In 2002, ‘Mad Mike’ Whiddett was told he would never walk again.
Nearly two decades later and the Kiwi drift icon is lacing up the sneakers and participating in The Wings for Life World Run, which raises funds for vital spinal cord injury research.
Before discovering the world of drifting, Whiddett dedicated his time to mastering the art of freestyle motocross.
His last competitive ride was in 2002 at X Air, the New Zealand X Games. A hefty incident had Whiddett fracture four vertebrae in his spine.
Rushed to the hospital, Whiddett was then told by doctors that he would be paralysed from the waist down.
“I was so drugged up on morphine it didn’t really register initially and I was joking with my friends about making a go-kart for my wheelchair,” Whiddett said.
“I compressed and fractured four vertebrae, and ruptured disks in my back lost all feeling to my legs and was told that I wouldn’t walk again.
“Unlike a lot of others who experience spinal cord injury, I was very lucky. The next morning I woke up and felt pins and needles in my toes and yelled for the doctor.
“The doctor told me it was a one-in-a-million occurrence that I wasn’t paralysed from that injury.”
Since the accident, Whiddett has become one of motorsport’s most recognisable names, winning drift titles over in Asia and competing in events over in the United States.
He was 11-years-old when he got behind the wheel of a car for the first time, thrashing a beat-up Toyota Carolla around a friend’s farm paddock.
“When my friend’s brother wasn’t around we’d jump in his car and tear around the fields,” he said.
“We got told off by his Dad a few times for crashing through fences but it was a great training ground.”
As Whiddett got older, he and his friends lived the boy racer lifestyle, racing around deserted streets and forests.
“Whoever flipped it, crashed it or blew it up bought the next one. We did that for years.
“We went through a lot of cars, but we learnt so much. One of my mate’s uncles had this big gravel yard where we’d roast the hell out of our cars.
“That was where I learned about car control and driving sideways. I was always into rear-wheel-drive cars so I was drifting before I even knew what it was.”
The Wings for Life World Run is an annual fundraising event, which has people run for as long as they can around a set course before they are ‘caught’ by a chase car.
The Auckland event will be held on May 9.