Since 2005 Ashley Charles has had a somewhat up and down relationship with an age old BMX injury, the dreaded ACL. When we hit up California this year to start the Free and Sleazy tour Ash was on the bench, he decided not to tag along and this decision was because he knows all too well the hell involved in being injured on a trip. On the last day he rang me to tell me his knee felt strange, something was wrong. I did this brief interview to get to know the history of Ashley’s knee problems and find out how he copes with the mental torture of being off your bike for so long. After this interview was done we found out the latest operation had not been a success and Ashley is re booked in for another go. I’m surprised how well he’s coping, that’s just how Ash is, and before long he’ll be back on his bike and more focused on riding than ever. – Paul Robinson
It’s been a long road for you in regards to injuries, especially those sustained to your knee, can you tell me a brief history dating back to the first time you tore your ACL?
The first time I tore my ACL and needed surgery was in May 2005. I was filming at the time trying to get some clips together to go in the first Lotek Mixtape, I knew at the time something wasn’t right as it blew up like a balloon instantly after. I had to wait till December of that year to have it reconstructed then had six months of recovery so I was back on my bike around June 2006. Took a little longer than I thought it would to get back into the full swing of things after not riding for a year but after a few months I was feeling good. Eight months after being back on my bike which was around February 2007 I was in Australia traveling and riding a bit, I was there for two months in total and then two days before I was flying back to the U.K I was riding street in downtown Sydney, I tried this rail hop bailed and blew my knee out again. As soon as I did it I knew I had torn something again because it felt the same as when I had previously done it and it swelled up super bad again. After flying back home, nearly having to pay for two business class flights for me and my lady because my insurance didn’t cover riding, being told that an MRI showed I had just strained it and that they just needed to go back in and clean it up and not riding for another five months it turned out my ACL was screwed again. At this point I was so over being off my bike I opted to use a knee brace and not have surgery. I used the brace for about a year but quickly got fed up with having this big thing strapped to my leg every time I wanted to ride. After that I did my best to build my leg up and keep it strong but for the last three years it has been in the back of my mind when ever I ride. Finally this past summer I was in Berlin on a Etnies trip and tweaked it again to the point where it was hard to bend and swollen. I knew at this point that it was time to get it sorted out.
Now you have a much better grasp on how things work in your knee, does that make it easier to vision getting back on your bike?
Obviously having gone through surgeries in the past with my knee has given me a better understanding of how everything works in there and what it is they are doing when they cut you open. I Don’t think it really makes it easier to vision getting back on your bike. The only thing that makes it easier is knowing what you have to do to get better and the time scale that your working with. Having past experiences of that helps you a lot to be in the right mind set which is really important when your dealing with a long recovery time.
In all honesty, how hard has it been to get back on your bike each time this happens and try big stuff?
After my first surgery was probably the hardest mainly because I was off my bike for a whole year. I was so excited to be back on my bike after all that time that it wasn’t until I started riding that I realised it was gonna take a while before I was gonna be back to full confidence. It was a strange feeling, one day you be like aw man I feel great on my bike and everything is good then you would see something you wanted to film or shoot and it was like damn I don’t think I’m ready for that yet. I think at that point you are just so happy to be able to cruise and enjoy being on your bike that the thought of doing something big and maybe hurting it again makes you hold back a little.
…it was like damn, I don’t think I’m ready for that yet.
Being a pro rider and knowing that riding your bike is your career, does this create more pressure by the set backs of injuries?
I guess there is a bit of added pressure but for the most part if know it is getting fixed properly and that you are in good health there is no reason you can’t come back from it. Also having loyal sponsors that aren’t just gonna dip out on you because you can’t put a new web edit out every week helps keep your mind at bay.
Since your move to the US, how have things improved with progress compared with the treatment you got in the UK?
Just time scales really. Of course there are good surgeons in the U.K and a couple of years back they brought in a knew system wear you can pick a Doctor anywhere in the country and get referred to them by your local GP. This means you can do your research now and find the best Doctor for you. In the past you would have to go with whoever was the orthopedic at your local hospital.
So when do you expect to be fully able and riding again? Are you itching to ride?
The muscle is coming back well and having the leg strong again after surgery is the main thing. Also making sure the graft has had time to heal is really important. The recovery times have got shorter since my first surgery but really no one knows your body better that yourself. As soon as I feel like my leg is strong enough and I get the ok from my doctor I will start taking it easy and cruising around. Hopefully in the next two months. Itching to ride is a no brainer but whenever I get it bad I just try and do something that is going to benefit my knee and get me closer to riding again.
How have you been training? And more importantly how have you been keeping your brain active while removing such a huge chunk of your life away for a period of time?
I have been seeing this guy Dr G over in Newport beach for my recovery and I couldn’t be happier. He really knows his stuff and is an all round good dude. That has kind of slowed down now and I’m doing more stuff on my own at the gym, also pedaling my road bike and doing a lot of miles per day. When it comes to keeping myself busy the first few months of recovery are pretty full on and are enough to keep you busy while you’re not able to ride.
Photos courtesy of Eclat