Imaginate – The Two Year Journey – Part 1
“Two years in the making, street trials rider Danny MacAskill releases his brand new riding film. Whilst previous projects have focused on locations and journeys, MacAskill’s Imaginate sees Danny take a completely different approach to riding. Enter Danny’s mind and enjoy.”
And with that, the film was released to critical acclaim – the industry saying bike riding films had been changed forever. Simple, and everyone is happy. Except it was the polar opposite of simple, it was one of the toughest athlete projects I’ve worked on (besides Dan Atherton’s broken neck). At almost every step and on a seemingly weekly basis this project was under threat, the time effort and resources that had to be employed to get Danny on a bike and keep him there were staggering. The actual filming was 6 weeks, the previous 98 weeks was all spent getting him to that point.
I first saw Danny on YouTube the same way everyone else did, I’d been given the heads up that Red Bull were speaking to a potential athlete and to check his video out. Just like everyone else I was amazed at what I saw – this was a true artist at work. He was signed up and of course he was already injured with a broken collar bone. That in itself wasn’t a big deal, he’d done it riding the pump track at Oakley HQ in California, the problem was he’d rebroken it getting thrown out of a bar meaning it had to be plated. This meant he hadn’t been riding so it was the usual conversation of ‘can you do something with him?’.
Just in case you’ve been living on the moon, the original YouTube video with Danny
It was January 2010 and I was about to leave for California with the Atherton’s for winter training and I suggested that maybe Danny meet us out there. It got him out of simply hanging around, put him with bike athletes that train professionally and generally a good environment to get back on his bike. Immediately Danny was reluctant to come out and took some serious persuading (a sign of things to come…). He’d been off his bike for weeks longer than he should have been already, it made sense for him to head out – I had to work hard to make that ‘sense’ to him.
The house we were staying in was full, so Danny shipped into a hotel just around the corner. It was going to be great to have him around and switch up the usual training dynamic with the group. It was immdetiatley obvious that Danny did no physical preperation whatsoever, and was riddled with ‘compensations’ which are muscles over working and joints not moving properly. Exactly what you’d expect from someone who rides his bike all day, but doesn’t do anything about his body being able to tolerate that riding. So the slow process of trying to educate Danny on the importance of looking after himself began, and I hoped that seeing how hard the Atherton’s trained might inspire him to look after himself a bit better. The problem with athletes like Danny is they don’t subscribe to structure or plans, which is also why they’re so amazing at what they do! So it’s a constant upstream swim to get them to engage with a process. Also Danny didn’t and doesn’t ride competitively, unlike racers who ‘have’ to ride – Danny essentially rode for ‘riding’, the thrill of seeing a line and riding it – and if he wasn’t feeling good then he didn’t ride. That’s cool if you’re working in a bike shop, but as soon as you turn ‘professional’ things change. Danny was still coming to grips with being a ‘professional’ athlete and I was trying to help him make the transition.
It’s not about using constant ‘stick’ with someone like Danny, they’re educated (*cough*) free thinking adults – I was simply trying to open doors for him and explain the different paths he could take. However the key over riding message from me was that he needed to look after himself in some way, as his body needs to ‘tolerate’ what he’s asking it to do. We got some decent training in over the first week, there was a gap in the schedule where the Athy’s were racing DH at Fontana down near San Diego. I gave Danny the option of staying and training with me for the day, or head off with the Athertons and hang out at the DH race. Of course Danny chose to head to the race, and off they went. I thought it would be a nice day for the whole crew and Danny would be fine, by the end of the day things would be the complete opposite of ‘fine’.
Late afternoon I get a text from Gee saying, ‘Danny took a big hit and has re-broken his collarbone’ – of course I dismissed this as a standard wind up text from Gee and didn’t think anything else of it. However 90 mins later when the team rolled through the door, Danny walked in with his arm in a sling and appeared to have been attacked by a wild bear. His clothes were shredded, he was covered in blood, he had huge deep cuts to his arms, legs and his face was also cut up. I stood there and said, ‘what the f**k happened!?!’. It must have been a huge crash to have sustained all those cuts and for his clothes to be all ripped. Danny pointed out very matter-of-factly that the damage I could see wasn’t from the crash which had (probably) re-broken his collarbone but the several crashes he’d had throughout the day including a couple of huge ones! I stood there struggling to take this information in, he’d left for the DH race with nothing but shorts and a cheque shirt so what the hell was he doing on track at a US national race? He’d simply borrowed a hard tail bike from the Athy’s, an open face ‘skate’ type helmet and set off down the run, sleeves rolled up on his cheque shirt, as you do. There’s actually a picture of him somewhere at Fontana charging down the run, dressed as I describe. Of course, I went into orbit.
We went to hospital for them to confirm what I was trying to convince myself hadn’t actually happened, he’d re-broken his collarbone at the end of the plate. I knew there was nothing we could do about it, the plate he had was already the largest available. So unless we wanted that large plate removed and two smaller one’s placed, we simply had to leave it. Along with a nice lump. Danny was gutted and I was fuming. We’d flown him out there to get back into shape, I was angry he’d been so irresponsible. This new break meant no more bike for yet another 4 weeks on top of the 12 weeks he’d already missed. Then again, as I’ve mentioned – the kind of attitude that tells you it’s ok to ride a DH race on a hard tail with your cheque shirt on and open face helmet is the same process that tells you can ride across a 1/2 inch wide spiked fence. It’s in their nature.
That little story pretty much sums up the next 3 years. Danny dropped from my radar when we returned to UK and for over a year I didn’t see or hear from him. I had a load of other athletes that needed and wanted my help, with Danny choosing to dissapear into the jungle and look after himself was on him. Every now and again I’d get a call from him asking for a physio for his ‘bad knee’ – but he was busy taking opinions and advice from anyone and everyone whilst not actually getting anything sorted. Then in mid 2011 things had deteriorated to the point he couldn’t even ride his bike. I have to say from a personal point of veiw, at the time I was fairly unsympathetic. I tried to tell Danny a year earlier that he had some miles on the clock, a bunch of compensation issues that needed sorting or they would all mount to a series of overuse injuries leaving him unable to ride – and here he was, in the worst shape he’d ever been in unable to ride his bike. There was so much going on with him physically, it was like a wave of white noise. Trying to decipher what was a symptom and what was a cause was almost impossible.
The immediate and most obvious thing was his knee – he now had a massive leg strength difference, was walking differently and couldn’t ride. I took him to knee specialist Prof Phil Turner who gave him a thorough examination but couldn’t find anything definative wrong – but clearly there was. As a precaution we got the knee scanned and it revealed a large tear on his meniscus, who knows how long it had been there. Danny thinks he can pinpoint the day and what happened, and whilst this may be true – the simple fact is this was always going to happen which I’d tried to warn him about. Sure it may well have been when he had to put his foot down on a move and twist his knee, but almost every part of his body wasn’t where it was supposed to be or as strong as it needed to be to tolerate things like this. He was also complaining of some back pain, but his hamstrings were so outragously over-engaged he could hardly bend over past 90 degrees (the worst I’ve ever seen anyone) due to his ridiculous quad dominance. Also his insitance on permenantly riding left foot forward meant his pelvis was completely bent out of shape – so no wonder he had back pain. But like I said there was so much going on it was difficult to cut thought the noise.
Danny post knee op at The Alexandria Hospital in Cheadle
As always, I got Danny to the right specialist, as mentioned he was scanned which revealed a large tear in his meniscus and booked in immediately for the operation with Prof Phil Turner. We were under some time pressure, Danny was committed to shooting a commercial in San Francisco and the departure date was right on the return to sport date from a meniscus resection. However, Danny worked really hard – the hardest I’d ever seen him work to get fit. I hoped we’d turned a corner in his physical preparation, and from now on he’d pay more attention to himself and what he’s asking his body to do. We got him ready and he flew to San Fran to shoot the commercial. Things were looking up for Danny and it was around this time he started telling me about this crazy idea he had, ‘It’s so big’ he’d say, ‘I’m not sure it’s possible to even do’ – my response was, ‘It definateley won’t be if you can’t ride your bike you tit!’.
Danny’s commercial shoot in San Fran
In part 2 things go from ok, to good to bad to absolutely awful….