For Mat Hoffman, Pain Don’t Hurt

The BMX legend goes through ACLs like they’re SUVs. We hurt our finger on the tape recorder for this interview, and it still smarts like hell.

You’d think the Condor’s encyclopedic medical record would be evidence enough of his daredevilishness. That didn’t stop him from dragging his adrenaline-addicted buddies to the desert to try all manner of psychotic stunts for Jackass Presents: Mat Hoffman’s Tribute to Evel Knievel. Good thing for us he’s as careful in an interview as he is with his body…

Were you bummed that you couldn’t ride in your own tribute because of an injury?
I’m still stir crazy because I didn’t get to throw down. But I got to instigate it, and that was at least somewhat satisfying. Last October, a semitruck ran a stop sign and hit me at like 50 miles per hour. It nearly ripped my arm off. It took a couple surgeries just to get it working again, so I have to be patient.

You have to be getting sick of surgery by now.
In my life I’ve had 22 operations. I’ve even been a bit of a guinea pig, trying out stuff like graft jackets and cadaver implementation. There’s a lot of medical science around the world, and a lot of it gets lost in the FDA’s standards. I search the world for different ways to rebuild myself.

We’ve heard that one of the ways includes surgery with no anesthetic.
Yeah, I had a surgery in Canada where they put in an artificial ACL. The FDA will admit that anesthesiology is the most dangerous part of surgery, and I thought I could do it without any. I’m always game for the mind-over-matter thing.

Is it even worth trying to describe how that felt?
It’s really sensitive the first 1/8th of an inch when they poke through the bone with a drill—that’s tough. But once they’re inside, it’s kind of a dull manageable pain. I wouldn’t say I’d do it again. I have gone through four of those synthetic ACLs, though. I bought three and got the fourth free for being part of a case study. No one has torn as many as I have.

It sounds like you go through ACLs like you do bike tires.
I guess so. I’m usually looking for a body mechanic to put me back together.

How did you manage to lose your spleen?
I’ve been spleenless for the past 15 years. I was trying to break my old highest air record, and I had a bike that was really off-balance. I impacted from about 40 feet onto my side. Right under your ninth rib is your spleen, and I just blew it up. I lost eight ounces when they took it out; I just get drunk a little quicker now.

Do you think modern riders do things differently because of the better practice facilities?
It’s a gymnastic sort of progression now. They have foam pits and resi pits, so you can land on your head and laugh about it. We used to have to think to ourselves, OK, do I have four months to sit in a hospital if I miss this?

How would your life be different if you had access to that kind of stuff?
I’d probably have a better body, and I’d probably be riding as hard as I want to right now. But at the same time, I really love the aspects of my mind and body that riding pulled out of me—the commitment. You have to be able to take all the pain and failure if you want to succeed.

Evel would probably be very proud to hear you say that.
Evel always had the “fuck it” flag. He would have an idea and go for it. Now, it’s all about athletes and calculated risks. They think about it and train and do it until there’s almost no room for failure. Even if all the odds were against him, Evel would get a feeling and go do it.

Johnny Knoxville flew that flag and ended up having his urethra torn by the handlebar of a dirt bike. Is he all healed up yet?
No, man. I just got an e-mail from him a few days ago. He has scar tissue building up in his urethra, so he has to self-catheter himself twice a day. He sent me a picture of the tube; it’s giving me nightmares.

That is horrendous. Was it worth it?
I think he made the show. We had the world’s greatest there; they make you forget how dangerous and hard all that stuff is. He put it in perspective. Unfortunately, he had to sacrifice majorly for it.

You guys had to see something bad coming after his first few attempts.
I knew something was going to happen when he said, “Let’s do this one more time.” I thought to myself, Knoxville man, you just jinxed yourself. I try not to be superstitious, but I’ve been carried away on a stretcher many times after saying that.