North West 200 crash rider Ryan Farquhar: I am so lucky to be alive
Exclusive: racer Ryan Farquhar on his fight to survive horrific crash, the toll on his family and his desire to return to paddock
Record-breaking road racer Ryan Farquhar, who has undergone three liver operations since a terrifying crash at this year's North West 200, has said he's lucky to be alive.
But in an exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph, the father of two, said he will be back to the racing paddock once he's fully fit.
The 40-year-old suffered a lacerated liver, among other injuries, in the incident almost 10 weeks ago on May 12, and subsequently shed three stone during a very difficult eight-week period.
Now on the mend, Farquhar emotionally paid tribute to his wife Karen, but also reserved a massive dose of appreciation for motorcycling's flying doctor Fred MacSorley and his amazing team of volunteers - whom he explained, without their quick response, he would not be here today.
Speaking from his home just outside Dungannon, Farquhar said openly: "I'm very fortunate that I've been given another chance and the main thing for me is to get my health sorted out first and foremost. I'm lucky to be alive."
With racing always in his thoughts, he added: "I've been involved in bike racing for 20 odd years. I still love the sport and I still want to be involved. I'd never turn my back on racing, but whether I'm back racing or running a team, I can't see me doing very much either way in 2017."
Farquhar's KMR/SGS team will field Canadian Darren James at the upcoming Armoy Road Races at the end of July, but a season-long sabbatical is currently being planned. This will allow Ryan quality time, to rebuild not only his health, but much needed family time out of the spotlight.
The disruption to his family life and the added strain on his wife Karen since the accident at the North West 200, is something that stirs tangible self-reproach in Ireland's most successful national road racer.
Speaking of his wife Karen, he said: "Without Karen I don't know where I would be. She deserves a medal for putting up with me. If I was in her situation I don't think I could do it. With all the pain and the drugs I am on, I'm very grumpy at the minute and she probably gets the rough end of the stick all the time."
Paying further credit to his wife, who made double trips daily from their Co Tyrone home to Belfast's Royal Victoria and Mater Hospitals for almost eight weeks, he said: "I think out of all the visiting sessions at both hospitals Karen only missed one, and that was because she had to sort things out for the youngsters for school. She's too good for me and I'm the first to admit it."
A dedicated family man, Ryan also misses being able to do the simple things in life with his daughters Keeley and Mya, but it's also part of his drive to get back on his feet and resume normal everyday life.
"It's hard on the kids," he said of his two lovely daughters. "And because I'm not fit to do anything with them it stresses me out. Hopefully in the next few weeks if I can get off these tablets, I'd like to do something with them like ten-pin-bowling or ride a bicycle with them," said Ryan, who is currently taking a concoction of more than 20 tablets per day.
Mental strength has always been a major attribute in the Dungannon rider's arsenal, and he didn't waver when asked to revisit the incident that almost cost him his life on that well-documented Thursday night on May 12.
"I do remember the crash and everything that happened," he explained, lifting his head to reveal those steely eyes that we normally see peering out of a motorcycle helmet.
Having had time to analyse the incident, where he crashed and was subsequently collected by second-placed man Dan Cooper, he added: "I'm not apportioning blame on any particular area, but all I can say is, I didn't do anything different on that lap, than I had done on any other lap of the race or practice.
"The front just tucked, the same way it did on me at Donington Park when I raced in the Thundersport series before the North West. It wasn't rider error. On a Supertwin at the NW200, once you get through Church Corner, it's absolutely flat all the way to Black Hill and that's what I did on every other lap. It's not as if I was going 5mph quicker. I was bang on line; the front just left me and that's just the long and the short of it."
Northern Ireland's Motor Cycle Union of Ireland Medical Team is renowned as the best in the business, and as Ryan explained, their quick thinking undoubtedly saved his life.
"I've said it before. If it wasn't for Doctor MacSorley and the rest of the medical team, and the Police helicopter taking me to the Royal in Belfast, I wouldn't be here now," was Ryan's typically honest summing up of the situation.
"The job they did to prepare me for the trip to hospital saved my life. From when I left the coast road in Portrush, until I reached the Royal Victoria Hospital, was just nine minutes. If I had have gone by road in an ambulance, the way the internal bleeding had started, the chances of me surviving would have been very slim."
Having had a third of his liver removed in a partial Hepatectomy and a further operation to clean up the site from potential infection, as well as recovery from a punctured lung, six broken ribs, and yet to be treated feet and ankle ligament damage, it would be fair to say, Farquhar has - in just 10 weeks - made a miraculous recovery.
"I am getting better slowly," he said. "Any of the surgeons or consultants that I've spoken to, reckon for me to get back to full fitness will take over a year because of the injuries I've had. I can't stay at home on my own, as there are so many things that I need Karen to help me with. With the slow progress I'm making I think that's going to be the case for quite a while."
Trying to look ahead positively, he added: "At this minute in time I don't know what I'm going to be doing or when I'm going to be doing it. I can hardly walk as I've problems with my feet. I'm waiting to get an MRI scan, as they think I could have ligament damage and in turn, I can't get on a bicycle or do anything to get my fitness levels back up. That's hindering me and it's very frustrating."
One goal for Ryan was to get back to his beloved clay pigeon shooting and play a round of golf with his close friend John Rainey and fellow racer Jeremy McWilliams. Like everything else, that also has an undefined embargo.
"The first time I was in hospital I was focused on shooting clay birds in a competition, which is happening this week - that was my goal. But to be honest I know now I'll be lucky to get at it this year at all," he explained.
"I know it's going to be next year before I'm fit to even do those sort of things, so as far as running a race team is concerned, it's probably not going to happen next year.
"There's so much work that only I can do. It'll be a while before I can take engines in and out of bikes and changing things. It's the sort of job I have to do myself as no one else can do it for me."
Never far from his thoughts during our discussion, was young Malachi Mitchell-Thomas (left), the rider who sadly lost his life in an incident on the same piece of tarmac at the North West 200, less than 48 hours after Ryan was air-lifted to the Royal.
Lowering his head, he concluded: "Malachi Mitchell-Thomas was a young lad who was showing a pile of promise. I know rightly he thought, 'I'm going to be here for quite a few years, winning Irish road races'. It just goes to show how quick your plans can be changed."
In closing, he said candidly: "All of this leaves me in a position where I don't really know what's happening. It puts strain on your financially, but I just keep thinking, 'I'm lucky to be here'. It's the only way that I can deal with it."