I miss the bikes, but it’s torture watching races now, says rider who lost arm in horror smash
Road racing star Stephen Thompson used to live for the North West 200 but today he may not be able to face the famous Triangle circuit.
It has been two years since the horrific 150mph crash that left him in a coma for four days, fighting for his life with a broken femur, collapsed lung, bleeding on the brain, brachial plexus injury and a left arm rendered useless from the elbow down.
But the 41-year-old Crumlin man said that it's still too hard even to face himself in the hall mirror, never mind mingle with the other members of the road racing fraternity at today's blue riband event.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Stephen - who went to the race course on Thursday for the first time since his life-changing accident - admitted it has been a "very tough" year for him.
"Perhaps people who noticed me in the paddock on Thursday saw me smiling - but that doesn't reflect how I feel," he said.
"I still struggle with myself. I still can't look in the mirror. I can't bear the look of myself. I don't feel like a proper man.
"They said it's going to take time but it's a very slow process; for me it's a grieving process.
"When I lost my arm initially, I thought it wouldn't take me long to get over it but I've never got over it and I don't even know if I will."
Stephen - who has had a prosthetic arm since last March - braved the race meeting two days ago because his pal Michael Rutter, a 13-time winner at the Triangle circuit, "eventually ground me down".
"I caught the end of the last Superbike practice and once it was finished I went up to the pits to find my brother who was giving Michael a pit board," he said, adding that it was "extremely difficult" being there.
"I miss the racing so much. I still miss the buzz," he said. "At the minute I'm still in recovery.
"Unfortunately, recovery is just taking much, much longer than I expected."
The talented motorbike rider has had five operations since that dreadful North West smash in which he cheated death for a second time on the unforgiving tarmac roads of Northern Ireland.
It was not Stephen who lost control of his machine on that fateful day on May 16 2015, rather it was Dean Harrison, the Englishman riding in front of him.
Stephen and another rider, Horst Saiger, crashed while taking evasive action; Harrison walked away unscathed and Saiger "only broke an elbow".
A spectator, Violet McAfee, was also badly injured in the crash and, like Stephen, is on a long road back to full recovery.
"I still get so much nerve pain," said Stephen, who currently takes 28 tablets a day to ease his suffering.
"Some nights I'm fine but there are other nights when I'm in bed at 6pm because of the nerve pain and the phantom pain. It drives me mad."
He hasn't been back on a motorbike, although he has been cycling a few times.
But he still can't say if he'll be at today's event. "I'm still missing it and if I go I'll just torture myself," he said.
"As soon as I wake in the morning then I'll decide. If the pains come I'd rather be at home out of the road."
The Co Antrim rider, who lives with partner Charlotte Pullan and daughters Fay and Libbie, said he was pleased to see the safety changes put in place, but said they had taken so long to implement.
"I was glad to see there's been a lot of safety changes to the track - I'm just very sad it's taken me, and the position I'm in now, for them to realise that they needed to do that," he said.
"It's taken Malachi Mitchell-Thomas's death and they've sucked the life out of me.
"I've been robbed of my racing career, robbed of doing things in life that I wanted to do, and my business is suffering too because I can't make work every day because I can't physically go with the pains."
He added: "I'm glad to see the safety measures they've taken but I'm angry it has taken so long.
"I'm angry that it's taken someone like me to nearly lose my life and it's taken Malachi's death for them to realise this."