EVERYTHING changed within a split second on the fourth lap of qualifying (at Indianapolis), when the rear stepped out on the exit of the left-hand turn 13 and launched me over the front of the bike at around 150km/h.
The first thing to touch the ground was the toe of my boot and the impact ripped my foot around . . . I looked down at my foot, which was facing sideways, and I remember thinking, “This isn’t good!”
Then, as I moved my weight on to my other leg, I felt a pop in my ankle and there was a loud crack. The pain was unreal, so bad that I honestly thought my tibia had come out through the side of my leg. But it was actually the sound of the joint going back into the socket.
I went for scans at a hospital in downtown Indianapolis, where the doctors told me that they’d never seen bone that badly bruised before without it being broken in half — it was so bad that there was bruising to the actual bone marrow.
We emailed the notes to Dr Neil Halpin in Australia, along with a photograph of the ankle, which had ballooned to double its normal size.
Dr Halpin told me he couldn’t make a full assessment without seeing the original scan documents, a process that would take several days, but his advice was that I shouldn’t race.
Several days was too long for me and we had to make our decision the next morning. Even though I was in a lot of pain, I decided to take some painkillers and get on with it.
Dr Halpin probably wasn’t too surprised when he learnt I was going to race: “Even though I hadn’t seen the scans properly yet I could see there was a definite risk of vascular problems, such as a blood clot, which is why my advice was not to race.
“I have had to push an ankle joint back in for a rugby player before and there was a lot of screaming. Casey’s courage is quite extraordinary and I think because he is physically so little you don’t expect it. He has an extraordinarily high pain threshold.
“I have been a professional rugby league doctor at the Sydney Roosters and the Newcastle Knights for over 30 years. I’ve treated four broken necks, a cardiac arrest, ruptured spleens, all sorts, but Casey is as tough as anybody I have ever met.
“To get back up with those injuries and race again the next day is one of the toughest things I’ve seen in sport, up there with Andrew Johns playing in the 1997 rugby league grand final with a broken rib and partly collapsed lung. It is also one of the most unwise things I’ve ever seen! But ultimately as a doctor all you can do is give advice.’’
The next race was the following weekend in the Czech Republic, so we had no alternative but to travel from the USA to Europe and hope for the best. To be honest, having already raced at Indy, I fully expected to be competing again at Brno, but the day before free practice was due to start the news came through. I needed immediate surgery and would have to miss the next three races at least, maybe even the rest of the season.
Dr Neil Halpin: “Casey flew to the Czech Republic and I thought, ‘You’re crazy, you’re not going to make it!’ I studied the plates and I could see he had five fractures inside his ankle. He had a 10-millimetre fracture to the talus bone, which is the ball of the ankle joint, a fracture at the bottom end of the tibia and torn multiple ligaments, including the deltoid ligament, which is the main ligament complex on the inside of the ankle. Thankfully Casey decided to follow my advice and flew back to Australia to have surgery.”
Knowing that I had no chance to retire as world champion, I started focusing on my recovery for Phillip Island, which was two months away.
Winning there for the sixth time in a row would at least be a nice way to sign off from my career.
We were able to come back as planned for the Japanese round at Motegi, which along with the next round at Sepang would give me a chance to get a feel for the bike and test my fitness.
We managed fifth place in Japan, where I struggled to get the bike fully leaned over because I couldn’t get my foot out of the way. Sepang was less physically demanding, firstly because there aren’t so many slow corners that I needed to pick the bike up from and also because it rained on race day.
There was more of a risk of crashing, which would have been a complete disaster, but we stuck it out and got our reward with a podium. That set us up nicely for Phillip Island.
This was a big race . . . as always Adri was there, she gave me a kiss on the front of my crash helmet before heading back to the garage.
I knew I had the pace to win so I wasn’t worried about being in third on the first lap. I knew I could afford to be patient. When Dani turned into turn four, he ran a little wide and as the circuit was deteriorating out wider when he tried to get back for the apex, he lost the front on the rough tarmac, spinning him across the bitumen and ending his championship. Jorge knew that second place was enough for him to wrap up the title and even though he was desperate to celebrate with a win, I knew he wouldn’t take as many risks. All I had to do was stick to my pace and stay focused.
Winning at Phillip Island for the sixth time was the perfect way to finish my MotoGP career. Adri, Ally, Mum, Dad and lots of friends were there to share it all with me and that made it even more special.