Interview with Kenny Noyes - Five Years After the Fall

Kenny Noyes on his way to winning the 2014 CEV Superbike championship

Five years ago, on July 5th, 2015, at the Motorland Aragon circuit, reigning Spanish Superbike champion Kenny Noyes was getting ready for that weekend's round of the CEV Spanish Superbike championship. The American, son of veteran US journalist Dennis Noyes, and former Moto2 rider, had work to do to cut his deficit in the standings to current leader Carmelo Morales.

Noyes would not get a chance to close the gap. During the Sunday morning warm up session, the Kawasaki rider crashed. It was a bad crash. Very bad. So bad, in fact, that Noyes was left in a coma, and taken to hospital with suspected severe brain trauma.

In hospital, his coma was assessed as being very bad. His score on the Glasgow Coma Scale was 3, the lowest possible score, and the most severe condition of unresponsiveness which is only distinguished from death by basic functions of lung and heart. After a long coma, and then a long period of what is called "minimal consciousness" which is basically a vegetative state, Noyes began moving up the scale.

The American is dogged and persistent, however. As his condition improved, he sunk his teeth into rehabilitation with the determination you would expect of a motorcycle racing champion. Now, after five years, he is walking unassisted with difficulty, speaking with difficulty, but with cognitive functions and memory restored.

It is a truly astonishing turnaround for Kenny Noyes. In the days after the crash, his family were preparing to accept that he would not make it. Now, five years later, he continues to make progress towards an amazing recovery. The fight goes on working with expensive therapies and therapists in Barcelona.

Just before the fifth anniversary of Noyes' crash, he spoke to Judit Florensa, a Spanish TV commentator and leading freelance journalist. Noyes and his wife Iana – a woman as determined and formidable as Kenny himself – are currently crowdfunding a book Noyes is writing on his recovery and his racing career, to be titled "The Challenges of Superbike, Moto2 and Glasgow 3."

Kenny Noyes and his wife Iana

Judit Florensa: Kenny, it’s been 5 years since your accident on July 5, 2015, and many people want to know where you are in your recuperation.

Kenny Noyes: I’d say I am at the half-way point, kind of advanced, but I started from way back. At first I was in a deep coma. When I got to a better state of consciousness and awareness, I could barely move. I couldn’t get up or do practically anything on my own. Now I get along pretty well by myself and the progress is on a physical level, easier to see.

Q: When did you decide to tell the people who follow your story on the social media about your progress?

KN: My dad was the one who actually began it. He wanted to inform all the people who were asking about me and social media was his best tool for doing that. The continual support from fans motivates me to keep up the connection because, in addition to explaining what I am doing, it lets me interact with them.

Q: With an injury like yours, how are you most affected?

KN: It is not like breaking a leg or a spinal injury, which is much, much worse, but with injuries like those it is clear from the start what happened to you. In my case, since the brain controls everything, I was affected at every level. So first we had to deal with the biggest problems and as I advanced we worked on smaller problems. There are thousands of tiny details that we don’t even think about because we learned all that as small children, but with a traumatic brain injury you have to learn almost everything over again.

Q: Sounds like a 24-hour a day job.

KN: Yes, but I don’t get paid. In fact, I pay to work. But, seriously, I am lucky to be able to do it, to have this second opportunity that life has given me. Every day I get a bit better. Although I was told the recovery would slow down, for me it continues and continues…. There are changes as simple as seeing the surface of a wall, appreciating textures or distinguishing the buttons on my jacket. At first everything I saw was flat, like in 2-D, and now, as my brain improves, I see all the details.

Q: Your recovery has been incredible, keeping in mind the initial expectations of the doctors. You have come far beyond that. Did you imagine you would get to this point?

KN: They told my wife that I would be in a vegetative state for the rest of my life. Then that I would never walk well, then that I wouldn’t ever stop trembling. For me, every time they said that I “could never”, that became a challenge and continues to be so.

Kenny Noyes building leg strength by pushing a quad bike

Many people say that after the first year you don’t get better. It’s true that everyone is different, but in my case it’s not like that, I am improving year by year. There are those who stop trying the first year because they don’t notice any big change, but I believe that is a mistake. Just like in racing, each small improvement counts and, in the end, all these little things add up to put you on the pole.

Q: Did you imagine reaching this point so fast?

KN: For me it was not fast at all. It seemed very slow, agonizingly slow. And I didn’t even experience the worst. When I was unconscious, it was as if nothing had happened. I have no memory of that time, but my family remembers everything, including from the most uncertain times, when it wasn’t clear that I would survive or in what state I would end up.

Q: And were you thinking about racing again?

KN: Yes, I thought about it from the beginning, like after every injury I’ve had riding a motorcycle. My goal was to recover and get back out there. At the beginning of my recovery, I didn’t realize much and nothing scared me. In fact, I tried: driving the car, riding a motorcycle and even riding a bicycle… on safe circuits and with a lot of help, but I saw that I could do it.

One day the neuropsychologist at the Guttmann Institute in Badalona (a few miles north of Barcelona) asked me a question that made me rethink everything. She asked why I wanted to race… to be better than the others? or to be better than I was before? I never thought of it like that! For me it had always been about the physical challenge, but I had never considered if "wanted to race." I never doubted that.

Before, my goal was always to improve in order to be faster than the others, never to try to be faster than I had been before. The challenge was also to be faster that my rivals, not to beat my own lap times, but to beat theirs. There is a big difference between being able to ride a motorcycle and wanting to race.

My goal now is to have enough balance and control to be able to ride a motorcycle well enough to be an instructor at our Noyes Camp racing school again. But, I don't want to compete anymore.

Q: How does your family participate in your recovery?

KN: Without my wife and my family I would have never gotten where I am today. They have been pushing me from minute 0. The one that pushes me the most is my mother. She may be a saint to others, but she forces me to do everything for myself. She won’t even hand me the controls to the TV. My parents take turns coming to Spain to help as much as they can. When they are not here, my mother-in-law is the one helping me, taking me to parks where I can work on walking.

Q: And your wife, Iana?

KN: She is my “external” mind. We talk about everything and before I make a move I check with her. She has been fundamental to my recuperation because she has stood up to doctors and questioned everything. Also, she knows me better than anyone. She could even read my expressions when I was in the coma. She was in league with my brother and together they kept everyone in the hospital in line. If it hadn’t been for the two of them I wouldn’t have progressed so much or so quickly.

Q: What goals have you set for yourself?

KN: The main one is to improve so much that I will be able to work again and if it is in the world of motorcycles, all the better.

Q: Do you have any short-term goals?

KN: To be able to go to the “Club Metropolitan” gym….. driving the car myself. Also, I would like to visit my parents in California. I haven’t taken a long trip since my accident. But these are physical objectives. As far as ongoing projects now, to present my autobiography that I am writing.

Q: Since you’ve mentioned your first book titled “The Challenges of Superbike, Moto2 and Glasgow3”, could you tell us something about it?

KN: As an autobiography, it is about my experiences in life and all the stages in my recuperation progress. There are many stories and experiences before and after the accident, including some from my childhood. And, how difficult it is to be aware of your limitations and to accept that things will never again be as they were before. They won’t be better or worse… simply different.

My goal with this book is to help everyone, and everyone´s family, who has suffered an injury similar to mine through this long and hard process. But I also write about my racing career, from flat track to road racing, with all the ups and downs—battles, victories, falls… very lucky moments and others I would prefer to forget, such as the World Supersport race in Russia where I almost ran over a rider who had a terrible fall right in front of me and later died.

I am very happy and grateful because the legendary racer and friend, Wayne Rainey, has written the prologue for my book.

Q: But do you think that your case, since it was on a race track, will be useful to everyone?

KN: In the racing world you are always aware that something horrible could happen to you. And when it happens, you look for a solution. But imagine receiving a phone call and hearing that a family member has had an accident, that you must come to the hospital right away. Your world would surely fall apart. The purpose of this book is to show that as long as you are alive and aware, you can and must keep fighting.

Q: The first chapter is about coming out of the coma and it’s very shocking.

KN: It is! But those were the first memories of this second part of my life.

Glasgow 3 is the lowest conscious state that exists—deep coma. I believe there is a need to make people aware of what it is to be in a coma and to come out of one, which isn’t as depicted in the movies. It is a long and complicated process.

In this book I want to show that even a person in bad shape with severe injuries can improve. I want to give people some guidelines, show some real examples that could be useful to the families. There is no one better than your family to recognize and interpret your reactions.

Q:  How do you plan to finance the publication since you are doing it yourself?

KN: Yes, it will be self-published book. As you know, publishers keep a big portion of the profits from the sale of a book and I want to be able to supervise all the expenses use the profits to pay for continuing therapy. Writing is now the only work I can do, besides rehabilitation. Also, auto-publishing allows me to express things my own way, so you know no one has written this for me.

We have created a section in my web page: where you can pre-order the book now, although the release date will be in 2021, meaning that the people who reserve a copy now are helping to finance the publication of my book. This will be a limited edition of 500 copies and those who pre- order the book now will have a few benefits, like an early delivery of the first chapter dedicated and signed by me and the prologue by Wayne Rainey.

Q: Do you still have your GoFundMe site?

KN: Yes. We are still receiving funds and though we have not yet reached our goal, every small donation helps. It would have been impossible to pay the costs of my treatments without the help from so many fans who contributed. I can’t thank them enough.

Q: Is it so complicated and costly because of the kind of injury it is?

KN: Yes, that’s right. It is very complicated because of all the different treatments you need for speech, vision, physical therapy, balance, dexterity, dermatology….the expenses never end. And we have had to pay for the majority of the costs.

Q: How would you value the help of other people over these years?

KN: Fantastic! If it weren’t for the people who have helped us via GoFundMe, I would not be where I am today. Of that, I have no doubt. I am surprised every time someone makes a donation and I thank each one myself. Also, I have had some very good conversations with many of the people who have contributed to my recovery.

Q: How would you react to children of yours asking to ride a motorcycle?

KN: I would support them in whatever… My dad tried to keep me away from bikes but it didn’t work. He tried many things like baseball or basketball, but what I loved most was to climb on behind him on those big, fast test bikes he brought home to our house in Spain. Once he saw I was determined to race, he helped a lot. Thinking about it, there are risks in everything we do, including walking down the street.

In one chapter of the book, I tell the stories of several people I have met during this time who have suffered horrible injuries from common accidents, such as falling off a chair.

Q: One last question…  How do you feel now when you watch a MotoGP race?

KN: Today I have no problem watching them, but earlier it was too hard. The level of racing in Spain these days is unbelievable. Marquez is one of a kind, but there are many other very fast Spaniards in the MotoGP class. Not many years ago there were hardly any Spaniards in the 500 class. Now it is amazing, largely due to the promotion cups and the CEV that develop great riders. I hope that in the States, through Moto America, we can get with it and soon there will be a whole bunch of talented American road racers like before.

Those who want to sign up in advance for a copy of Kenny´s book can do so at Kenny´s website:

Kenny Noyes' book

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I had lost track of Kenny's path back to health .. thanks David for posting this.  My small donation sent to gofundme.  I wish you continued progress in your journey ...

Thanks for sharing Kenny's recent story here, David.

This line got me good: "Just like in racing, each small improvement counts and, in the end, all these little things add up to put you on the pole." I won't be on a racing pole in this lifetime...but I know I can make small improvements in my riding and in the rest of my life, too. Added this line to my affirmation list.

Kenny's Youtube video is motivating, too: If he can work through that physical therapy, there's no reason I can't work through my home workouts (and make small improvements.) A timely kick in the ass! 

I'm looking forward to reading his book and will continue to follow his progress.

Interesting read 👍 Started placing an order until I saw the shipping cost 😳 I'll keep it under consideration for now...

I live in Florida and think it was around 30 euro money or some other strange currency, anyway it’s the price for filling up a car, I’m sure you can spare that since it’s all for a good cause. 

What I found most interesting is that 3D representaion of reality had to be re-learned. To a newborn the world is flat. Not horizontally but vertically. Life is a movie screen. Then classical physics has to be re-learned. And wait...that doesn't jive with either microphysics (the fundamentals of reality) or celestial mechanics. Hmm...what's really going on here?

Thank you for this article.  I too went to preorder book but hopeful high shipping cost gets sorted.  Really impressed with the family support and how much that helps.  Also found the texture / 2D comments very interesting.  Made me think of how slight perceptions of shades provide depth and how subtle those differences are but how improtant they can be to our minds eye.

Reading this also made me think of Joan Lascorz.  I reflected on early reports and first remarks felt like he was in a dark place.  Was glad to see looking up his Facebook page that he's keeping fit and into some infesting hobbies including racing off-road rally.  
  Thanks again for the article.  And have Kenny and Joan in thoughts.