Paraplegic works to make motorcycles accessible

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TOOELE — Aaron Lanningham has always been a speed demon. He raced motorcycle and cars.

But everything came to a screeching halt when he hit a wall on a track in New Hampshire in 1994. The accident left him a paraplegic and confined to a wheelchair.

But the Salt Lake City-native didn't letting the life- changing injury slow him down. He competed in monoski competitions for a few years. In 2004 he was part of a special program that allowed him to become a driver of a bobsled for the National Ability Center at the Utah Olympic Park.

Lanningham and his brake man Matt Profitt, a below the knee amputee, made bobsled history and in 2006 by becoming the first athletes with disabilities to forerun a World Cup bobsled event.

Even with all his success, what he really loved was motorcycle racing. "I just really love it," he said. "It's something that I've done since a teenager."

It took some time to figure out how to do it, but he is now back on the race track.

From the sidelines at Miller Motorsports Park he can be seen selling and changing tires. But what surprises people is when they see him suited up, heading out to race. Aaron doesn't feel different than anybody else. But passing through the parking lot to the track, people tend to notice.

(It) just gives me a real sense of freedom. The acceleration, the rush, I mean there's nothing that accelerates like a motorcycle.

–- Aaron Lanningham

"They see me ride by, and they do react when they see my bike with the gear on it."

He has holsters for his feet and support wheels to get him started, but once he hits the track, he looks like anybody else zipping by.

"(It) just gives me a real sense of freedom," he said. "The acceleration, the rush, I mean there's nothing that accelerates like a motorcycle."

He has always been competitive, and in his first race since the motorcycle accident he won. "It was awesome," he said. "It was like ‘oh yeah, comeback.' "

He's been working with the creator of The Bike Experience, a program based in the United Kingdom. "The program gives people the opportunity, if they'd like, to ride a motorcycle to show them that it is possible," he said.

Making it so the rider can be independent was the difficult part, but now he doesn't need someone to help him get on the bike, to get the bike going, or to be there when he is done riding.

The process is different. "It's easy once you get on the motorcycle and drive away. It's the other stuff that is tough," he said.

He hopes to one day help others with spinal cord injuries get back on a motorcycle. He calls it very therapeutic. "There's nothing better than hopping off your wheelchair, onto a motorcycle and leaving that wheelchair behind," he said.

He is in the very early stages of working to get the program to the U.S. He's still looking in to how to get all the equipment and help from volunteers. Though he said the program's creator is working with him and is very eager to get that started.

"Once I'm on the track and I've got that landing gear up, I don't feel different than anybody else," he said. "I don't have much disadvantage. I feel like I'm on somewhat on an event field at that point."

Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc


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