Speedway iron man back on track after injury
Ten months ago, Andrew Aldridge broke his neck in a horror speedway crash.
But in 10 days time, Aldridge - who said he came within a millimetre of being paralysed in the accident on Auckland's Rosebank Speedway circuit - will race in the New Zealand Longtrack Champs and Grand Prix at Invercargill's Ascot Park Raceway.
And the 26-year-old Christchurch rider is also aiming for the New Zealand Solo Speedway title, in January at Rosebank Speedway.
"I will definitely be coming to Auckland for the New Zealand title - the flights are all booked for that," Aldridge told Sunday News.
"My goal this season is to take out all the titles. Last season I was confident I would take the New Zealand title [before the horror crash]."
Aldridge's return to the race track came at the opening night of the 2012-13 speedway season, at Christchurch's Moore Park on October 21.
He wears a specially designed carbon-fibre neck brace for protection while racing.
"You don't even notice it, it only weighs 480 grams," Aldridge said.
"It felt great to be back on the bike and I was glad to win my first meeting back.
"In the first race I was a little bit slower in the first few laps and then got back into it."
Aldridge - who landed on his back after his bike somersaulted in the January crash - is still unsure if his neck was broken by the impact of hitting the ground or by his bike landing on his neck.
Surgeons at Auckland Hospital took a bone graft from his hip and inserted it into his neck to help repair the damage.
"They cut me open in the front [his throat]. They didn't want to go in through the back because of the risks of touching my spinal cord," Aldridge said.
"They took bone out of my hip and put it into the vertebrae, with six or seven screws and a plate. "They fused my neck from the C6 to the C8."
He was told to wear a neck brace for 12 weeks.
"I wasn't allowed to lift anything for a while," Aldridge said.
"It was pretty much just letting the bone heal by taking it easy . . . that was over a period of five or six months. I eventually started back at work for about two or three hours a day, leading up towards being back full-time."
Aldridge said he never considered quitting speedway.
"I always said I would hop back on," he said. "I haven't lost anything. In a way I feel quicker."
Aldridge said the support of his family, including fiancee Zandra, and the speedway community had helped him return to the sport he loves.
Zandra gave birth to the couple's first child, Ella Rose, about four months after the crash.
A strong showing from Aldridge at the nationals will also push his case to secure one of the reserve spots for the Western Springs round of the 2013 FIM Grand Prix.