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Mildenhall Fen Tigers rider Sam Norris, from Linton, talks about his recovery from a race crash that left him in a coma

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Amidst all the uproar surrounding the exam results in August, it was easy to miss a particularly heart-warming story.

Sam Norris was one of the rising stars of the speedway world, competing for Mildenhall Fen Tigers, when he suffered a serious motorbike accident on the track.

The then 15-year-old was racing at British Youth Championships in June last year when he was involved in a crash.

Sam Norris (42301404)
Sam Norris (42301404)

It left the Linton-based teenager in a coma for five days with a brain injury that then required him to learn to walk and talk again.

However, prior to the lockdown he was making strides to sit all of his GCSEs at Linton Village College, and though that did not prove possible due to events beyond his control, Sam was able to produce some good results that must have looked impossible little more than a year ago.

“To be honest, the day we went there [to collect the results] I honestly thought I was going to come away with nothing,” he says.

Sam Norris at home in Linton recovering from his accident with mum Claire. Picture: Keith Heppell
Sam Norris at home in Linton recovering from his accident with mum Claire. Picture: Keith Heppell

“To get two GCSEs, it’s not bad considering what I’ve been through. I got into the car and said to my mum, ‘I didn’t get anything, I didn’t get any GCSEs’. My mum said ‘never mind, it’s just one of those things’.

“I went, ‘only joking, I’ve got two’. I wanted to get my maths, and I was only one level off getting my pass in maths.

“I still got my BTEC level one distinction in PE, then I got my science as well, which I didn’t think I would ever get.”

Sam Norris with his parents Chris and Claire. Picture by Carol Downie
Sam Norris with his parents Chris and Claire. Picture by Carol Downie

Sam has now started a motor mechanics course at Cambridge Regional College, starting at level one but with the aim to advance to level three.

But he said: “I’ve always got that PE grade that I can fall back on. Even before my crash I was thinking about taking that course, but I do like physiotherapy that they did in my rehab as well.

“I would like to do that and help others that are going through a similar stage to get back to full fitness and back to normal again.”

Mildenhall Fen Tigers Press and Practice Day Sam Norris Picture by Mark Westley.
Mildenhall Fen Tigers Press and Practice Day Sam Norris Picture by Mark Westley.

It is perhaps unsurprising that Sam is keen to assist those that find themselves in a similar situation to the one in which he found himself, and is a sign of his tremendous fortitude.

His rehab is ongoing, and he still gets chronic fatigue, particularly later in the evening which slows his thought process and physical and cognitive skills.

“It’s been hard a few times,” he says.

Speedway rider Sam Norris. Picture: Carol Downie
Speedway rider Sam Norris. Picture: Carol Downie

“You get the odd day when you don’t do anything, you argue, plus I don’t want to be where I am at the minute, I want to be back racing.

“You think about it more, and say to yourself just accept it, you are how you are.”

A key part of his recovery was three months at The Children’s Trust rehabilitation centre in Tadworth, Surrey, where he would stay during the week.

Speedway rider Sam Norris. Picture: David Crane (42280856)
Speedway rider Sam Norris. Picture: David Crane (42280856)

“The first month I was not getting better, I was still at the same stage but then all of a sudden because of the Children’s Trust and the staff they really boosted my confidence with some of the activities so I started to go on leaps and bounds and have been carrying that on,” explains Sam.

“The second month I started to go to the local gym twice a week, and they got me into that. They really did want me to get back to full fitness when I was there.

“Ever since I’ve come back I’ve been learning new exercise and fitness. It was priceless. The way we got treated as well - they didn’t treat you like you were different, they just treated you like a normal human being which made me and others feel good about ourselves again.”

“I just think of myself as a normal 16-year-old boy, sometimes I just try to forget what has actually happened to me because then I can set really high goals.

“If I don’t reach those goals then I try to beat myself up which is a bit wrong, but it’s the only way I’ve been getting better - by setting high goals.”

Sam has ridden a bike from a very young age, so you can understand why the ambition of racing again provides such a strong motivation.

Although, having started aged five, it was not plain-sailing straight away.

“I used to ride a little 50cc Honda round the garden with stabilisers on, and then I went into a bush and didn’t want to ride it any more,” he says. “I got back on it a year later, and have loved it ever since.”

His amazing work and perseverance led to him getting back on a 140cc motorbike on a grasstrack at the start of this year, and the thoughts are turning to the more powerful machines in the coming months.

It is also helping with his recovery.

“I’m hoping to have a go through the winter back on my 250cc, and I’m hoping to go back to racing next April,” says Sam.

“I’ve already targeted winning a British title next year - I don’t know why, but I just want to win something.

“I’m trying to strive towards that, and Covid has had its reaction to it as we all haven’t been doing anything.

“It’s the only way to get back to it, by giving myself goals that are really massive for me but in the long run I achieve them.

“If you don’t give yourself a target, then you will not achieve it. I’ve just given myself them - I haven’t even told my parents.”

Sam was due to be a keynote speaker at the Headway Suffolk neuro conference, talking about his story in a bid to help others with what they are going through.

But government guidelines and restrictions mean the event has had to be cancelled.

It will just mean that, for now, other methods and channels will be needed to share Sam’s inspiring story of resilience and determination, although he is far more modest about what he has been through.

“When I first came back from rehab, we were just thinking about taking the day in hand and just focusing on that day,” he says.

“When I think about how far I’ve come, being back on a bike, going to start college, it’s not bad.”