Brian Fults: The Bulldog of Mountain Bike Racing

After breaking his neck ,  42 year-old Brian Fults trades his motorcycle in for a mountain bike

by Sandy Muller

Genius is intensity.  The man who gets anything worth having is the man who goes after his object like a bulldog goes after a cat – with every fiber in him tense with eagerness and determination.  C. Holman.

Brian Fults is hard-headed. He’s stubborn, competitive, and the word “moderation” is not part of his vocabulary. Like his bulldog Butkus, who runs into everything and keeps going, Brian is not one to let a few obstacles stand in the way of his goal. It’s these traits that got him into trouble a few years ago. And it’s these traits—and the mountain bike waiting patiently for him in his garage—that got him out of it.

It wasn’t until he was 43-years-old that Brian first rode a mountain bike.  Before that, his passion was for a different type of bike and a different type of racing—he lived for the adrenaline rush of careening around a track on a motorcycle, competing to be the first across the finish line. That is, until a few years ago when everything changed.

In September of 2008, during a practice run on the racetrack at the New Jersey Motorsports Park, Brian crashed his GSXR 1000 road-racing motorcycle while trying to pass another motorcyclist going 130 mph into a corner. He landed on his head and was out cold. He woke up at the in-field care center at the racetrack. The track doctorwanted him to go to the hospital, but Brian refused. While driving the 4-hour trip home, he changed his mind. When he was a half hour from the house, he called his wife, Lee Ann, and asked her to have an ambulance waiting.  

The paramedics who evaluated Brian immediately wanted to med evac him to the hospital, but again he refused. He was worried that his medical insurance wouldn’t cover the expense.  He was taken by ambulance instead to Memorial Hospital in York, Pennsylvania where he was diagnosed with, among other injuries, a broken finger, three fractured ribs, a bruised lung and a broken neck. He spent seven days in ICU. He was lucky, the doctors told him. If he had broken his neck an inch in either direction, he would have been paralyzed from the neck down.

This wasn’t Brian’s first wreck. He already had two artificial joints in his feet and three missing fingers due to previous motorcycle crashes and other sports injuries. He’d also already had two shoulder surgeries. His pain tolerance, he claims, is extremely high. Yet nothing prepared him for how brutal his recovery would be this time around. He spent most of his time on the couch in a neck brace, in pain (more from his broken ribs than from his neck), and increasingly depressed.

Brian insists that he couldn’t have gotten through it if it wasn’t for his family, his friend Les, and the men at Gill-Simpson, Inc. where he works as an electrician. “They all came over at one point to help me get around and they all took care of me,” he said with deep appreciation. “It’s one of the best things that came out of the crash. After a month of healing, my employer even let me come back to work to sit in the office and do paperwork in the hope that it would assist in my recovery.”  Usually not one to let anyone do anything for him, Brian realized that he had no choice but to accept help and learned to do so gracefully.

Brian’s wife, Lee Ann, tells another version of the story. “I did what I could,” she said wryly. “But he’s pretty stubborn about accepting help.” She said that he was determined to get better and, at first, to get back on his motorcycle. To Brian, the fun of riding and the adrenaline rush was worth the risk and the injuries. But eventually his thoughts on the matter changed. “He started to realize how his racing was affecting his family,” Lee Ann said, “and also how dangerous the sport was.” The doctors warned Brian that if he had another wreck, it could be his last.

Brian’s best friend, Les Hagerty, encouraged Brian to take up mountain biking instead. Brian wasn’t too sure about the idea at first because he knew nothing about it.  Eventually, however, Les talked him into it and in December of 2008, three months after his accident, Brian sold his motorcycle and trailer and bought a mountain bike from Gettysburg Bicycle and Fitness. It sat in the garage for four months as incentive to get better. In April, still sore from the accident, Brian rode the bike for the first time, slowly, along an easy trail by his house. Over time, Les taught him mountain biking tricks like how to hop logs and rocks, how to pedal, how to pick lines, and how to take care of the trails. Brian also learned techniques by watching YouTube videos. In May, he entered his first race: the Michaux Endurance Series-Michaux Maximus.

He was dead last.

Overweight and out of shape, but undaunted, Brian entered another race in July of 2009: The Curse of Dark Hollow  - Michaux Endurance Series. This time he was second to last. It was bad enough that kids were passing him, Brian thought, but when a 65-year-old woman rode by him it was the final straw. “That’s it,” he decided. “I’m going to get my weight down and train like a monster.” Before the crash, Brian, who is 5’10, was about 205 pounds. After the crash, he weighed 257 pounds and could barely walk up a small hill to get to his office trailer without getting tired. The months on the couch had taken their toll.

Queue the Rocky music...

That June, Brian started riding about 20 miles a week and, after rides, went for a run. At night, he’d often get bad cramps from overdoing it. A few months later, in October, he started hitting the weights hard. Every night he’d lift for an hour and a half and do an hour of cardio. By March of 2010, he was riding over 30 miles a week, running 20-30 miles a week, and lifting heavy weights at low reps on the days he wasn’t running.  His weight dropped to 195 pounds and eventually leveled to around 205 again by July. His blood work and heart rate improved drastically. “It probably added 40 years to my life,” Brian professes.

The training paid off. Race after race, Brian improved. By the summer of 2010, he had won eight races in a row, some in his age group but most of them over all age groups, including those younger kids who used to pass him. This included placing first in the Pennsylvania State Championship, first overall in the Michaux Endurance Series 10 miler, and first overall in the Bear Creek Series Clydesdale 16 miler. Now, Brian says he prefers mountain bike racing to motorcycle racing. “Mountain biking gives you a sense of accomplishment that is unbelievable. There’s nothing like the feeling I get when I cross the finish line first and look back at the 21-year-old kids I beat.” 

Brian chooses his races based on proximity to where he lives in Littlestown, PA.  In 2011, he plans to enter 15 races including the Snot Cycle Race, the Michaux Endurance Series, The Cranky Monkey Series, the Bear Creek Series, The Catfish Duathalon, the Gator Half Ironman and other mass series races on the weekends.  His biggest goal for 2011 is to get down to 180 pounds and enter in the 45-49 age group instead of the Clydesdale group. He has fifteen pounds to go and there is no doubt that he will achieve his goal.

Brian’s wife is constantly amazed by his determination and drive. “If I had as many physical problems as he’s had, I’d probably give up. But he never gives up.”  Lee Ann has also taken up mountain biking , mostly because it is something she and Brian can do together. When she’s in a race and thinks she can’t make it any further, she thinks about Brian and tells herself that if he could do it with all his physical problems she can do it too. She may not win, she tells herself, but she can at least finish. And she does. But she doesn’t take the risks that Brian does. “He doesn’t do anything moderately,” she says. “He has to do everything full force. And he loves to go fast.” Brian agrees. “When my buddies and I go out riding, we come back all banged up and bloody. We think it’s funny.”

Brian never thought he’d be so good at mountain biking or that it would be so fun. His advice for others just starting out? “Buy good equipment. Start out slow. Try to find a friend or mentor to go with who can teach you how to do it. And don’t get discouraged.” If this experience has taught him anything, he says, it’s that if you work hard enough, anything is possible. He credits his friend Les for getting him started on the sport and mentoring him along the way.

To pay it forward, Brian and Lee Ann started a club called Bulldog Mountain Bikers. Right now there are five people in the club. They go out riding and racing together, have their own jerseys, and post pictures of their races and adventures on Facebook. His long-term goal is to grow the club, teach others the techniques he’s learned, and help people going through tough times to turn to mountain biking to get them through just as he did.

“Mountain biking saved my life,” Brian claims.  

Bulldog Mountain Bikers was named after Brian and Lee Ann’s dog. “Butkus puts his head down, plows through anything and feels no pain,” Lee Ann says. “Brian is just like him. He puts his head down and plows through anything.”
Sometimes, being hard-headed, stubborn and competitive isn’t such a bad thing...


This Article Published January 27, 2011 For more information contact:
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