Defending Monster Energy AMA Supercross, an FIM World Championship, champion Ryan Villopoto looks hungry. Down more than 20 pounds since dedicating himself to the boot-camp program implemented by renowned trainer Aldon Baker, the 23-year old from the outskirts of Seattle rarely misses a meal; he’s hungry to become the sport’s most dominant athlete. His path to success has been anything but smooth.
When faced with adversity on his climb to the top, Villopoto used misfortune to stimulate his motivation. A five-month rehabilitation program, which was a precursor for the 2011 season, put life into perspective for the defending Monster Energy Supercross champion.
During the St. Louis stop of the 2010 Monster Energy Supercross championship, Villopoto, who was trailing Ryan Dungey by 12 points in the season standings, moved into the number-one position on lap 9. Two laps later, with Dungey on his back wheel, Villopoto dismounted from his motorcycle, which violently flipped through the air, nearly missing Dungey, as 59,882 fans simultaneously sighed for air.
On the ground, Villopoto lay motionless, but pain ran feverishly through his right leg. The force of the crash made quick work of his tibia/fibula, causing bone brakes that required three surgical repairs. A win that evening would have moved him eight points within Dungey’s lead with three races to go.
“I didn’t know exactly what happened, but after we figured it out, I knew I was able to come back but it would take a long time,” said Villopoto. “Everyone has a goal to win the Supercross Class championship, and that is what I set my focus on.”
The next five months would characterize the real Villopoto. Detached from the high profile lifestyle that goes along with million-dollar athletes, Villopoto enjoys ducking out of the limelight.
“There isn’t a whole lot of down time, so when I have time to myself, I really appreciate being at home. I’m a pretty laid back guy.”
After being carted off track at the Edward Jones Dome, Villopoto mapped out his return to racing. The same way surgeons pieced together the shattered bones, Villopoto and Baker mapped out a plan to return to excellence.
“Because his leg didn’t have the mobility it once had, he thought it was over and he would no longer be able to compete at the level he did prior to the injury,” said Baker. “What amazed me through this process is that he not only believed in his riding skills, but he was willing to take the rehabilitation process one step at a time.”
Instead of rehashing classic clichés about going the extra mile or putting your whole heart into your efforts, Villopoto never second guessed his commitment and puts in the work on the good days – and the bad.
“Not many guys can say they provide the full commitment on a daily basis,” adds Baker. “He’s keenly aware of the ups and downs of this sport, where anything can happen, and he’s motivated by that.
In 2011, Villopoto literally won everything, including the Monster Energy Supercross championship, the 450cc Motocross championship, the Motocross des Nations (Motocross’ version of the Olympics) and the Monster Energy Cup, which awarded him $1 million for dominating all three main events.
What’s unique about Villopoto’s run for the sport’s biggest prize was the way he single handedly controlled the points race in what’s considered the greatest season ever. Although five riders bid for the championship, it was Villopoto that controlled the points lead in 14 of the 17 tour stops. His season shared traits of a well-diversified stock portfolio. Even when he became the first points leader to fail to qualify for a main event in the sport’s history, he remained calm, knowing that this season was about trends. Despite the 25-point loss he suffered in Jacksonville by not qualifying, he used the point cushion he built in previous races to counter balance the deficit.
Like so many racers before him, the move from being a dominant Supercross Lites Class rider to the premier Supercross Class was anything but easy. Only four riders in the history of the sport have been able to earn back-to-back championships.
Is Villopoto up for the challenge?
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