Man paralyzed in dirt bike crash beats odds to ride again
GLENVILLE, Pa. (AP) — It was inevitable that Mark Frahn would grow up riding dirt bikes.
It started when the now 22-year-old was just 6 or 7 — maybe younger. On a February afternoon in his Codorus Township home, Frahn’s father, Bill, brought out a photo of his son as a child standing on a hill next to his dirt bike.
The clothes are too big because they’re hand-me-downs from Frahn’s older brother, Corey. And even though the bike looks huge next to a kid, Frahn describes it as a “little” XR 50 — the bike he started riding on.
“We’d have him go from one of us to the other, and we’d catch him,” Bill said.
That little XR 50 eventually grew into a JR 80. Then a CR 80 Expert - a racing bike. When Frahn was 13, he got an XR 200, and at 16, he got an YZ450F. He started racing competitively in 2017.
Frahn says riding is the only time he can stop worrying about what’s bothering him, whether it’s school, relationships or work. “It’s the only time I feel myself,” he said.
Until he didn’t feel at all.
On June 11, 2017, the Frahns were having a “family day.” Frahn decided to ride the bike.
He wanted to try a new jump, one that had just been built a few weeks ago. He tested it out two or three times, “nice and slow.” He came up a few feet short each time. Frahn decided to hit the gas, go a little faster and felt sure he’d be fine.
He misjudged the gear and went twice the speed he was supposed to. Corey, Frahn’s 3-year-old niece, Caitlyn, and Bill were sitting on the back porch watching him ride. They saw him go down.
As Frahn went through the air, “Corey was already running,” Bill said.
By the time Corey got there, Frahn was sprawled on the ground, unconscious. The bike he loved was laying hundreds of feet into the woods. He had a collapsed lung, nine broken ribs, a broken left femur, a fractured right hip and left pelvis and an L1 incomplete spinal cord injury.
“He was just sprawled out. Nothing. No response, no nothing,” Bill said.
Corey gave Frahn CPR, and eventually he coughed and started to speak.
“Tell me this is a joke,” he begged Bill.
But it wasn’t a joke, and a helicopter transported him to York Hospital. He remembers briefly waking up at one point to find the helicopter landing. Then darkness.
When the thing you love hurts you
When Frahn woke up, a doctor told him he would never walk again.
“It seems like everything that I was working for just stopped, and it was my fault because I wanted to go out and ride a dirt bike, I wanted to race,” Frahn said.
Then he watched a video on Facebook of someone with a spinal cord injury who still rides motocross. Frahn told the doctor to give him a year and he would not only be walking, but riding again.
“It seems like everything that I was working for just stopped, and it was my fault because I wanted to go out and ride a dirt bike, I wanted to race.”
Medical staff worried that Frahn would have some form of PTSD if he was around dirt bikes, but he laid in York Hospital’s Level 1 Trauma Center for two weeks watching dirt bike videos. In a previous YDR story, he said he would ride again, despite the dangers.
“I had that thought before: What if I get hurt again? What if the injury’s even worse and what if I lose all function? I’ve always been taught not to be scared of falling, always get up,” Frahn said.
Meanwhile, he was making plans to ride again.
While Frahn talked about riding again, his parents worried about that goal. But Norma Frahn, Mark’s mother, said it’s what makes her son happy. She said she just hopes he has a healthy degree of fear that he didn’t have before.
Bill said the thought of his son getting back on the thing that fractured his spine “scares the hell out of you,” but he felt he had to support his son.
“I’ll be honest with him and I’ll say, ‘Son, I never want you to ride a bike again. But, son, I can never ask it of you because it would break my heart more than it would yours.’ So I can’t wait to see him soar like an eagle again.”
Two weeks after the accident, Frahn started to notice his thighs twitching. He couldn’t touch his legs without screaming. Five months later, he started to have motion in his knees — bending them, putting weight on them and moving around.
He spent just under a month in Penn State Hershey’s Rehab Center, where he learned how to operate a wheelchair and navigate household tasks. He came back home with a sense of determination and strength that he would walk and ride again.
It wasn’t just the motivation to ride that kept him going. Before the accident, Frahn had become serious about his future career as a veterinary technician and was working hard at YTI’s Veterinary Technician program.
Kari Herchelroth, the program coordinator, said Frahn’s family contacted her within a few weeks of the accident, discussing when he could come back to school.
“There’s even been a drastic change in his schoolwork, his testing,” Herchelroth said about Frahn since his accident. “He has that motivation. He’s putting his time in, he’s putting his effort in and he’s working very hard to be able to be a good student.”
Caitlyn was another reason Frahn wanted to walk and ride again. Calling her his “best friend,” he was nervous that she would be scared of the wheelchair. But he gets emotional when he talks about the time she came to see him and began pushing him down the hall.
“I wasn’t about to watch her grow up riding dirt bikes and loving that life and me sitting there teaching her,” Frahn said. “I want to actually be able to ride with her.”
Even Frahn’s physical therapist noticed a difference thanks to his motivation to ride.
Debbie Lewers, a physical therapist at HealthSouth, said she first started seeing Frahn in August 2017. At that time, he could get in and out of his wheelchair, but he had trouble rolling over. They eventually got to the point where he was practicing walking at home with a walker.
“That is an incredible desire,” she said about his motivation to ride a dirt bike again. “He is just, ‘I don’t care if it has to be adapted, I enjoy doing it. And I’m going to figure out how.’”
Lewers hopes Frahn will be able to functionally walk in school and home settings - and complete short distances. In therapy, he’s already walking with some help.
“I would say right now he is showing me that he will probably need some assistive device to walk,” she explained. “But knowing Mark, that may end up not happening.”
On May 11, 2018, less than a year after his accident, Frahn sat on a four-wheeler outside of his home. It was the same patch of land where he wrecked his dirt bike, but he was determined to ride again.
Corey helped him move from the four-wheeler to a dirt bike and strapped his legs to the sides. Both Bill and Corey had a hand on him, then they each let go, and the man who was supposed to never walk again rode a dirt bike once again.
Bill and Norma stood off to the side watching their son do what he loves for the first time in almost a year. There were laughs, hugs, tears and the talk of a new bike for Frahn.
While watching Frahn ride, Bill remembered those times at Tower City, when Frahn was so little someone had to catch him so he could stop his bike.
“And now he can do it with no legs, and I’ll catch him all day long.”
And over the roar of the bike engine, Frahn yelled, “I’m back!”
Information from: York Daily Record, http://www.ydr.com