Column: Picking up the pieces

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2015 began full of promise for Gareth Keys.

The young Co Antrim racer had a new sponsor and bikes for his third season on the roads and his whole family turned up for the photoshoot to announce the news in February.

Gareth proudly showed off his gleaming 600cc Honda and ER6 Kawasaki to his little daughter, Holly. Having served his bike racing apprenticeship in minimotos, the Clubman’s short circuit championship and on the Irish roads, Gareth was set to fulfil his dream of racing on the TT’s Mountain course this year.

On a cold, wet morning at Scarborough last weekend that dream was shattered. On almost the very first lap of his new season, the 24 year old slid off his Supersport Honda on the approach to Mere hairpin during a Spring Cup practice session. The bike rebounded off the fence, hitting Gareth so hard the back of his helmet was punctured. A nasty head wound, three broken ribs and four smashed vertebrae have demolished his TT plans.

Later that night, as I watched his drained and exhausted family return to the hotel from Hull Infirmary, I couldn’t help remembering the day a couple of months earlier when the young racer had unveiled his new bikes. Everyone had been full of enthusiasm and pride, chattering away about their plans and the season ahead.

Instead of enjoying a beer after a hard day’s work, their lives had now been turned upside down in a split second. Weeks of worry and stress lie ahead as the long road to recovery begins for Gareth. He will remain in Hull for some time, unsure of when he will be able to return to Northern Ireland but Gareth’s Dad, Rodney was adamant.

“I won’t be going home without him.” he said quietly on Saturday night.

Behind every road racer’s commitment to the sport there is always a strong network of friends or relatives equally committed to him or her. Everyone is aware of the risks and very few have not felt the impact of disaster at one time or another.

Road racing people don’t walk away from trouble. They rally round to raise funds, provide accommodation, help with travel or simply to offer a comforting embrace when trouble descends. The paddock family always knows what is required during moments of crisis and it will still be there to pick up the pieces long after the rest of us have made our way home.

Hopefully Gareth Key’s and his family will have that support during these difficult days.

Stephen Davison

By Stephen Davison

Biographer of John McGuinness & road racing's foremost writer & photographer