RBMA: What was your introduction to motorcycling?
Interviewee: I will say it was in my blood and it’s just going to be there until the day I die. I never knew my dad and I’m the youngest of six. My brother’s the oldest and there are four girls between us. My mom and everybody in my family’s been into airplanes, but there’s one picture of me where I’m probably three years old, my brothers on a CB 750 and I’m smashed between him and his girlfriend wearing his O’Neal boots that go all the way up to my crotch, his Honda shirt, and his orange helmet. Every year my brother would take me to Supercross for my birthday. I never had a bike when I was a kid, but he always did so I just followed in his footsteps.
RBMA: Can you share the story of the day of your motorcycle accident?
Interviewee: I started grudge racing and blew up the transmission of my 1970 Chevelle. I needed a torque wrench because I had just had the heads rebuilt so I was headed to Harbor Freight. I remember the day very distinctly because my favorite color is Kawasaki green. My bike was a ’92 ZX-7. I remember going out and cleaning the crap out of my bike because it had the green wheels. There was a motorcycle shop on the way and my buddy was out there so I stopped to talk to him. He got in his Firebird and went one way and I got on the bike and went the other way. That was the last thing I remember. In this particular intersection, a 95-year-old man in a Cadillac had made a left turn coming southbound to go east and ran the red light while I was doing about 20 miles an hour in the third lane.
I woke up two weeks later from a Coma. I broke my collarbone, femur, and T2-12, which pinched my spinal cord at T4. Technically, I wasn’t supposed to live past 24 hours. My injury is what you would call a T4 incomplete paralysis (the spinal cord was ‘compressed’ versus complete paralysis where the spinal cord is fully severed). I have spasms in my legs but I have no feeling whatsoever from the middle of my chest down. A lot of people who get into this type of accident think they’re going to walk again but I recognized my circumstance early; I wasn’t going to sit there every morning and wait for it to come back. If it comes back, it comes back but if it doesn’t, I wouldn’t change a damn thing.
“Wheels” enjoying some fun while dirt bike riding in the desert
RBMA: During the initial phase of your injury, what was your mindset in the hospital, and how did that transform over the length of your stay?
Interviewee: (Excuse my language ahead of time) I was on a rotary bed because they couldn’t do my surgery until I came out of the coma. A rotary bed is flat and it keeps you stable so your injury doesn’t get worse. I remember very well my sister came in and straight up was like ‘Steven, everything happens for a reason. I was like, ‘Okay, you can kiss my ass and get the f#$% out of my room.’ But that’s how I felt then because I’m laying there paralyzed, not being able to move and just kind of waking up. They did my surgeries and then transported me to rehab. Ultimately, I was in the hospital for nine months.
In the hospital, I had gotten a pressure sore, so I learned how to not let that happen. When you sit for a long period that means there’s no blood flow going to your skin. People that are paralyzed don’t feel it go numb so we have to do what’s called ‘raises’ and for every one minute that you sit, you should do a one-second raise. At first, I wasn’t a fan of ‘Hey, I need to get stronger and work out and do the physical therapy. I didn’t care and I’d rather just have sat in the bed and watched TV. I’m a homebody and I was a homebody in the hospital. I will say though that after I got out of the hospital, I think that they should kick your ass out a whole lot sooner. So when I was in the hospital I would’ve stayed for years, but when I got out, they should have just done it a lot sooner because to me the rehab is every day I get up. I transfer from my bed to my chair, from my chair to the shower chair, to the shower chair, to my wheelchair; it’s all rehab. I had seen guys that had gotten many pressure sores and were amputees. So having rehab in the hospital is good for a small time so that you can learn some fundamentals but I think learning ultimately is when you get out. So my mindset in the hospital wasn’t the best, but after I started working out, got more physically fit, and back in the mindset of not giving a shit what people think about when they see me, I’m a much better person.
Steve riding his first post-accident build, a Kawasaki ZX7 with landing gear & push-button technology digital hand controls
RBMA: As you transitioned from the hospital to home, what can you share with the community about recovering from a motorcycle accident?
Interviewee: Everything’s a learning curve. I’m still learning my body twenty-five years later. For instance, on one of my recent track days, I got a burn on my foot and was unaware of it the first day. When I got home that night, I saw it and I’ve just been tending to it ever since but my body was reacting weirdly and I didn’t recognize it immediately. It’s all a transition. Everybody handles things differently.
Also, I’m often asked ‘Do you go to rehab?’ No, your rehab is getting out of the hospital. When you get out of the hospital and you’re paralyzed, you’ll use what’s called a slide board because not everybody’s going to be able to just lift their bodyweight and transfer from their chair to the car. What I did when I got out of the hospital is I went outside to the car or the truck and I put that slide board there and I’d just transfer fifty, sixty, seventy times for two or three hours until ultimately I threw that thing in the closet and was no longer using it.
It’s also about your motivation. I’m a car and a bike guy so I detail and wash my own cars. I drive and I do everything as much as I possibly can by myself. Just strive to be independent. I look at it this way, I’m paralyzed but I just do everything sitting down. I live alone and if I’ve got to do something, I’ll figure out a way to do it. You know, just sitting on the couch and watching TV is not going to cut it.
Every day after work, I go wheel around the neighborhood anywhere from three to seven miles in my regular chair. I’m not using a hand-chair but everybody’s rehab when you get out is going to be a little bit different, but I would say get after it sooner than later. I had gained a lot of weight when I was in the hospital so it took me probably two or three years before I had lost that weight. When I decided to go out and get fit I became more comfortable and learned that I don’t give a shit what people think about me. You’ll go to the gas station and with the lines at the gas station now they just look at you – nobody’s going to do it for me, sorry, you could just suck it up. In reality, I can get out of my car and gas it faster than ninety percent of the people at the gas station can while they’re walking. I don’t like to rely on people for anything. I do everything, I just do it sitting down [laugh].
Steve’s second post-accident build, a Ducati 848
RBMA: What was the process of deciding to get back on the motorcycle after your accident and what did you have to overcome to get to that point?
Interviewee: So when I was in the hospital, Lee Beaver and Stewart Goddard had come up with landing gear for motorcycles. Lee used to live around the corner from the hospital so he would frequent it with his bike. So I knew it was possible although it was also the fact of needing to learn how to live like this first, the fact that I was going to ride again was always in the back of my mind. It was just something that took a little bit longer and still to this day, the dumbest thing I ever did was sell the bike that I got my accident on. If I could go back, the one thing I would do is I would still have the bike.
Eventually, I found a bike. We tore it apart and rebuilt it, then when I got to ride it for the first time I had 10 years to get used to it. I got on the bike by myself, strapped myself in and it was just a matter of learning my body. So it took me a little bit longer- I would love to have just gone and hopped on this bike from the hospital, but I knew that wasn’t going to happen with not having strength, not having the mindset, and everything that I have now. In due time because I wouldn’t force anybody to do that. I do recommend getting back on a bike. Personally, I will never ride on the street again, but I recommend that anybody who gets injured try the track. I’ll never say it’s the motorcycle’s fault.
Steve’s KLX450R fitted with ODAAT Customs crash cage
RBMA: Presently, where has your journey brought you to, and what is in store for the future?
Interviewee: It was about 10 years from my accident when I built the ZX. I rode that bike a couple of times on the street for a while and learned street is not for me. I had got rid of that and moved on to an 848. I just rode that at the track not doing landing gear. Then I tested the water in some off-road racing with a Honda Pilot for a couple of years but in 2017, I injured C6-7 in my neck. So I crack the joke that I tried to see if it would reverse my spinal injury, but that didn’t work.
Cars and motorcycles have always been my passion. I’ve got my job where I work where we do trade shows and we had started and put on Las Vegas Bike Fest. As I started here doing sales, I was talking to shops around here and one of them was a Ducati specialty shop. I rolled in and there was an ’08 1098 sitting on a showroom floor that just called my name. So I went in there and I talked to Randy Nedescu at BellissiMoto and I would go in and pay him a couple of hundred bucks here and there until I paid it off three years later. That is my track bike which we did a few modifications to. My buddy Chad Tesson who lives here in town and races helped make all the modifications – It’s got a built 1198, a Pingle electric shifter, and some pegs that he custom-made for me. Once you get back on a motorcycle reality stops, especially when you’re on the track because there are fewer external distractions compared to the street. Originally, it was just going to be a track bike for fun but the more I ride, the faster I want to go and the more knowledge I learn from Mookie Wilkerson. He is my coach who’s helped me out immensely.
My goal is to obtain my race license. I’ve been seeing Mookie at AutoClub Speedway. I pit with him and he’s been giving me pointers. When I first started riding that bike I was at 2:07 and now I’m down to the 1:40s. I did a WERA race and I’ve got my provisional race license. I’ve raced three races and I’ve got a first, second, and a third. I know that there’s a handful of guys that are back east racing who are either amputees or paralyzed. The goal is to be the first guy racing paralyzed on the West Coast.
I’ve got one more race to go and then I’ll have my physical race license. I would like to race CRA and WERA. I just want people to understand that it’s not the end of the world. You get paralyzed or you get hurt and you’re in a wheelchair but you could still mow the yard or wash your car, even race a motorcycle too. The words ‘stop’ and ‘can’t’ aren’t in my vocabulary. So the goal is to be a motorcycle racer although I may not be a professional or race for Moto America. I want to show that guy at the rehab hospital it’s possible and be there for somebody else like Lee Beaver was there for me.
RBMA: With the hindsight, you have now after your motorcycle accident, what might you advise someone else facing similar challenges?
Interviewee: Don’t let the motorcycle accident be the end of you. There are certain things that I do that I learned when I was in the hospital about my situation that you have to do mentally to keep yourself from returning to the hospital. So I vowed never to put myself in a situation by being negligent with myself. Even if you just go roll around the neighborhood, you want to get used to being in a chair while letting people look at you funny. It’s only because they’ve never seen somebody in your position doing what you’re doing. Don’t let the motorcycle accident scare you. You may not want to ride the same bike and it may be years until you decide that that’s the route you’re going to go but it wasn’t the motorcycle’s fault so don’t blame it. If it’s in your blood go for it. If you were somebody that just got a motorcycle license and then got hurt and it’s not in your blood like the rest of us, then what I would say is just don’t wither away at home. Whether you’re on a motorcycle on the track, on the street, or driving a car – get your license and go drive – it’s the ultimate freedom.
Entire Steve “Wheels” Bucaro Photo Gallery: Here
Follow the blogger, Audrey Hurley, on Instagram.