This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Nov. 26 One Day One Game issue. Subscribe today!
KURT YAEGER didn't see the car coming toward him as he rode his motorcycle on a San Francisco exit ramp in March 2006 -- only a flash of light. The impact sent the pro BMX rider into a guardrail and off his Ducati, his left leg clipping a pole as he hurtled over the overpass to the ground 40 feet below. Yaeger broke seven vertebrae and his pelvis, tore his bladder and shredded his right ACL and MCL. His left leg was nearly ripped from his body. After 10 days and multiple surgeries, doctors told him that saving the leg would result in 5 percent usage but that amputation could give him 10
Yaeger's fearless BMX riding had earned him the nickname Crowbar, but even before the wreck, he was pushing 30 and looking at a post-BMX life, pursuing a degree in hydrogeology at San Francisco State. And in the months following his amputation, he knew it really was time for a change. "He was weeks from graduating," says his father, Timothy. "And he says, 'Dad, I want to be an actor.' " Explains Yaeger: "The only thing harder than BMX is making it in entertainment. Once I faced death, I needed a more impossible goal."
Fast-forward to a recent October morning in Beverly Hills. Step and repeat: That's Hollywood slang for walking the red carpet. Step sideways, smile for the camera, answer questions and repeat until the red runs out. On this day, Yaeger is redefining that process as he honors the winners at the 2012 Media Access Awards. Alongside Yaeger are actors on crutches or in wheelchairs or, like him, supported from the knee down by hardware. Yaeger is also at the event promoting his new role as Greg the Peg on the FX biker drama Sons of Anarchy, a part he says may have been inspired by his chance encounter with showrunner Kurt Sutter last summer. "I saw him standing alone and pitched him," Yaeger says. "There isn't a motorcycle club in America that doesn't have a guy who's missing a leg."
Yaeger never doubted he'd ride again. Eight months after the accident, he was fitted for his first prosthetic and began to regain some of the 60 pounds he'd lost. He also rebuilt his wrecked motorcycle. "I don't like being afraid of things," he says. "I wasn't going to let the accident ruin my enjoyment of life."
Yaeger moved to LA at the end of 2008, landing some acting gigs but struggling to resume the sport he loved. When he returned to BMX, his prosthetic foot kept slipping from the pedal. He tried Velcro and duct tape, then heard that Dan Iller, a former NASA equipment specialist, was designing a magnetic pedal. After linking up, the two experimented with magnet
The current design of Proton Locks pedals features a raised rectangular magnet that fits a metal inset on the sole of a shoe. Yaeger now co-owns Proton Locks, as well as a film production company. He's so connected with his bike that he's recognized as the world's top adaptive BMX freestyle rider. The 35-year-old still rides twice a week, although his acting and charity work have forced him to cut back on performing demos. At his last one, for the 2010 X Games, he became the first amputee to backflip a BMX bike.
It's a grind, but six years after his wreck life has come together: Yaeger is a business owner, at the top of his game and SOA's newest outlaw.
And he rides a custom bobber to the set every day.