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Living to ride and soar, again

‘High Flying’ Mike Brown is subject of proposed documentary

Posted: July 31, 2010 4:36 p.m.
Updated: August 1, 2010 4:30 a.m.

Mike Brown, of Valencia, survived a near-fatal 1999 crash that left him an amputee.

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You might have seen the replay on an episode of “World’s Craziest Videos” or “Ripley’s Believe it or Not.”

Several YouTube videos of the nightmarish crash are anything but easy to watch.

Yet, the videos have elicited thousands of views because what was intended to be an impressive stunt instead spiraled into a near-deadly and graphic accident scene.

The 70-mph crash into a tractor trailer left accomplished motocross rider “High Flying” Mike Brown in a coma for five weeks.

When Brown awoke, his left leg was gone.

More than 10 years later, you might see Brown rolling around town in his wheelchair. Admittedly, the long-time Valencia resident has a lot of friends and support. But if you haven’t met Brown already and you bump into him on the street, just remember one thing: He’s not done riding.

Three Santa Clarita Valley men hope they can bring Brown back into the limelight and see him ride again. Together, the film professionals will write, produce and direct the documentary, “Flying Mike Brown,” detailing the rider’s past, his career-ending crash and his fierce motivation to get back on his bike.

“Ultimately, we’d like the documentary to set him up for the third act of his career,” said Saugus resident Marlowe Weisman, the film’s writer.

He’s joined by Valencia residents director Eric Clarke and producer Kurt Fethke.

A goal is to get Brown a prosthetic leg by his 50th birthday in September.

The self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie believes he has more people to inspire. He may have knocked himself down, but he’s not going to knock himself out, he said.

“I’m not a spectator,” he said, “I’m a participant.”

Unusual stuff
At age 11, Brown stunned the crowds at the world’s minibike grand prix and won his first two world championships. After that, his first sponsor, Dick Dixon of Allied Cycle, gave Brown his “Flying Mike” nickname.

By the time Brown was 16, he had won six world championships and four national championships as a minicyclist.

But his wheels took a new spin in the summer of 1986, the day a friend convinced him to take an exhibition jump flying over 20 feet in the air and traveling more than 120 feet. It took one jump — his first — to hook him on the adrenaline rush. 

It wasn’t just the jump that grabbed Brown. The shouts from the kids and the requests for autographs kindled his desire to take to the air.

In April 1989, Brown successfully jumped 23 cars, surpassing famous daredevil Robbie Knievel’s record of 22, while soaring more than 180 feet in Adelanto.

Five months later, he beat his own record by clearing 24 cars at Maui Raceway Park in Hawaii.

“I did what I did like nobody did it,” Brown said.

Fethke remembered visits to the Saugus Speedway, where Brown’s performances were the main attraction. He recalled watching Brown do “Big Dummy” — which sent him flying over a monster truck.

“I remember he was doing unusual stuff people weren’t doing in the 1980s, and even into the 1990s,” Fethke said. “Nobody was doing the stuff he was doing at the time. He was a pioneer in the freestyle world.”

Brown thrilled and entertained thousands of fans. But he always felt that he was doing so within his limits.

“I was very comfortable,” he said. “There was never a fear factor.”

A mess
In his 13 years of exhibition jumping, Brown never considered himself a daredevil. The self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie was confident he knew what he was doing. Up until 1999, Brown had never suffered an injury in his motocross stunts.

“I never even skinned my little finger,” he said.

But that was B.C. — an acronym Brown has borrowed to refer to his life “before the crash.”

On June 5, 1999, Brown’s injury-free record disappeared with a path of wet grass.

At a freestyle dirt-bike competition in Twin Falls, Idaho, Brown attempted to fly across a gap 151-feet wide and land onto a flatbed.

He started with a ride-by, all went well as he drove by the ramp. He positioned himself 10 feet to the right and took off on the jump.

The grass was wet and slowed his take off. Mid-air, he realized he would come up short on the landing, so Brown threw his torso, arms and head back.

He missed hitting his head on the back of the trailer by inches. He went feet-first under the truck bed.

“It was a matter of a couple miles per second,” Brown said. “That spontaneous reaction is the only way I’m sitting here today.”

He suffered broken ribs and punctured lungs, broken wrists, a fractured pelvis, a broken spinal cord, a stretched brainstem and a compound fracture of his right femur. His left leg hung by a piece of skin. Doctors had to amputate. 

Brown went into a coma for five weeks.

“I was a mess,” he said. 

The Johnny Airtime motorcycle-crash record website lists Brown’s accident as the Crash of the Year in 1999 and as nominated for the Crash of the Decade 1990s. In addition, the accident is nominated for Worst Crash.

Brown holds the record for the Most Injuries Suffered From A Crash (and survived) and Worst Crash Coming Up Short.

“The man upstairs said ‘Mr. Brown, it’s time for you to take a rest,’” Brown said.

Strong-willed
Fethke ran into Brown earlier this year at a local restaurant. Recognizing who he was, Fethke started up a conversation. He was immediately inspired by Brown’s story of recovery and his desire to ride again.

“I wanted to use my film connections to tell Mike’s story to inspire others,” Fethke said. “And also to maybe draw attention to Mike to get him back on his feet, literally.”

Fethke contacted Weisman and Clarke. Although the men all have jobs and commitments of their own, they have spent countless volunteer hours interviewing Brown over the past few months.

“He’s a very strong-willed and determined guy,” Weisman said.

As they search for supporters willing to help fund the film, they flesh out Brown’s story, hoping to produce a piece that inspires others to “pull your life up by the bootstraps,” Fethke said.

The documentary will chronicle Brown’s past, including video footage of past jumps. But Brown’s full story is too inspiring to simply focus on life before the crash. The men see a spark in Brown they hope to capture in the video.

The plan is to film Brown as he is fitted with a prosthetic leg in September.

“He was born to be on a motorcycle — he was born to be 50 feet in the air,” Clarke said.
Fethke, Weisman and Clarke said they were touched by the way Brown chose to live his life after the crash.

In the immediate weeks after Brown awoke from his coma, he had trouble dealing with the devastation to his broken body.

“I literally wanted to commit suicide,” he said. “I was just so devastated. I realized I wasn’t going to ride anymore.”

But the depressing thoughts didn’t last long. He immediately thought of his family, friends and the people who love and care about him.

“I don’t have the authority to hurt other people,” Brown realized, immediately following his thoughts of suicide.

His next thoughts: “It is what it is.” He knew he had to get over it.

Fethke, Weisman and Clarke said they never sense any cynicism or negativity in Brown. That says something about his character, Clarke said.

“As he was a role model in his performing career, he wanted to be a role model in his recovery,” Weisman said.
“And in his life,” Clarke added.

The next chapter
As Brown sat with Fethke outside a Valencia coffee house last week, he pulled out a handwritten letter.

A sick child at Minneapolis Children’s Medical Center had penned the “thank you” letter to Brown sometime during the rider’s B.C. era. Brown used to visit children’s hospitals as he toured around the nation.

“I would come into town a couple days before my gig and I would go to hospitals and give them stickers just to brighten them up,” he said.

Brown wants his new leg, and he wants to get back on a bike. But the underlying motivation for taking part in the documentary is “getting back to the hospitals and inspiring the kids,” he said.

But leave no doubt that Brown is setting his physical expectations high. First walking, then — the world amputee motocross record.
“It’s not over until it’s over,” Brown said.

“High Flying” Mike Brown is on to the next chapter.

For more information, call Kurt Fethke at (818) 294-0330.

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