Brandon man is UK stunt champion

BECOMING a stunt rider is the stuff of dreams for many young daredevils but for one man it has been a bittersweet experience born out of multiple serious injuries.

BECOMING a stunt rider is the stuff of dreams for many young daredevils but for one man it has been a bittersweet experience born out of multiple serious injuries.

Paul Hanks was a teenage Olympic hopeful with a passion for cycling when he was knocked off his bike and broke his back.

But not one to give up completely he turned the tables and became an expert on a motorcycle - only to break his spine for a second time.

Growing up, Mr Hanks was a keen cyclist and in the late 1990s was making a living doing what he loved. Since the age of five he had ridden a BMX, and from 1995 to 1997 took up mountain bike racing and was in training with the Olympic Committee ready to compete in 2004.

But his dream was shattered in 1999 when he was hit by a car in the centre of Thetford and suffered a compressed fracture in his two bottom vertebrae.

Mr Hanks, 30, could not work or cycle for almost a year and although he competed again locally, never felt comfortable aspiring to a national level.

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“I was getting a wage every month for cycling and the national lottery were putting money in so I was moving towards being professional,” he said.

“It was heartbreaking to have to give it up. My back was always going to be a niggling injury though and I wanted to get away from it all.

“I didn't really work for a year because I had to have bed rest for a few months and although I did ride a bike again for a little while, and I did win races, it was never right.”

Watching Mr Hanks now however and it is more a case of “don't try this at home” as he practices daring tricks and stunts on his motorcycle.

But in 2004 everything came crashing down once again as he was hit by a car for the second time, this time in Lavenham in Suffolk, when he broke the second, third, fourth and sixth vertebrae.

Again, he was off work for a year, and was bedridden for three months in hospital, unable to move or sit up.

“It was quite surprising to get back on a bike again after that I guess,” he said, and admitted he doesn't now ride on the roads.

He added: “It's been a bit of a long process and I do suffer with it now but bikes are my passion. Bikes have been my life since I was about five.

“It's always been my aim to be on some sort of bike and because I'm not as fit as I used to be it's the next best thing. It is a risky sport but I could walk down the street and be hit by a bus; I take each day as it comes. There are certainly some tricks I want to do but as I've got older and a bit wiser I don't try them.”

Mr Hanks, an air conditioning technician from Robin Walk in Brandon, is now reigning champion of the UK Stunt Motorcycle Championships after holding onto his title for the second year running.

He was judged on crowd interaction, use of space and stunts; one of which involved standing backwards on the rear of the bike whilst not holding onto anything, called a Reverse Christ.

He added: “You have to jump off before you hit the barriers though.” A feat which was perhaps not as easy as it looked as Mr Hanks broke his foot in December last year. He was out of action for seven weeks.

Mr Hanks said he loved the “fear factor” and added: “The crowd often haven't seen it before and are amazed by what we do. I suppose sometimes we make it look a bit easier than it is but it takes practice and a few knocks but there's such an adrenaline rush from it.”

Mr Hanks has also competed in the Indianapolis XDL Stunt Show in America. “It's my life now,” he said. “This year the guys I was up against were really good and there are a lot of young riders coming up. I will be competing again next year.”