Tony Haynes was on the road to becoming a professional motocross racer. He learned to ride a small motorcycle when he was little more than a toddler. He competed in local and national motocross competitions before he reached his 13th birthday, placing first on numerous occasions.
But now that has all changed. The 14-year-old freshman at Largo High School was paralyzed while practicing on a Kawasaki 125 motorcycle in Brooksville. His doctors say he will never walk again.
"I don't remember the accident at all," Tony said. "I just remember practicing my stunts."
Tony's father, Percell Haynes of Largo, found Tony after the accident. He said Tony was not riding very fast. He was alone at the time.
"He just fell off the bike, and he broke his neck," Haynes said.
Tony has been in Tampa General Hospital since the accident Feb. 28. He said he was happy to hear that a longtime family friend, York Somerville of St. Petersburg, has organized a mountain biking benefit on his behalf.
"I can really sympathize, because my own son used to ride, and he fractured his neck one time and came real close to being paralyzed," Somerville said. "I want to help Tony as much as I can."
The benefit is planned for 9 a.m. today in St. Petersburg. Somerville said people can ride bicycles of any style and that the two-mile track is "simple enough so that anyone can ride it."
Meanwhile, Tony spends up to six hours a day in rehabilitative therapy as he waits to return home sometime in July. A tutor comes to the hospital to help him keep up with his schoolwork, and his father faithfully visits him every night.
"His father has been extraordinarily supportive," said Dr. Rodolfo Eichberg, Tony's doctor and the chief of spinal cord injury services at Tampa General Hospital.
"This accident means a total change in lifestyle for Tony," Eichberg said. "His whole goal in life was to be a professional motocross racer. That means back to square one in more ways than one."
Tony's father said he is not sure what career his son may decide to pursue now.
"Maybe he can get into computers," Haynes said. "We've got to look in different directions now."
Haynes said he is concerned because Tony has not yet expressed any anger or grief over the outcome of the accident.
"He hasn't cried once yet about being paralyzed," Haynes said. "We knew the dangers _ but we knew that's how he would make a living. There's danger in any high-competition sport."
Haynes, who described himself as a self-employed handyman, said that the "little bit" of insurance he had "was probably used up on the first night" in the emergency room. Altogether, Tony will spend close to five months in the hospital.
Eichberg said that most of the medical expenses incurred during Tony's stay in the hospital will be covered by a last-resort state government fund known as the Impaired Drivers and Speeders Fund.
"But he'll need outpatient therapy for a long time after he gets out," Eichberg said. "And he needs a special wheelchair _ that's $2,000 right there."
"There are lots of expenses," said Nancy Beckly, director of community relations at Tampa General Hospital. "His home may need to be modified. . . . He will have medical costs for the rest of his life."
The Tony Haynes benefit bike ride will be today at 2900 31st St. S, St. Petersburg. Cost is $20 a person to participate, and registration will be from 7:30 a.m. until the start of the race at 9 a.m.