ABBOTSFORD - At six-foot-one and 190 pounds, Tory Nyhaug dwarfs his little Redline BMX bike.
Dropping from an eight-metre high start gate and picking up speed quickly at the rebuilt Supercross track in Abbotsford, he seems to effortlessly get himself and his bike airborne to clear a table top jump and a couple of whoops before powering into a high-banked corner.
The 20-year-old from Coquitlam, a handsome, dark-haired kid with a single-minded purpose, is training for the London Olympics, a spot he earned with a strong World Cup campaign, making the finals in all three events.
But on a warm, sunny day in the Fraser Valley, with Cycling Canada officials and his parents watching, his presence on the track seems remarkable.
Two months earlier, he was in a Dutch hospital after cracking his wrist and rupturing his spleen for the second time in two years after a spectacular crash in a World Cup final. As he says of the spleen, "I blew it up pretty bad."
Back in Vancouver after an enforced, nearly two-week stay in Holland - "the hardest part was not knowing if I'd be able to go to the Olympics" - he had the spleen removed.
"It was definitely a tough decision," says the world's No. 5-ranked rider as he sips from a water bottle while seated on a grass hill overlooking the track. "I mean, you can live without the spleen, but it's definitely better to have it.
"We wanted to make the decision based on my whole life. Not just the Olympics, or not just this year, or my whole career. The decision was it was unsafe to keep it because it was so ruptured so bad. Now it's out and I'm feeling really healthy again."
His coaches and physiotherapist marvel at his grit, his bravery and his resilience.
"I'm not surprised he's already doing that good," says Frenchman Pierre-Henri Sauze, his personal technical coach. "Last time when he came back to competition from injuring his spleen, he was even stronger and faster. He loves challenges and [having his spleen removed] is a good one."
Nyhaug likes being outdoors, an active lifestyle he wants to continue after his BMX days are over. There was a danger, he said, of the spleen rupturing again, even doing something as basic as hiking or swimming, if it was not removed.
It's not unusual for people to live long, healthy lives after having their spleen removed, or even to play sports. Former NHL star Peter Forsberg, NFL quarterback Chris Sims and legendary daredevil motorcyclist Evel Knievel all continued their careers after surgery.
Nyhaug, who has also broken both his arms, four ribs and his collarbone riding BMX, was back on a stationary bike a week after his surgery in early June, riding for 20-30 minutes a day. Gym work soon followed and he has been riding on the track for a few weeks now, careful early on, he says, "not to overwork my system."
"Definitely injuries are tough and they happen to every athlete in every sport," says Nyhaug, who has a four-inch scar on the inside of his left forearm and another on his right elbow. "The best athletes put it behind them and keep pushing forward. I haven't really had a choice I've had so many injuries.
"And the love of BMX, I haven't wanted to stop no matter what. I just love riding so much and I wanted to go to the Olympics so bad, it just drove me to this point."
Asked though if, at any point, he's stopped to consider the toll on his body, Nyhaug does concede that the day after his spleen was removed was extremely tough.
"That was probably the most pain I've ever had in my life. I wasn't thinking about BMX or anything, I just wanted the pain to stop.
"But we all know the risks going into a BMX race. It is risky. When you're with seven other guys [in a final], you can have the best race of your life and some other guy can make a mistake and hit you and you crash."
BMX, which made its Olympic debut in Beijing in 2008, begins Aug. 8 in London with time trials for the 32 men who qualified. That will decide seeding for the heat racing Aug. 9-10.
"We're working on putting some good habits I had before, but we're all confident that if we do everything we can in training [before then], I'll be ready to go on the day."
Sauze, who directs training programs for four other international BMX riders headed to London, has coached Nyhaug for three years. Initially, Tory and his parents covered the cost, but this year Own the Podium and B2Ten, a group of Canadian businessmen who are helping targeted athletes, have kicked in funding.
Sauze says he believes Nyhaug can contend for the podium.
"We are realistic, he is just coming back from injury. But if he is riding without pressure, and riding with passion, like I'm sure he's going to do, we may have some surprises."
He's already provided one big one by just getting to London.
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