DAN BUTLER: The Story of Disabled Dan | Ride UK BMX

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DAN BUTLER: The Story of Disabled Dan

A Rider Against The Odds

BMX, as a collection of people, has a lot of variety.  There are seemingly infinite connections, rumours and legends, interesting people with wild tales to tell.  Even just in UK BMX, the huge range of unique personalities are what we try to celebrate, as it’s the characters that help make our scenes so strong.

Some of the backstories to be told by BMX riders are wild beyond wild, hard to believe, they can sometimes be quite shocking.  Here’s one such story, a rider against the odds, told by the fiercely determined character that is Dan Butler, aka Disabled Dan.

Read on for his tale of battling sepsis, riding with one hip and overcoming all doubt.

Photos by Mike Drummond

Q&A with Dan Butler

– Before we talk about disability, let’s do some introductions.  Where you’re from, where you ride, etc.

I’m Dan Butler, I’m 24, from Southend on Sea, Essex.  I’ve been riding for about five years now, but I’ve been on bikes my whole life.  Canvey, Legacy XS, that’s where I ride a lot, but with Covid it’s been mostly on the streets and at Radical Bikes. 

The park where we shot these photos is Harley Park, our local skatepark in Stanford le Hope.  When I started riding, it was just a couple of old wooden council ramps, the transitions weren’t great, there were holes in the ply.  We did a charity ride with a lot of the local boys, did loads of things to raise money to get this new park built.

– Talk us through it, why are you called Disabled Dan?  Spell it out, what’s the story?

I got sepsis.  It wasn’t from a cut or from anything outside, somehow the infection started deep in my hip joint.  Maybe it was from a torn muscle.  The infection ate its way out, it started with the cartilage of the hip and then the bone.  I went to the hospital to get my red raw leg checked out.

They left it a month before they did the first blood test.  At that point it was eating out of my skin, there was a big abscess, it had eaten the bone, got into my pelvis, and got into my intestines and started eating them.

28 operations later, 3 years in hospital, I died more than once.  They had to remove the hip joint. I had multiple organ failure, the organs started to shut down, my brain was affected quite heavily as well, because of the lack of oxygen getting to it.

“28 operations later, 3 years in hospital, I died more than once.  They had to remove the hip joint.”

They removed the hip and left it as a floating femur.  I don’t think anyone has had a similar procedure done, because the way the infection ate random parts of the hip joint, it’s hard to piece it back together with a hip replacement, because you’d need to make half a pelvis and hip to come off the femur. 

I have about 20% control of what I should.  Because it’s not attached, gravity tries to pull my leg off at all times.  It’s like a dead weight.  It makes BMX quite hard.  Like with whips, trying to get that leg to the pedal and keep it on the pedal is a big struggle.

– How do you think your disability affects your riding in terms of style? Obviously if your leg is trying to drop all the time then that must have a huge impact on how it feels to ride a bike.

Yeah that’s why I kind of enjoy sticking to things like 360s and backflips mainly, I really got a gel with backflips.  Because my feet stay on the bike!  Like, with flip bars, when I go for the flip, I open myself out to do the bar, then my leg, because it’s my front foot and it’s six inches shorter than it should be, it comes six inches away from the bike.  It puts the balance off and I end up going down.  To combat that, I used to have a smaller crank arm, at the moment I don’t but I might try it again, 10, 15 or even 20 mm shorter.

– I remember the first time I saw you ride was at the Battle of Hastings qualifier a few years ago.  It seemed like a lot of people there hadn’t seen you ride before either and I remember a real buzz around you, Seb Hejna on the mic picked up on that and really got the crowd going, he knew a little bit of your story and helped create loads of energy in the place.  Do you remember feeling that?

Yeah!  That was the first year.  Then the year after, sending that double flip was one of the biggest moments in BMX for me so far.  It really showed what I was about, that I’m not scared.  It really showed my passion for BMX, more than anything, the passion to keep getting back up and to keep on going.  Even though I didn’t land it I think that was such an important moment because it showed who I was.  Pure determination to get up after anything.

– Do you think that’s to do with what’s happened to you?  You’re obviously very driven and passionate about riding, you have this fierce determination.  Do you feel like you have to prove yourself to everyone, like, ‘I can do this’?

I think it’s more to prove to myself that I can do this, than to anyone else.  I guess I know deep down I do have a lot of self belief, I have a hell of a lot of self belief.  BMX is hard, it can be a hard industry to get your name out there in, I feel like the talent is there and I do believe in myself.  It’s more about showing everyone else that you can do it, putting that belief into other people. 

Showing everyone that literally anyone can do it, you just gotta want it.  Whether that be uni assignments, or job stuff, or BMX, you can do it.  From day one I always wanted to be a BMX rider, even sitting in hospital dying, I could barely move, barely speak, every day I just thought about getting back out there and possibly doing double flips. That was from the hospital bed, years ago.

– Do you hope to inspire anyone younger who might have an injury, to prove to them that it’s all possible?

Yeah, it’s with anything in life really.  I’ve got a real opportunity because I do have some talent on a bike, it’s easier for me to push my story to the masses, I’m not gonna stop with BMX, it’s not just about riding, I want to inspire people in every walk of life, I’m just using BMX as a tool to make myself heard.  Anything is possible.

If you’re struggling, put that extra energy into it, if you fail five times, make it happen on the sixth time.  Tell yourself over and over again that you can.  I had a motto: if you tell yourself you can’t, you never will.  The pallet ramp double flip at the Boyley Jam is a prime example: I had zero faith that I was gonna land that, it was a joke.  But I went into it believing I could land that, in a dream world, if you like.  Yeah, I could land it, whatever planet I thought I could land it on, I had that belief.  Sometimes it’s enough to bring you round to get it done. 

“Tell yourself over and over again that you can.
If you tell yourself you can’t, you never will”

– Are there any other disabled athletes that you look up to, any heroes that inspire you?

Jack Stumper mate!  Honestly.  He inspires me so much.  Julian Molina as well, what a legend.  Outside of BMX…  I used to ride with the Team GB paralympic squad so those guys always inspired me. 

My granddad as well, he wasn’t disabled, but he was the only person for me, I didn’t have any family, he took me in from very very young, brought me up, took me racing, taught me about bikes.  My biggest inspiration.

– I see you’ve ridden with some big names like Mark Webb.  Does that kind of thing feel like a big achievement for you?

For sure, you know, I watched all his videos when I was younger and during my time in hospital, so to be on his radar and riding with people like that definitely boosts the confidence a bit more.  It makes it worth it, feeling like I can inspire my heroes to do better as well.

– Let’s look at the future.  Is there a main goal you’re trying to achieve, or any milestones in your mind that you’re trying to get to? 

For the moment, it’s to get to Nitro Circus.  Tour with those guys.  I love wheels, I’m not just a BMX rider, I can ride it all, moto, anything.  I’d be on the couch, trying to backflip the ramp on a couch, that’s where I’m from you know, I never had the money for the best bikes or to go to the best jumps.  Even entering comps, you have to have some cash to get there and pay the entry fee.  I have a lot of support but not to pay the bills and make things like that happen.  But yeah Nitro Circus definitely, that’s a goal. 

A dream would be to get to the Olympics, and to ride the Paralympics with the road and track cycling that I used to do.  I was fast at that, C2 classification.  I was doing that just before I picked up the BMX, I was meant to be going to the Rio games but I didn’t have the passion for it.  My granddad had just passed away and it was his passion and support that drove me to keep at it.  On my own, I decided to come away from that and ride BMX, about five years ago.  Everyone said I was mad. 

“When I put that helmet on, I let out all the anger and frustration, everything that led up to the last five years”

– Wrapping up, any shout outs or thank yous?

Big up to big man Gary, old school Gal. He’s had my back for everything, he’s the one who told me once I’d got the backflips on lock I could get the double flips on lock, he’s always been there motivating and nagging me to keep progressing, and got me out of the holes I’ve been down.  

Shout out to my brand, SOSA – Someone Of Special Ability.  We’re selling T-shirts, trying to build it up.  My dream is to support disabled athletes with the proceeds, get people going.

I do hope this interview gets this side of me across, you know.  When I put that helmet on, I let out all the anger and frustration, everything that led up to the last five years.  I put my helmet on and I let it out.  A lot of people only meet me and only know me when that helmet’s on.  I put all that passion into riding and then 10-15 mins later I’m ready to talk again, like this.  Thanks for reading.


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