Paralyzed from the Chest Down and Racing Bikes: the story of Talan Skeels Piggins

Talan Skeels Piggins 6 photos
Photo: Talan Skeels Piggins
Talan Skeels PigginsTalan Skeels Piggins with John McGuinnessTalan Skeels Piggins on his Suzuki GSX-R1000Talan Skeels Piggins in the rightmost laneTalan Skeels Piggins skiing
Some people give up in the face of the smallest problems, but how about those who would never give up, not even in the face of dramas so big that even telling the story is giving you the creeps? I know the old “never say never” saying but after you learn about Talan Skeels Piggins’ story you’ll most likely see life with different eyes.
Talan is a rider like most of us, a man with a strong passion for bikes and who liked to get out on the track and pit his bike against the others. A former Royal Navy Officer, Talan was not afraid to travel in search of his fortune. He moved to Australia and back to the UK and finally became a PE teacher. Still, the most amazing part of his life was only beginning.

One day he was riding his bike and was clipped by a car. Thrown in the way of oncoming traffic, he was run over by the first vehicle, as its driver could no longer make any evasive moves. Luckily, the second car managed to stop and this is how he made it alive from the terrible crash.

With a broken spine, Talan was left paralyzed from the chest down, “fortunate to still have the use of his arms” as he says. A fracture few millimeters up his spine could have left him paralyzed from the neck down, medics told him.

Cut off the life support!

When he woke up from the surgery, the doctors told Talan that he was paralyzed, with zero chances to ever walk again. He had some 30 percent changes to make it out alive, and was facing up to two years in the hospital, treating his extensive injuries.

The first thing that came in his mind was to ask someone to disconnect him from all the life support gear, because he felt like this was the end. That day, he wasn’t able to see anything else but helplessness turning into anger against healthy people, and even hate for seeing able to perform the simplest actions.

Help comes when one expects the least

His mind changed after he met a guy who had been paralyzed for 4 years. He was in the hospital for a routine check and he told Talan that even from a wheelchair, a lot of opportunities were out there. And everything changed when he mentioned skiing.

Interest turned to hope and hope turned into purpose, so 12 days after his accident Talan once more had a goal. He knew he would learn to ski and try to make it to the Paralympic in the British team.

After skiing, it was only a matter of when and not if, that motorcycles came into his mind. Believe it or not, while some might guess that he would take things slowly, the first bike in the rest of his life was a K6 Suzuki GSX-R1000. He and his friends modded for all-hand operation, with an electric shifter and bar-mounted up and down buttons, velcro straps and bicycle toe clips to keep him in the saddle.

Talan now has a “launch and catch” crew which helps him get on the bike, start, and then stop. The bike is started and heated on the box stands, and his fellows help him onto it, securing his feet. The bike is then lowered onto the track and a guy in the rear keeps it balanced until Talan twists the throttle and takes off.

When he returns to the pit, he slows down to the balance limit, and then the guys catch his bike. In a way, this looks very much like the crews catching MotoGP bikes when riders pit in to switch for the wet-tire machine.

A ThuderSport racer

Talan Skeels Piggins now races motorcycles for Club Thundersport and had only two crashes. The second one was a very nasty high-side in Assen at Turn 1, when a mechanical failure caused an accident and tumbled down the track with Talan still strapped to the machine. His injuries have been major, with a split pelvis, shattered femur, broken fibula and tibia, and fracturing every bone in his left foot.

The doctors told him that they would have to amputate his leg because the fractures would no longer heal to a walking ankle joint. Obviously they did not know at that time that Talan was paralyzed from the chest down and were trying to make the best of what remained salvageable in his left leg.

They were amazed to learn about his condition, even though they took the news with a huge surprise. Definitely it wasn’t too often when they had to treat a patient injured in a motorcycle race, but who was already completely paralyzed below his nipples.

At the end of the day, Talan is glad to see that other riders don’t treat him differently because of his condition. He’s also modest and says he hasn’t done anything special, nor does he have a “magic ingredient”. Instead he admits that the greatest source of inspiration was the “little person inside”, and witch whom he talked to. Everybody seems to have such a little person inside them, and it’s there where all the inner courage and strength resides.

Enjoy this amazing documentary.

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