29 Sep 18
The Irish Sun
FROM rural Co Antrim to superbike superstardom, Jonathan Rea has proved to be unstoppable on his white-knuckle journey to the top.
Now the three-time world champ tells all in his thrilling autobiography — DREAM. BELIEVE. ACHIEVE.
Jonathan Rea at the Motul FIM Superbike World Championship in May this year
Here, in the first of two days of exclusive extracts, the 31-year-old pops the clutch on what fires him forward — and how a first serious bone break couldn’t slow him down.
I’VE been knocked out more times than I can remember . . . I have a separated acromioclavicular joint in my shoulder . . . I’ve had a broken left collarbone, two broken ribs, two scapholunate wrist reconstructions . . . a broken right radius, two bad breaks of my left femur . . . a complete reconstruction of the medial collateral ligament and anterior cruciate ligaments in my left knee and an ACL reconstruction in the right . . . a broken right tibia and fibula, a broken left ankle and a few broken metatarsals.
Worst by far are my knees: they are in really bad shape, especially the right one.
I’ve had the end of my finger worn down to the bone. And I’ve been told I’d never ride a motorbike again, let alone race one.
Jonathan Rea with his wife Tatia and son Jake
I didn’t listen, though . . .
‘You must be mad’ . . . ‘racers are crazy’ . . . ‘you must take your brains out before you put your helmet on.’
Listen. I am not crazy.
Jonathan Rea was born in Co Antrim
Selfish? Of course.
Driven? For sure.
But a crazy thrill-seeker? You don’t understand me or my sport.
I’ve been riding since I was two, racing since I was six. At the time of writing, I’ve been crowned World Superbike Champion three times, scored the most points ever in a single SBK season and won the Suzuka 8 Hours endurance race.
Jonathan Rea celebrates victory on the podium with champagne during the FIM Superbike World Championship
I’ve ridden in one British Supersport season, three British Superbike, one World Supersport and ten SBK championships so far. And I’m pretty far from being done.
This is an elite sport. You have to be very, very clever and very, very fit. You win by working margins in the thousandths of a second.
You throw a 165kg motorcycle from side to side, guide it as fast as possible around tight turns, brake hard and late while fighting G-forces and intense winds.
It can and does go wrong, with devastating physical and emotional consequences. But I don’t see anything reckless or crazy in risking that. Do you?
Three generations of the Rea family
It’s almost like I have two completely different personalities — a normal, down-to-earth guy right up until that moment I pull on the helmet when I turn into the racer.
The working me — withdrawn, focused, intense — is very different to the ‘domestic’ me, who loves to cook and be a hands-on dad.
I go in minutes from a comfortable armchair in my motorhome to the seat of a 200mph rocket.
Off the track, I’m a mellow family guy. The moment the visor comes down, I’m a Marvel movie superhero.
Rea on a bike as a child
Motorcycle racing is in my blood: my grandad sponsored a lot of great Northern Irish riders like Joey Dunlop, and my dad Johnny was an Irish Road Racing Champion.
Granda used to say, ‘You know, you’re just like your dad.’ I was still young and wasn’t sure what he meant. But he said it a lot: ‘You’re just like your dad and you’ll be a fine wee racer. You’ll be a world champion, so you will.’
Dad’s TT win in 1989 came, of course, with a bit of prize money and he bought me the best Christmas present I could imagine: an Italjet 50, a tiny little motocross-style bike. I was just short of my third birthday.
I just rode and rode all day until the bike ran out of fuel.
Not surprisingly, I had my first crash that day, but it didn’t put me off — I was straight back on it, because I loved it and never wanted to get off.
[boxout headline=”Fuse blew facing up to a bully”]AS a teenager Jonathan Rea learned about losing control when a flash of rage saw him turn the tables on a bully.
Now revered by sports and racing fans from all religions, and none, the rising star had to face a challenge familiar to many kids growing up across Northern Ireland.
Arriving at the integrated Larne Grammar, the starry-eyed young rider tells how he was singled out — simply because of the colours on his pencil case.
But he stood up to that first challenge and overcame it, like he’s done with the many he’s faced throughout his career. He writes:
“LARNE Grammar was a fantastic educational institution… But I found it pretty tough. In my first three years there, I really felt what it’s like to be bullied. And it’s not a nice feeling at all…
My naive country upbringing hadn’t prepared me for life in a school where, to some kids, religion was something to hang on to…
I had as many Catholic friends as Protestant in my motocross world.
But where it gets crazy is how it all started — with a Kevin Schwantz pencil case done out in his famous Pepsi colours. You know the Pepsi colours: red, white and blue.
Yep, the same as the Union flag. And this, I kid you not, is what kicked it off in school…
The whole experience and the relentless and scary nature of it definitely affected my confidence, especially with other kids at school.
I just tried to keep my head down and maintain as low a profile as possible. God love Mum, though, she was in the headmaster’s office more than enough times because of this problem.
It all came to a head at the end of Year 10 — I would have been about 14 — when we were all lined up to go into the sports hall…
Something was said to me by this same bully and for some reason my fuse just blew. I’m not proud of that moment when I was punching him so hard I started crying myself.
Violence should never be a way to settle any dispute.
But afterwards the bullying stopped…
The last two years became kind of bearable and while the kid and I did not become lifelong best buddies, we got along.”[/boxout]
IN the book Jonathan thinks back on how, aged 17, a 150mph brake failure in Scotland could have ended his career.
I TOUCHED the brake. There was nothing. No pressure at all. The lever came all the way back to my handlebar.
By then I was already past the braking point to make the corner. I was genuinely frightened for my life, because there’s very little run-off in turn one at Knockhill and I knew how close the tyre wall and barrier were to the track.
Jonathan loved this little KX60 so much, and it kick-started his obsession with winning according to his book
I had so little time to think and, with hindsight, the better strategy might have been to jump off the bike immediately and use my leathers on the tarmac and then in the gravel to slow me down.
These thoughts were going through my head over the space of about 25 metres at around 150mph, by which time I was at the gravel trap.
I closed my eyes but before I had time for another thought I had hit the tyre wall.
Everything went quiet and I couldn’t properly see straight.
[boxout headline=”First win kick start of dream”]
THE first step is the hardest and Jonathan Rea’s first trip up the winner’s podium was a special moment.
The rising star had faced mounting expectation for over a year before he mounted the top step. The question was not if he would win a race, but when, and that inevitably added to the pressure.
That first success would soon become a familiar experience. Every victory since has become a milestone in his incredible career. But some wins will always be sweeter then others.
Here Jonathan tells of his memories of that first British Superbike win, which helped map out the road ahead for his career. He writes:
“ALL the talk and coverage was about ‘when’ I was going to win my first British Superbike race and not ‘if’.
I’d been able to save enough tyre for the end of the race and within about three corners I had opened up a gap of around half a second.
I actually had enough rear grip to put in the fastest lap of the race on lap 16 and two laps later I crossed the line about 2.5s ahead of Shakey (Shane Byrne). I just felt relief more than anything – it was huge.
It had been such a long time coming, and the expectations from so many people during that 2007 season were so high because I’d had a couple of podiums the year before, so I’d really been feeling the pressure.
I was just screaming into my helmet all the way round the slow-down lap, until I met my mum and Uncle Barry at turn five.
My brain was going at 200mph and there was no conversation really, we all just screamed at each other.
Then there was a cruise back to parc fermé with my visor open, taking in the reaction from the crowd and the congratulations from my fellow competitors – it was the most incredible couple of minutes that I wanted to last forever.
I screamed again as I climbed on to the podium. I was a Superbike race winner for the first time; I sprayed the podium champagne like I really meant it, and the party that night was off the scale.
That year I won four more races and finished on the podium a total of 16 times… this was just the start of bigger and better things.”
My body went completely numb but very warm at the same time. I knew something bad had happened, but I wasn’t sure what.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t knocked out. I was pretty aware of the pain and of everything that was going on around me. I heard the paramedic say, ‘He’s broken his femur.’
The femur is the biggest and toughest bone in the body, stronger, they say, than concrete.
I asked the paramedic later how he knew and he told me it was because my leg was bent sideways, about halfway down my femur, and pointing in completely the wrong direction. That’d do it.
Jonathan receiving his award for winning the 60cc British Motocross Championship aged 10
I’d lost so much blood that I needed three transfusions. I was in hospital recovering from that operation when Neil Tuxworth and Linda Pelham (Honda team management) came to see me.
Neil wasn’t top of the list of people I wanted to visit me: he was the representative of the fledgling racing career I feared I had lost.
Neil said, ‘Linda and I are keen to see how you are recovering because, if everything goes OK and your rehab goes well, we were planning to put you up to the British Superbike championship junior team next year.
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I stared at each of them in turn, looking for some sign that they were joking, or that I was dreaming. But I could see they meant it. They wanted me riding Honda Fireblade in British Superbikes.
I didn’t know what to say. I blubbered, ‘Thank you.’
EXTRACTED from DREAM, BELIEVE, ACHIEVE: My Autobiography by Jonathan Rea published by HarperCollins on October 4, 2018 at £20.
© Jonathan Rea 2018