What’s it like to fly?
Joanne suffered from MS for 46 years before she sent Bruce Cook a message asking just that. On the first episode of his new show, Bruce met her for the first time. When he showed up on her doorstep, he brought with him the opportunity to answer that question for herself.
Bruce brought her to the highest freestyle zipline in Canada, and with the help of a custom harness and pulley system, helped Joanne remember who she was. Her debilitating disability vanished over the Canadian wilderness, if only briefly, and she found herself. For the first time in 46 years, she remembered what it was like to just be Joanne.
Bruce found himself in October of 2014. One cloudy Canadian afternoon, he hopped on the back of a dirt bike and rode it around the yard. He rode for just a few minutes, throttling now and then to let the engine rumble across the field and feeling the handlebars tug on his arms. After a few careful laps, he and his friends watching were in tears.
“It was one of the happiest days of my life,” he said recalling the day, the memory alone causing him to choke.
That’s because just nine months earlier, he broke his back at a live Nitro Circus event performing the most difficult motocross stunt anybody’s ever attempted. The damage was instant and catastrophic. With no feeling below his ribcage and no indication that it would ever recover, he was starting over.
But Bruce Cook doesn’t look in the rear-view mirror. His accident didn’t stop him. He’s spent the last seven years redefining his legacy, proving that there’s nothing he can’t do, and finding himself over and over again.
Starting from square one after the accident wasn’t easy. Bruce had to learn how to make his body do what he wanted it to without having control over half of it.
“In the first days and months out of the hospital, everything is new again. You have to learn how to just go down a sidewalk or navigate rough terrain in a wheelchair.” He decided to approach recovery the same way he approaches anything worth doing. “I told myself I would take it on as a challenge rather than a setback.” Learning new ways to get around and do everyday tasks that most people take for granted was as exciting for him as it was frustrating.
As he got more comfortable in his wheelchair and started getting back out on his dirt bike, he realized his life wasn’t about what he could or couldn’t do. But rather, it was about how can he learn to do anything he wants in a new way.
He had to come up with a new way to drive. His cars have modified steering wheels and throttle controls. He uses a suicide knob to turn the wheel with his right hand while he controls his braking and acceleration with a throttle stick in his left. Pushing forward on the stick applies the brakes, because he can’t stop himself from leaning forward when he slows down. His everyday driver, a Subaru, sits low enough to the ground to make getting in and out fairly easy.
He keeps an excavator at his family’s farm to keep his motocross track and jumps in good condition. Climbing the six or seven feet up from his Subaru to the cab of the excavator without using his legs “is a bit of a nightmare,” but he found a way to do it.
Some things require less modification, but no less work. When he went indoor skydiving, the hardest part for him was putting on the single-piece jump suit. But his determination always wins out over difficulty.
He recently built a truck for some snow wheeling, complete with one-ton axles, four-link suspension, and 46” tires. He did it all by himself and filmed the entire process.
“I’m super proud of that because it took so much longer and was so much more effort building it while in a chair.” But he always keeps the same mindset—building it in a chair was a challenge, not a setback.
He’s had many firsts since the accident. Riding a roller coaster for the first time since the accident and bungee jumping for the first time ever are personal highlights of his. But he’s added more firsts while performing with Nitro Circus. With Nitro, he became the first paraplegic person to perform a backflip live—another moment that left him and his friends in tears.
Despite his accident, Bruce has no regrets. “Nitro Circus has been awesome. I have been able to travel the world because of my dirt bike and see places I likely wouldn’t have otherwise.”
Nitro has let Bruce push his limits for years and prove to the world that he’s so much more than a guy that got hurt attempting a double front flip.
“As far as action sports, I still have a few ideas that I’d like to accomplish that include a snowmobile and some stuff on my RZR.”
Time will tell what he has up his sleeve, but it’s clear that his side-by-side is more important for him now than ever.
Bruce got his first RZR back in 2012. It was a Polaris RZR 800 S and it blew him away with how powerful it was. Before that, he’d been abusing his dad’s old Yamaha Rhino.
“I would jump the Rhino, but it was obviously rough.” He couldn’t exactly treat his dad’s utility side-by-side the same way he treated his MX bikes, but he tried. “A buddy and I actually overshot a big jump and basically split the Rhino in half lengthwise.”
After his accident, he upgraded to a 2014 RZR 1000 and modified it with custom hand controls. It handled his dirt bike jumps even better than the RZR 800, and he started modifying his track to cater more to the RZR’s particular style of riding.
“That’s when I redesigned my motocross track to be better suited for RZRs by basically taking the lips off the jumps and mellowing out the landings. But they’re still super fun for bikes.”
“I love that I can just jump in it myself and go rip some laps, as well as take people for rides so they can experience what I love to do and feel why I love doing it. The way I drive and use my RZR is about as close as you’ll get to motocross on four wheels.”
He still loves riding his bike, but it takes more work to get on and get going. With the RZR, he can hop in whenever he wants without help. And the ROPS and harnesses make it less risky for him to ride.
“I obviously can’t do the tricks, whips, and style that I used to on a dirt bike, but being able to take someone along beside me and film their reaction pretty much makes up for that.”
Recently, Bruce has started sharing his love of the outdoors and extreme sports in a whole new way.
When Bruce got a call asking if he’d be interested in hosting a new show about taking people with disabilities on adventures, he said yes right then and there. The idea of getting to share outdoor adventures with folks was a perfect fit for him.
That unnamed show eventually became By Hook or By Cook. It’s a show about helping individuals achieve their dreams whether that’s skydiving, rock climbing, zip-lining, or anything else they can think of.
“Probably my favorite episode of the first season was taking two highly disabled kids out in the mountains on a couple four seater RZRs. The looks on their faces and reaction to the whole day was so awesome and really does hit home how much I still take for granted.”
It’s a novel way to help others. In his RZR, he can show people that they’re more than the disabilities that give them so many challenges.
With a guy like Bruce Cook behind the wheel, a side-by-side becomes more than just a fun ride. Through his implacable determination and projects like By Hook or By Cook, he is able to share his infectious joy of life.
He found out that life was still worth living and he was still himself when he got back on that modified dirt bike for the first time. Now he’s sharing that revelation with everyone he can.
With every ride, every backflip, and zip line, he’s doing what should be impossible, and giving a renewed love of life to those that need it most.
There’s nothing that can stop Bruce Cook. The only thing he can’t do is walk (for now).
Be sure to follow Bruce Cook on Instagram.
Check out Never Say Can’t, the free, full-length documentary about his accident.
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