Ryan Farquhar: 'I get asked if I will ever return to racing... and if physically and mentally fit I would'
Our Sporting Lives and Times: Ryan Farquhar
Ryan Farquhar relaxes in his North West 200 motorhome looking fit, healthy and in good enough shape at 43 to line up again on the coast road grid today.
But like a swan gliding elegantly across a lake, there is a lot going on, physically, underneath.
Three years ago this week, at this same circuit, Ryan's world record setting road racing career - an astonishing 357 wins over 20 years, as verified by the Guinness Book of Records this week - came to a painful and terrifying end in a horrific racing accident at Black Hill, of all places, on the coast road.
Thrown from his bike, he was run over by a rider in his wake.
Ryan suffered a ruptured liver, internal bleeding, broken ribs, a punctured lung, both feet broken and old injuries aggravated.
He spent six weeks in hospital and underwent four operations.
Looking back he counts himself 'lucky', as only road racers can, that a PSNI helicopter, forerunner to the Air Ambulance, was on hand to fly him to the Royal Victoria in Belfast for emergency treatment.
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"If I'd been taken by road, I wouldn't have made it. I was losing so much blood," he calmly relates.
The aftermath was the toughest of times for Ryan, wife Karen and the daughters he dotes on, Keeley (14) and Mya (11).
The name of his KMR Kawasaki team he now runs comes from all their first initials.
And proving appearances can be deceptive, he reveals the side effects of the injuries that still trouble him.
"Lack of stamina, loss of concentration, always taking medication. Life isn't the same," he admits.
"But look, I'm not feeling sorry for myself. I've no regrets. I was in front, I went down and the lad behind me ran over me.
"It wasn't his fault, he had nowhere to go. You never think it is going to happen to you, but it did and you deal with it."
Thankfully, there are no obvious mental scars.
Ryan takes the philosophical, fatalistic approach to life - and death - you find with the remarkable individuals who choose to hurtle between the hedgerows at speeds touching 200mph, and for little financial reward.
The buzz and the thrill is their narcotic.
Why else would they risk life and limb, making the family and financial sacrifices Ryan knows only too well if not for their passion for speed?
Here is a man who has suffered serious injury and the terrible personal loss of the uncle he idolised, Trevor Ferguson, a father of three, aged 48, killed while racing one of Ryan's bikes at the Manx Grand Prix in August 2012, while Ryan awaited his return to the pits.
A man who would forego family holidays as racing took up his time and savings.
Who was unable to secure life insurance for his mortgage because of his dangerous profession 'so I took a chance nothing would happen and carried on'.
And who quit racing after the tragic loss of Trevor, only to feel compelled to come back again.
"What happened to Trevor was the worst experience of my life," he says, clearly pained by the memory.
"I started out riding one of Trevor's bikes as a youngster and he was riding one of mine when the accident happened.
"We were waiting in the pits for him to come round and a light came on to let us know he was on his way but he never arrived.
"Other riders we knew were behind him came in and I had suspicions something had happened when I saw a helicopter had gone up.
"The we got the news he had crashed and we were brought as a family into the race office to be told the worst.
"Goodness knows, I have seen it happen with other riders, but when it is someone so close, it affects you in a different way.
"It also caused me a lot of soul searching. I asked myself what if I hadn't offered him the bike? Was it mechanical, my fault in some way?"
Trevor's loss was a Road To Damascus for Ryan as he took stock of all aspects of his life and came to the conclusion it was time to walk away from the only life he had known from the age of 18.
"It wasn't that I fell out of love with bikes," he explains.
"I just realised there needed to be more to life than the life I was living. My whole being was centred on bikes. We never had a family holiday. Karen and the girls were always with me but in the paddock.
"The only way to change that was to quit.
"I still had to earn money so I started up my own team. In hindsight, it wasn't a great idea. I quit racing to spend more quality time with my family and the opposite happened.
"I saw less of them and was more stressed. I was working harder for less money until it got to the stage in 2013 where I was faced with another decision... go back to a 9-5 job or go back to racing."
So he climbed back on his Kawasakis and after three charmed and hugely successful years, the accident happened.
"People ask if I will ever go back to racing again," he says. "I can tell you I will never announce my retirement again because of the slagging I got in some quarters for coming back the last time.
"In truth, if I was fit physically and mentally, I would do it again. But you can't turn back the clock. Karen and the girls would also be set against it. The girls are of an age now where they know the dangers.
"I couldn't do what I do without their support and blessing and, thankfully, we have a better work-life balance now.
"We've bought a caravan in Portrush and take breaks there when we can.
"I owe it to them. Karen has been around bikes all the time we have been together and has backed me every inch of the way."
So much so, when the radio chat show soundbite brigade last year launched one of their periodic hand-wringing sessions over the sport of road racing, Karen famously picked up the phone.
Incensed by a caller who asked what kind of father puts his family through the worry of him going road racing, Karen told listeners emphatically: "Ryan is a good husband and good father.
"I couldn't wish for any better." End of debate.
Born in Castlecaulfield, raised in Dungannon, Ryan went to Drumglass Secondary where his eldest daughter will go in September.
He remembers vividly when he caught the racing bug, brought to his first North West in 1982 by his grandfather, Alan Ferguson, father of Trevor, who still follows his career.
"I have a memory of spending more time putting coins on the railway line at the back of the paddock, waiting for trains to run over them, than I did watching racing," he smiles. "But something must have registered."
Soon he was learning to ride Trevor's TZ350. Transferring to Dungannon Tech, he started an engineering course but admits: "I didn't stick at it. At school, the only thing in my head was racing bikes. I couldn't wait to get my licence at 17 and get started."
By then working in an agricultural machinery firm, his first opportunity came on the TZ350 at Aghadowey in 1993. Up against Glenn Irwin's dad, Alan, and Jonathan Rea's father, Johnny, he was lapped three times.
"It was harder than I thought but eventually I got the hang of it," he says, understatedly.
Two years of steady improvement on the circuits gave him a taste for the roads and after a debut at Cookstown, he was smitten.
"You don't get the same sense of speed on short circuits," he explains. "When you see how fast the fences and hedges are flying past on the roads, the buzz is amazing."
Sponsors then started taking an interest and the money began coming in a small way.
His first big break came when a friend, Stephen Ewing, supplied him with a 250 Honda on which he finished third behind winner Joey Dunlop at the Ulster Grand Prix in 1997 while still a privateer, preparing his own bikes.
"Winston McAdoo (later to become his team boss) reckons that was the day I caught his eye," Ryan recalls.
"I knew road racing was 100 per cent for me and with the right bikes, I could beat anyone and the call I was waiting for came from Winston in 1998."
Given the chance to ride McAdoo's 125, 250, 600 and 750 Kawasakis, it was the catalyst for a stellar career.
Even so, no single win of the 357 stands out for him. Instead, he reflects on milestones, like standing on a podium for the first time with Joey, his first of multiple wins at the North West, TT and UGP and his five wins in a single day at Cookstown.
He also credits another pal, Kenny Harkin, for putting him on the MSS Kawasaki that brought him wins at al the big meetings.
He was on an upward trajectory and due to graduate to Hector and Philip Neill's all-conquering TAS team when his first major accident at Cookstown left him with broken vertebrae, upper right arm and ribs, putting him out for the season.
But even that experience didn't prepare him for the trauma of his career-ending North West crash.
"It's been tough and taken a toll, but life goes on," he reasons.
He is less sure racing will go on in its present form, fearing high insurance costs and health and safety regulations will force smaller meetings out of existence.
A credit to his sport, his family and, above all, himself, it is dedicated individuals like Ryan who have helped keep racing going in the best and worst of times... and he has known them both.
If racing is as resilient as Ryan, the famous old North West, where it all began for him, will be around for another 90 years.
Ryan has six riders engaged for his KMR Kawasaki team at this week's North West… evergreen Jeremy McWilliams, multiple NW winner Michael Rutter, in-form Derek McGee, Welshman Matthew Rees, Canadian Darren James and newcomer Ryan Gibson, from Banbridge