Here I am, trying to sell all my friends and these elite athletes on the shoe brand that they don’t know. It’s kind of hard when you reach out to the number-one downhill girl in the world and she’s questioning me on this product or the shoe brand. It was a struggle, but here we are now. We have the whole Atherton team—Andreu Lacondeguy, Kyle Strait is on board, Caroline Buchanan, Sam Pilgrim. It’s kind of crazy to see the evolution of the brand within three years.

MBA: So, what do you do there?

PB: I am the manager of global athletes, and I’m in charge of moving images. So, this Ride Every Day web series, I’m planning on doing probably three more of these with our athletes. It was the team’s idea. But the way I directed it, I want it to feel very kind of like what I did with my documentary. I really wanted to make very raw, all-access, behind-the-scenes stories. And, everybody has a different story with the bike, right? So, our next video is going to be another Ride Concepts athlete. And, that story is going to be way different from my story.

Paul loves his Canyon Spectral:ON

MBA: How did you get involved with the High Fives Foundation?

PB: Right when I got hurt, High Fives reached out to me and asked if they could help out in any given way with my injury. At the time, I was all good as far as support with Wings for Life, the Red Bull Foundation. So, that’s how that whole conversation kind of came about. And then, when founder Roy Tuscany saw me on my e-bike, he asked, “How is it riding that thing?”

I said, “It’s the best thing that’s ever happened.”

He said, “Do you think I can do it?”

I said, “I’m going to get you one, and you’re going to do it.” So, I got him an e-bike.

And he said, “Paul, you just changed my life. This e-bike technology is so great. I’m able to go riding now with my family every day.”

MBA: What’s Rory’s story? He has an injury, too?

PB: Yeah, he broke his back as well. He burst-fractured the same vertebrae as me. Roy and I, our recovery is pretty much identical. It’s weird. His foundation was mostly about snow sports: skiing, snowboarding and kayaking. And then when he got his e-bike and saw what I was doing, he said, “I need to help injured mountain bike people as well.” So, he started a whole mountain bike division. And now he’s helped so many people on the mountain bike side of things. We do a big fundraiser every December called Feel Good, Give Back. Ride Concepts donates $1 per shoe to the High Five Foundation. Our goal is to raise enough funds to purchase one adaptive bike. And, I sponsor the whole High Fives program with shoes, too.

Paul does not have movement or sensation below the knees.

The High Fives Foundation

The High Fives Foundation was founded by Roy Tuscany, a skier who was paralyzed from the waist down after over-jumping a 100-foot leap by 30 feet. Roy’s recovery was very similar to Paul’s, and so was his return to skiing. He was able to ski again, just two years after his injury. Motivated by the inspiration and encouragement he received during his comeback, Roy decided to start the High Fives Foundation in 2009 to provide resources to help those who have experienced life-changing injuries get back into sports. Based in Truckee, California, the 501(c)3 non-profit organization has posted some impressive statistics: $4.8 million have been disbursed since its inception, 375 High Fives athletes have been served, and 63 Adaptive Sports camps have been hosted. And, the long list of accomplishments goes on. For more information, to donate or to get involved, check them out at www.highfivesfoundation.org.

Even with his injury, Paul enjoy riding now more than ever.

MBA: What does an adaptive bike cost? 

PB: It’s about $15,000. Some of my good riding buddies are on Bowhead adaptive bikes. It’s so sweet being able to ride with people who have had life-changing injuries and are still out, wanting to go and have fun. It’s so rad. It’s cool that the technology is around to help people out. And the e-bike I ride today? It brings so much joy. I’m so glad that this little motor contraption brought so much joy to my life and helped me out.

If there were no e-bikes right now, I’d be in trouble. At least on anything with a climb, I would have to shuttle. I still have a little bit of paralysis below my knee. So, I don’t have any calf strength. If you told me to do a calf raise or anything like that, there’s no way I’d be able to do that. When you climb up the hill, you use your calf, so that’s where the whole e-bike system for me comes into play.

MBA: Did you ever get hate when you first started riding e-bikes?

PB: All the time! Still today I get those guys on the trail, “Hey, you cheater!” And then it gets pretty funny when I roll up at the top and then they see who I am and be like, “Oh my gosh, did I really just tell you that?” It’s pretty funny. That’s happened a lot. 

MBA: What bike are you riding these days?

PB: I’m riding a Canyon Spectral:ON, which is an awesome e-bike. It has a mullet setup. It’s the first time I ever got to ride a 29-inch up front and 27.5-inch in the rear. This bike is literally meant for me, because it rides exactly the way I want it to ride. With the 29-inch up front, when you climb, it rolls over the rocks really well, and then I want to jump and turn. With the 27.5-inch in the rear, it’s super snappy, which I love. I can kick that back end a little bit sideways!

The next chapter in Paul’s life is all about helping others.

MBA: What’s the riding experience like now versus before your injury?

PB: It’s a lot different. I literally had to relearn how to ride a bike. I still don’t have any movement or sensation below my knees. I have to place my feet a certain way on the pedals, and I’m always looking down at my pedals to make sure my feet are on them. When you jump, you use a lot of your calves, and now I’m compensating with my upper body. I use a lot of my chest, my core, to be able to jump the bike how I used to. Before, I was popping off with my calves. I can’t bunnyhop really. That’s one thing you really need to learn to jump properly. So, I had to relearn how to do that without my calves.

As far as mentally, it’s better than ever. That’s the most important thing. Yeah, my riding skills and stuff will never be the same, and I understand that. But, I’m way happier now on the bike than I ever was. Like I said, like winning Crankworx and all those big titles that I did in the mountain bike industry, I’m so much happier on the bike now. Maybe because I lost it all, right? I did. I lost it all. So, when you get something back, and you’re able to still do it with friends and have that freedom to go out and go ride, man, I can’t complain about where I’m at now.

MBA: Do uninjured people take their health for granted?

PB: Oh yeah, for sure. Do you know how many times I didn’t want to climb up a hill because I didn’t want to get sore? Now, I don’t want to stop until I get sore. That means my muscle groups are working. That means I’m getting stronger. That’s my mentality now.

MBA: So, what’s your next chapter?

PB: Yeah, I just closed a lot of chapters, and I’m looking forward to opening up more. I can still see myself being involved with Ride Concepts. Obviously, biking will still always be a part of me. I also might branch out a little bit as well.

MBA: Do you have any regrets?

PB: I could say dropping in at Rampage in 2015, right? I could say I regret that day. But, think of what my life has been like since that day. It’s been a crazy roller coaster. It’s opened up so many chapters. I started meeting a lot of people. I was so focused on the bike world that it was all I wanted to do. And then, you know, after what happened at Rampage, it opened up to me and my brain to go and be involved with so many different ventures and avenues with people, with their struggles. Yeah, that was the worst day in my life.

Okay, it was a gnarly roller-coaster ride, but a lot of good came out of it as well. I met a lot of good people. I learned a lot with this injury. I learned a lot with, you know, communicating with people, helping people, doing this documentary. I think I raised almost enough money to fund a clinical trial. Mountain biking has never been on HBO. Red Bull has never signed a deal with HBO! So, all that stuff that came along with it, that’s pretty cool.

MBA: What achievement are you most proud of?

PB: No one has ever asked me that. I have so many chapters in the bike world. I could say Crankworx. I can say after being paralyzed, riding that bike again. I could also say the documentary Any One of Us and seeing what that did, raising seven figures for spinal-cord-injury research. I could say winning an Emmy. The Emmy is in the garage boxed up, and I don’t even know where it is! I think at the end of the day my biggest accomplishment is helping people.

Helping people with adversity. I don’t even think it has anything to do with bikes anymore to be honest with you. It’s me motivating people to get back on their feet to get back on the bike, to help with their struggles in life, whatever that is. I think like with the documentary and the stuff I’m doing with e-bikes, it’s like a whole package deal.

The people that message me and reach out to me; it’s a weird demographic. It’s not just cycling. It’s not just the spinal-cord injuries. We have people who abuse drugs or people who have TBI (traumatic brain injury); it’s a whole different group of people that I never really surround myself with. So, for me to kind of tap into those different avenues and help those people out, that’s a massive accomplishment for me, and I’m very blessed that I could help those people. 

canyon bikesHigh Fives FoundationPaul BasagoitiaRide Concepts