As Toby Price lay in hospital with a broken neck, he never imagined that less than three years later he would be the first Australian to win the Dakar Rally in any category.
The 28-year-old from the NSW Hunter Valley finished almost 40 minutes in front of his nearest rival in the motorcycle division to make history in the gruelling race in Argentina on Sunday.
In April 2013, Price crashed during a race and broke three vertebrae in his neck, narrowly avoiding becoming a quadriplegic.
“I was very, very lucky to get back on my feet and walk again, let alone get back on a dirt bike,” Price told AAP on Monday.
“My main goal was getting back on the dirt bike and starting to ride again.
“Three years later I definitely could not imagine winning the Dakar Rally.
“The hard work, the training and all the work behind the scenes finally all paid off.”
Price raced motocross and supercross until 2009 when he made the switch to Enduro racing.
After switching, he won the Australian Off-Road Championship in his first season – a race where he has tasted success four times – before going on to record multiple wins in the Finke and Hattah desert races.
In his debut Dakar last year, Price became the second Australian to achieve a place on the podium.
Following that performance he signed for the Red Bull KTM team, whom he raced for during this year’s victory.
“This is the very first day I’ve woken up and been able to process this,” Price said.
“It’s amazing. I’m over the moon and I still can’t believe it.”
The two-week event covered more than 9,300 kilometres with competitors contending with stifling heat, treacherous terrain and headache-inducing altitudes peaking at 4600m – all on three to four hours sleep a night.
“It’s physically draining and mentally draining,” Price said.
“The elements, the altitude – it’s a struggle to breathe up there let alone to try and race.
“It’s very tough and demanding. The conditions we’re riding in the middle of the desert – heat, sand dunes.”
And navigating these tricky stages are a key part of any rider’s success.
“I know how to ride the motorbike. I know I can ride fast, but it’s another thing to mix riding fast and trying to navigate,” Price said.
“Two, three, four degrees off can lead you in the wrong spot.”
Price will now head back to Australia for a break, but aims to return to the famous race in 2017 to defend his title.