PROVO (AP) — Adrenaline; it's a hormone that pumps through us when we're stressed, in danger or about to do something big. Those that chase the feeling by doing the latter of those things are called adrenaline junkies, and Sam Jolley certainly falls into that category.
In his free time, Jolley can be found soaring through the skies paragliding with Project Airtime, hitting the gym, or trying his luck at any number of other adventurous activities. Though, his first and greatest love is motocross.
"I think it all started when I jumped on my Big Wheel," Jolley said.
"That's when I knew I was born to be on wheels. I just wasn't planning on these wheels," the Pleasant Grove resident explained as he sat in his wheelchair.
Though Jolley certainly feels that he's a team player and participated in athletics throughout high school, team-based sports just weren't quite his speed. So, he picked up BMX biking when he was about 14 years old.
But during Jolley's high school years, he began to fall into the wrong crowd and eventually dropped out of high school.
"I got into a bunch of trouble here, and so I went down to live with my grandparents," said Jolley.
At the time, Jolley didn't have much to do around his new home. "There wasn't anything to do out there but find a dirt bike," he said. So, he did just that.
After graduation, Jolley went back to Utah County to work with his stepfather at an excavation company. During that time, Jolley's brother got a motorized dirt bike, and Jolley followed suit.
"It just started from there," said Jolley. "We'd throw the bikes in the back of my truck, and off to the races — any dirt we could find. We started our first race and we just loved it so much. It was so exciting. Sure, we got our butts kicked, but that's part of the process."
Year after year, the duo kept getting better and better.
So, when the opportunity came for Sam to race at the Delta Center (today known as Vivint Smart Home Arena), he jumped at the opportunity. The race took place on New Year's Day, and Sam completed the race as he had so many before. A year passed, and the New Year's Day race came up once again.
Though this time, the race would change his life forever.
Jolley knew the course well, especially considering that he helped build it that year.
"Soon as the gate dropped, I shot out of there like a dart," said Jolley.
The racers started bunching up, but as Sam established his rhythm, he began to take the lead. Upon crossing the starting line for the last lap, the final-lap flag waved, and Sam felt that the race was in the bag. As he approached the triple-hill jump where his family was seated nearby, he wanted to do something special. He picked up speed, but he was going too fast for the jump.
"That's when it all happened," said Jolley. "I had already committed and I had too much speed, and it put my front tire down because I was on the brakes so hard. It put me over the handlebars headfirst so fast I just froze. I came down probably about 30 feet out of the air straight down on my head and then."
Jolley made a cracking sound, "it was lights out."
Jolley had crashed many times in other races, but this time he didn't get up. As he lay on the ground, other racers spend past him, one ran over his legs. He was rushed to the hospital where he was put in an induced coma for more than a month.
When he awoke, he learned that he had broken his neck, his back, his hip, his lungs had collapsed, and he had a serious head injury.
"The next thing I remember is laying there in the hospital bed and I've got my family all around me crying," recounted Jolley.
He said to his mom, "'Why am I in this room? Let's get out of here.' I'd start to move my legs, and then I asked, 'Mom, what's wrong with me?'"
Doctors told him that he was now quadriplegic, and that he was lucky to survive the accident at all.
"When they told me that I said, 'No, not me doc. Like, you don't understand how hard I worked,'" said Jolley. "Not me. I was living the perfect life. Why me? I was in disbelief. I was mad."
It was then that Jolley realized that he had to rebuild himself from the ground up.
As Jolley spent months in the hospital, it became apparent to the doctors that he could move his upper body and still had some feeling in his lower body, but no mobility. Days came and went as he relearned life's most basic skills.
"There was nothing harder than sitting in that hospital bed after a hard day of struggling and then seeing your family walk out of the room. You're looking out the window at your old life, the life you remember," he said as he looked up at the motocross trophies in his home, and began to tear up.
After 10 months in the hospital, Sam finally got to go home. But, it was only for one night. Medical issues brought him back to the hospital. He eventually returned home and spent all of 2003 recovering. 2004 was a better year for Sam, but not by much.
But one day Jolley's brother, Eric, invited Jolley out to the gym with him, and Jolley tagged along.
But that came with a set of problems of its own.
"My hands don't work, I can't grip anything," said Jolley. "So that was frustrating too; I couldn't even pick up the weights. People are looking at me. I didn't feel comfortable.it sucked at first, but, I kept going back."
Jolley found a set of bracelets with hooks he could affix to his wrists so that he could lift weights more easily. He slowly became much more active than he had been previously since his hospitalization — even regaining his ability to drive a car with the help of a specially-engineered truck.
His increased mobility and activeness helped him grow closer to Treven Jolley, his now 14-year-old son.
"He lives with his mom up in Wanship," Jolley said. "I get him on the weekends. He's been a big part of my life."
Treven is currently on his school's basketball team, and Jolley is trying to foster his son's athletic abilities. "I'd take him to the gym and, while I was working out, he'd be shooting hoops."
Jolley has continued trying new things to feed his long-dormant desire for an adrenaline rush, like skiing, paragliding and even competing in a few bodybuilding competitions.
"One thing led to another, and it's always bigger and better things," said Jolley.
Today, when he's not getting his adrenaline fix, Jolley shares his story by speaking at schools and other venues.
Though he's only 40, Jolley has gained a wealth of knowledge through the hardships he's endured.Comment on this story
"What I've learned the most is the hard things in life are what strengthens you," Jolley said. "They make you stronger, wiser. You really start to minimize smaller problems. You got through bigger problems, so you can get through this one. There's purpose in struggle, in pain. Things won't always be like this, this is just how they are today."
Though, he insists that people should always try to remember, "In the midst of all of your struggle, don't forget to have fun."