Many were hurt at Gatorback event in which racer died
Published: Friday, November 30, 2012 at 5:51 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 30, 2012 at 5:51 p.m.
In Dr. Mark Scarborough's 21 years with Shands at the University of Florida, he's treated countless sports injuries.
But he said no sporting event compares to the Thor Winter Olympics, an annual motocross event held at Gatorback Cycle Park in Alachua.
This year, the amateur motocross event — also known as the Mini Olympics, or Mini O's — was marred by tragedy when 16-year-old racer Jantz Grodzicki, of San Diego, was taken off life support Monday at Shands after he suffered a severed spine and head injuries in a Nov. 23 crash at the competition.
Although Grodzicki was the only participant who died, many other riders were taken to the hospital with severe injuries.
Scarborough and four other local doctors tallied the motocross-related injuries they saw during the November event. By their count, 26 people between the ages of 8 and 25 were treated at local hospitals for injuries they suffered at the Winter Olympics. Twenty-three of those patients were 20 years old or younger, Scarborough said.
Of those patients, at least seven children had to undergo major orthopedic surgeries and five suffered injuries that put them at risk for lifelong disability.
Most of the injuries were orthopedic, including severe fractures and dislocations to patients' shoulders, femurs, forearms, knees, ankles and hips, which can result in permanent disabilities, Scarborough said. There also were two lung-related injuries, which were the most severe apart from those suffered by Grodzicki.
"We were kind of appalled as a group that this magnitude of injuries occurred," Scarborough said. "It's inherently unsafe."
The risk of injury is inherent in motocross, but that's true for any major physical sport from BMX biking to soccer, said Ron Henricksen, president of the National Motosport Association.
Motocross brings families together, he said. Children who race travel around the country to various competitions with their families. Parents work on the bikes alongside their riders.
"It's really good for the whole family," Henricksen said. "They're all involved."
Deaths are rare, but in his experience most riders come back to compete after healing from serious injuries.
"It's the thing that they love and they want to do," he said.
And many riders do get injured. A 2009 study published in the Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics, titled "Motocross Morbidity: Economic Cost and Injury Distribution in Children," studied motocross injuries using almost 300 cases from 2000 to 2007. Nearly half of the patients who were treated at a level 1 trauma center had to be hospitalized, and almost one-third needed surgery. Patients suffered severe injuries despite a high rate of helmet and protective gear use, according to an abstract of the study.
Over the years, Scarborough said he and his fellow physicians have noticed a spike in injuries among young riders during the Winter Olympics. He is concerned the public perception may be that cases like Grodzicki's are freak accidents.
"But the reality of it is this was not a freak accident. It's like major carnage," Scarborough said. "This is not the first death out there."
In March 2006, a 16-year-old Georgia youth died during an all-terrain-vehicle race at Gatorback just two weeks after an emergency medical technician died in an ATV accident there after a race, as previously reported in The Gainesville Sun.
The Winter Olympics in 2006 also resulted in a series of accidents, including a 6-year-old who was reportedly run over during a race and a 17-year-old who suffered lower body paralysis.
The Gatorback track is located at 20525 NW 46th Ave. and its website is unlimitedsportsmx.com. Gatorback representatives could not be reached for comment.
Carol Blackburn, who owns Motocross of Marion County with her husband, said in an email to The Sun she rides a street bike despite the danger because she loves it. Both her sons raced motocross, one of whom competed professionally.
"We knew the risks, but when you balance it all out, we felt it instilled so many good values. This sport requires discipline and dedication," she said. "You will not see these young men and women out drinking, smoking and drugging. Their spare time is spent working out or working on their bikes, not getting into trouble."
The Winter Olympics is the single highest-risk sporting event in the local community that carries the highest rate of injuries, Scarborough said. He sees sprained ankles and other injuries from other sports competitions, but the Winter Olympics appears to be the worst individual event in terms of the number and severity of injuries.
"We don't know if it's the worst year," he said of the competition. "We know it's always bad."
Scarborough said he and a team of local physicians plan to conduct a scientific investigation into the history of the Winter Olympics to determine how common and severe event-related injuries have been over the years.
Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or firstname.lastname@example.org.