Tom Parsons reflects on his X Games gold

Moto X Best Whip Gold medalist Tom Parsons discusses the weeks leading up to X Games Austin and how he managed to bounce back from a leg injury.

Have you ever wanted something so bad that all you did was eat, sleep and dream about it? For Tom Parsons, a 32-year-old Gainesville, Florida, native, riding Best Whip at X Games was his obsession.

A fan of X Games since its inception, riding in the whip contest at the most prestigious event in FMX became a reality around 2011 when he decided it was time to start trying to get an invite. He was rejected for three years, and when he finally got his long-coveted invitation, Parsons broke his leg, throwing his dream into jeopardy. But he fought his way back from injury, was cleared by X Games medical staff after a last-minute examination and finally made it into the event in Austin, Texas, last month. How long had you been watching and wanting to be in X Games for Best Whip?
Tom Parsons: Oh, man, I've been watching X Games for about 15 years. But it wasn't 'til 2011 that I actually started trying and wanting to get in seriously. I kept getting no's, then it finally happened. What do you think helped you get that invite along the way?
I think it all came down to my [2013] Monster Cup Biggest Whip win. It seemed like they gave the five invites out, which were all medalists from last year, and I assumed the last spot left would go to whoever won Monster Cup. You broke your leg some time after your Monster Cup win. Did you think that would hinder your chance at an X Games invite or actually competing in the event?
I was hoping to be riding in the middle of May, three-and-a-half months in. Then I went back in for an appointment to take X-rays three weeks out from Austin and the doctor told me it was still taking its time to heal and that he didn't recommend that I ride X Games, which was disconcerting and not what I wanted to hear. But I tried to get him to level with me: Since I did have the rod in place, would it be strong enough to ride? What was the healing process like, was there a specific reason why it was healing so slowly?
Originally they told me it would be a 4-6 month healing process and I guess it's due to the fact that blood flow to the tibia is slow for the first few months. More than anything, though, I think it was because it wasn't a clean break. It broke right below my knee brace and broke a four-inch piece of my shin off. That, along with other areas of the bone -- down to my heel breaking -- played a part in it taking so long. Coming up to X Games, you secured the invite but healing is going super slow and you've yet to throw a leg back over the bike ... what were you thinking days before the event and your test jumps prior to heading to Austin?
One week before X Games I was tired of waiting and decided to test out my leg jumping on a ramp at 75 feet, like we'd be riding in Austin. So I geared up with just some boots and a helmet in street clothes and rode my motocross track to hit a few small jumps. My leg didn't feel too bad; it was sore but not unbearable. I was thinking with a nice tall landing for a ramp it wouldn't be too bad.

"Injuries are part of the sport and there are always major hurdles and sometimes guys give up on themselves a little early, but I had been working too hard for this and I didn't want that to happen. Having this medal now feels awesome." Tom Parsons

Tuesday before Austin, I went to a track called WW MX I ride in Jacksonville and they built me a nice big steep landing that was pretty sandy. I brought one of my ramps up there and that gave me a chance to test out 75 feet and see if I was going to be able to take the landing with my leg. Then I went one more time on Wednesday morning to make sure I was going to be able to take it for sure.

As soon as I knew I could take it, I went home and loaded up to leave. So you've made your test jumps, everything seems like it'll hold up and you drive to Austin. The event is ready to start and boom, another hurdle: Someone protests, saying medical had not cleared you to ride. Now what was going through your mind?
When I heard I had to go to medical and get cleared because someone said I was riding with a broken leg and a cast on it to protect myself, I was shocked. I started thinking, why and who would do something like that? I had already ridden practice earlier and was fine. It was surprising that someone would do that right before the biggest event of my life, especially since everyone knew how much of a struggle it had been for me to get there. Could you believe this was all happening?
I was shocked but then I started thinking about time and how much of it there was not. This all happened an hour or so before the event was supposed to start, and that's why I think whoever did it waited so long to protest me, because they knew if I was stuck at medical getting cleared, they'd have a better chance of riding. Did you think you would make it back in time?
I wasn't sure, because you can see the rod in my leg and I knew it wasn't healed, so I was just thinking about what the doctors were going to say. But they were cool enough to recognize the injury, and he knew what type of rod it was and said that it was going to be sturdy. Plus, since I had already ridden, he left it up to me to make the decision once he took X-rays and saw my leg.

After that, there were 10 minutes left on the floor until the event was supposed to start and I hopped back in a golf cart and was driven all the way back to the pits to get ready to ride. The whole ride back I was anxious about making it back in time, and I kept saying to myself, come on, come on, which put me in a panic rush to get ready in my gear and normally I like to take my time. Now you've finally made it in time, you ride, throw down the biggest whips in the contest, judging comes in over the TV but you can't hear ... Were you shocked that you just won gold at X Games?
X Games Whip is done by Twitter vote, and you never know. Some people see it as a popularity contest because of the Twitter voting, but I'm in between. It's called Best Whip, not Biggest Whip, and compared to most people in the contest, I may not be the most popular one. When there are guys like Twitch, some people just like his style.

Once I got on my bike and got out there I knew I was going to do the biggest whips I could throw down. I could only seat-bounce the ramp so I was limited to what whips I could do, but I was still able to throw a few different styles to showcase my whips all-around.

When I pulled up and we were all sitting in line, I had my helmet on and couldn't hear, but I thought I had heard them announce my name. I thought it was for bronze, so I was still stoked because the bronze medal is still a medal and I'm at X Games. And when the medal was put around my neck, I had to look down and see that it was actually a gold medal. Then I started to freak out when I thought about how I'd been sitting on the couch for the last four months to now. I was a gold medal winner at X Games. Well, congrats on surviving all those hurdles to win your gold medal.
Yeah, thanks. Injuries are part of the sport and there are always major hurdles and sometimes guys give up on themselves a little early, but I had been working too hard for this and I didn't want that to happen. Having this medal now feels awesome.

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