Give and Take: How One Man Lost His Leg To Ride Again

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Give and Take: How One Man Lost His Leg To Ride Again

If you had to amputate a limb in order to keep riding motorcycles, would you do it? That’s what happened to Charles Rutherford who, seven months after losing his left foot, is back riding. We talk to him about that monumental decision in this interview.

RideApart: Tell us about your accident. How did it happen and what was the immediate aftermath?

Charles Rutherford: June 26th was a gorgeous summer day and I was a couple blocks from my downtown Minneapolis condo. As I took a left turn onto a side street, a large SUV swung a U-turn into my lane, trying to grab the last parking spot on the corner. I had a couple tenths of a second to avoid hitting him head-on and I almost missed him, but instead, skipped off the front of the car with my left leg caught between the bumper and my bike. I nearly rode it out, but I hit the curb and ended up on the sidewalk with the bike still running in the gutter.

RA: How could you have better protected yourself from injury?

Charles Rutherford: 2012 was a tough year to be my body. Although I’ve always been an ATGATT (all the gear, all the time) guy, I broke my shoulder blade in May on the street (locked the front under braking) and both feet on the track (locked the front on some fluid) in September — both on my 2008 Ducati Hypermotard. To protect my still-healing feet, I bought some serious boots (Icon Elsinore) for 2013. Unfortunately, no boot is SUV-rated. If I’m being extra critical of myself, it’s that an illegal U-turner was nowhere on my radar of possibilities. I play the woulda, coulda, shoulda game on occasion, but when I catch myself doing it, I remind myself that the only place I need to look is where I want to go.

Give and Take: How One Man Lost His Leg To Ride Again

RA: You had some serious injuries as a result.

Charles Rutherford: Yes, I had a fragmented compound fracture of the tibia and fibula which means that whatever wasn’t sticking through the leftover skin had been turned into calcium dust. I’d smacked my head enough that without a helmet, it would have been messy. Had I caught the SUV half a twist grip further back, I’d have walked away – angry, but on my feet. The funniest part was, this is the slowest crash I’d ever had. That may sound strange, but as a former road racer with an AMA license, I know that it’s not the speed that hurts, it’s the oncoming or stationary objects.

RA: How did you arrive at the decision to amputate?

Charles Rutherford: Although I was praying shock would turn out the lights until a happier part of the film, I was alert the entire time, right up until they had to take the boot off in the Emergency Room. Thanks Ketamine. When I came to, my family called in the doctor who told me I had options. ‘Options? Yeah, the option is stitch me up and get me on my way, doc!’ He said it wasn’t that simple. They had attached an external fixator, which was holding the foot to my leg via a hole they drilled about 5 inches below my knee. Thankfully, there was still blood flow and feeling in my foot, so they didn’t automatically whack it off while I was out. I was following along with the doctor as he told me the process of keeping the foot. They could install a titanium rod in place of the three inches of missing bones and they’d have to re-create the bone and flesh by harvesting bone, muscle and tissue from other parts of my body. Meaning six to eight operations with a 20 percent chance of infection each time, over the course of about 18 months. At the end of all that they’d know how well it worked. ‘Ok doc, I’m with you. What will that look like long-term?’ Probably a fused ankle, never ski, mountain bike, chase kids or ride motorcycles safely. Lots of rehab and pain would likely be a constant companion. ‘What about amputation?’ About 8 weeks and you’ll be walking. You’ll do all the things you’re used to doing now.

Give and Take: How One Man Lost His Leg To Ride Again

Although I didn’t have to make the decision at that moment, it hit me that just five hours before, my biggest decision was where I was going to take my then-girlfriend to dinner after mountain biking. Now I have to decide whether I’m going to keep my foot?

I cried myself off to a narcotic nap and woke up in the morning with an unshakable peace and the phrase, ‘It’s just a foot,’ rolling through my head. Wait, but it’s a foot! Yeah, it’s just a foot.

I told my family and girlfriend that I was thinking of amputating. They agreed. When the doctor came back that day, I asked three questions: Which option will heal the fastest? What will give me the best quality of life? What has the fewest chance of future complications? Answer: Amputation. My answer: ‘Then after 36 years of faithful service, we’re gonna take that puppy off.’ I was able to find the best orthopedic surgeon in town to do the Ertl Method of amputation, which was a high performance/activity method that removed my leg 6.5 inches below my knee, creating a bone bridge between my tib/fib with bone from what they’d removed.

RA: What physical therapy or other methods did you undertake to start riding again?

Charles Rutherford: Although my prosthesis is state of the art, the reality is that there’s no way for me to articulate the toe when I’m not taking a step. It only flexes when I put weight on the heel or toe. 69 days after amputation, when I’d begun to groove to the feeling of my carbon foot, I decided to get on my dad’s Monster S2R to take it up and down the block. There was no way I could hook the shift lever with my toe, so I had to reach down and pull to shift up. I had to downshift with my heel.

Give and Take: How One Man Lost His Leg To Ride Again


Continue Reading More of Charles’ Story >>

  • webbiker

    The amputation decision was kinda cool and inspiring, but the aftermath part was where the Charles really showed what kind of a man he is.

    • SniperSmitty

      Charles is truly an inspiration. I’ve known guys who quit riding after their first get off. With no broken bones.To me, riding my motorcycle is, to quote Rossi, “Like an Art. Something you are inspired to do.” A Real Rider. Congratulations to you Sir and keep the dirty side down.

      • charlesrutherford

        Thank you very much. Have a Merry Christmas!

    • charlesrutherford

      I really appreciate the kind words. Thank you and have a Merry Christmas!

      • Pablo Perez

        Hey Charles, I have a Brother that went through the same thing (lost his leg in a bike crash). He runs Harley style heel-toe shift levers so he’s always banging down (not up, which would be a problem for him) through the gears. I imagine a setup like that would be pretty easy to fab up for a Ducati.

        • charlesrutherford

          Thank you Pablo, that setup is a great idea, something I’ll do on my next bike. Thank you and all my best to you and your brother!

          • Pablo Perez

            Cool deal Charles, all my best to you!

  • Zanpa

    This last paragraph was really remarkable.
    Congratulations, Charles. You really are an inspiration to riders… and non-riders alike.

    • charlesrutherford

      I appreciate you saying that. Have a Merry Christmas!

  • KeithB

    ” I invited him out for a beer so he could instead share in the joy… ”
    THAT is the coolest part of this story.

    • charlesrutherford

      Thanks Keith. Cheers!

  • tobykeller

    “I decided not to sue (and likely win). Instead, I invited him out for a beer so he could instead share in the joy”

    Slow clap.

    • charlesrutherford

      Thank you Toby, I can hear it from here. Cheers!

    • Emmet

      This is what struck me hard. To let go of anger like that and find peace and be able to share it with the person who brought this all on him… Charles, you are the man.

      • charlesrutherford

        Thank you very much Emmet.

  • Jesse

    If you ever find yourself near Boston, Mr Ruthersford, let us know and you have that beer and many others like it waiting for you. May we all be so level headed and full of life.

    • charlesrutherford

      Be careful what you say to me Jesse! I appreciate the offer and I’d say the odds are high that I’ll take you up on it. Have a Merry Christmas!

      • Jesse

        I stand by it. Give me dates, and we’ll make that happen. Karma, neh?

        • charlesrutherford

          Can you hit me up on Facebook? Charles P. Rutherford II

          • Bruno Vanzieleghem

            Yeah, beers for you in Detroit as well.

  • Rameses the 2nd

    Holy crap. I am not going to lie and try to be brave. I would have taken 18 months of procedures, 20% chance of infection, and lots of rehab over amputation without a doubt. I am sad that this life altering accident happened to him, but happy to read how he dealt with it.

    • charlesrutherford

      Thank you Ramses. It’s funny that the “right” decision is where you put the value, right? Be well. Cheers!

    • charlesrutherford

      Thank you Rameses. It’s funny how the “right” decision depends on where you put the value, right? I appreciate the encouragement. Be well. Cheers!

  • Reid

    This, folks, is what a real man looks like. Would that we all could show such fortitude in situations less trying than this one. Let’s all be careful when we’re out riding.

    • charlesrutherford

      Wow, thank you Reid. I really appreciate that. I was surprised to find what I did inside me under crisis. I’m thankful I got this one right. Thank you again and have a Merry Christmas.

  • tincantroubadour

    You know, I read the part about not being able to use the shifter properly, and then I saw the braided lines in the photo, and I thought “pneumatic quick shifter prostetic!” I was surprised when that wasn’t the case…

    I guess it would make sense just to fit a quick shifter, moreso that it would to engineer a pneumatically articulated foot… but I still like the idea!

    • charlesrutherford

      Pneumatically actuated foot sounds outstanding! I’d consider button up/down shifting, but without the ability to regulate the clutch on downshifts, I think I’ll stick to standard. Hopefully someday they’ll wire a prosthesis to my muscle/nerves and I’ll be able to move it with my brain. Cheers!

  • TP

    Great article, thank you rideapart. Maybe in the future you guys can do a feature on different types of insurance for situations like this and the up and downsides of them? As a 23 year old that’s one of the things that I know diddly squat about.

    • charlesrutherford

      Thank you TP. It’s a good suggestion, because I wish I’d have known June 25th what I found out on June 26th. Cheers!

  • Joe Bielski

    Frakin’ eh!!!

    • charlesrutherford

      Indeed Joe!

  • Fresh Mint

    Awesome story – best part is at the end when he choose not to sue the dude….Can’t say I’d be just as gracious.
    and he lost the girl? That sucks…

    • charlesrutherford

      Thank you FM. I appreciate the concern, but it truly worked out exactly the way it should have. Be well, cheers!

  • contender

    Great story.

    I’m in Denver. If you’re ever here I’ve got the first few rounds.

    • charlesrutherford

      That’s not an impossibility! Thank you very much for the encouragement, have a Merry Christmas!

  • RyYYZ

    I’d like to think I’d be so generous about not suing the other driver. I mean, I know that money can’t really compensate for pain and suffering or the loss of a limb. OTOH, it was the other driver’s fault, and also really their own fault for not carrying sufficient liability insurance. I carry a million in liability, and it doesn’t cost all that much more, since such large payouts are relatively rare. I probably wouldn’t feel right about bankrupting some schmoe just to put a couple hundred grand in my bank account, either. I hope…

    • charlesrutherford

      That insurance is a good plan, one I wish I’d had in place! Maybe I’d have felt better about suing if it was a couple hundred grand at stake. I’m no saint! I kid. But I appreciate the kind words and I’m sure you would do the “right thing”, whatever that tended to be. Cheers!

  • Clint Keener

    You sir are a gentleman and a scholar.

    Seems sketchy to put your left foot down and not feel the pavement. How hard is it to find your balance with both feet on the ground?

    • charlesrutherford

      Thank you very much for the compliment, Clint. I “feel” my foot through my leg in my socket, so I can tell when it’s on the ground. It’s all pretty natural with both feet down, but I often just put my good foot (right) down so I don’t have to re-position my prosthesis on the peg. Be well sir!

  • skongara

    Mad props man. Havent read something as inspiring as this in a while. Sitting down with the guy who caused it and sharing a beer is an indication of the kind of man you are. I am gonna share this article with everyone I know. Much respect sir.

    • charlesrutherford

      Thank you for saying that. Thankfully, it did him (and me) a lot of good. Be well and have a Merry Christmas!

  • Aaron Kirkland

    Wow, this was a very scary read for me. I had nearly the same situation on my 2008 KTM 690 SMC. I had broken my ankle in a prior accident without boots, and was leaving for a ride, still with the broken ankle.

    I remember putting my new-to-me boots on (Sidi Crossfire) and then woke up in the hospital. A lady in an SUV pulled a U-turn in front of me.

    I still have my leg though, thankfully. I still ride those boots, and I believe they saved my leg. My only injury was a minor concussion (Thanks Arai) and a partially torn PCL.

    This story was great. Very chilling for me. You inspire all of us, Charles.

    • charlesrutherford

      I’m glad you’re back at it, Aaron! Thank you very much for the encouragement. Cheers!

  • dan0

    Like others the best part of it the last paragraph choosing not to sue and take the guy out for a beer to keep his spirits up. He was certainly at fault and made a mistake but it wasn’t worth destroying his life over.

    • charlesrutherford

      You’ve got that right Dan. Thank you very much for the consideration, have a Merry Christmas!

  • Doug S

    Very difficult decision to make. Glad you’re back in saddle! As a nurse, I wish you were my patient, no only for the face-to-face inspiration but also for the fact that you’re drinking lemon-lime gatorade out of a urinal!

    • charlesrutherford

      Thank you Doug! It was actually urine. I had captioned the photo “Thankfully, John came to visit just in time. The narcotics we making me think I was about to enter a Mountain Dew slamming contest.” Thank you for everything you do!

  • Bill J

    Charles – we need more people like you!

    • charlesrutherford

      Wow, thank you Bill. Have a Merry Christmas!

  • Rich

    The final paragraph makes this no longer a motorcycle story, but a story of humanity.
    Although I ride (’77 BMW R100S), no motorcycle is necessary to come away from this story inspired.
    Ride on, brother!

    • charlesrutherford

      Thank you very much Rich. I really appreciate that. Be well and have A Merry Christmas!

  • Swisser

    I suffered the same exact accident, crushing my tib/fib between my bike and the bumper of a car who turned into my path. Fortunately, I came out with nothing but a titanium rod in my leg and was back riding in 2 months, albeit on a scooter.

    I never considered how the man that hit me felt, though. Your forgiveness is truly inspiring. I am going to track him down, shake his hand, and show him that everything is fine.

    • charlesrutherford

      I’m really glad to hear you’re well healed Swisser! I hope you find that forgiving him is something transformational for both of you, even if neither of you ‘need’ it. Thank you for the kind encouragement. Cheers!

  • Aaron Brown

    God bless you man your a better man than I in every sense Glad your back in the saddle!!

    • charlesrutherford

      Thank you Aaron. You have it in you, too. I was just put in the spot where I had the chance to use it. Be well and have a Merry Christmas!

      • Aaron Brown

        have a great holiday as well!

  • Steve W.

    A friend of mine of lost half a foot on my birthday ride this year and because of that, I did some adjusting on my insurance. It also got me thinking about if I were to lose part of a leg and I decided I would order a few wooden peg legs for when I wasn’t riding just to freak little kids out.

  • ThruTheDunes

    Thank you Aakash and Rideapart for bringing Charles’s saga to us, and thank you Charles for sharing. As the comments have so eloquently expressed my sentiments, I will just say I echo them. I also applaud you taking the time to answer so many personally, and admire and appreciate the efforts of Ducati and their riding community to reach out to you to help get you back in the saddle.

    We have heard about everything, the foot, the new foot, even a question about the girl, but not the gun. I am curious about why it was not returned to you. Did you not want it any longer? I know people who usually get involved with shooting sports really enjoy them (my dad shot skeet and targets competitively). Just curious, hope you don’t mind me asking…

    • charlesrutherford

      Thank you very much Dunes. Minneapolis PD doesn’t have a protocol for returning a firearm in the field. Instead, they’re required to send every gun through the crime lab, which took them 121 days. Thankfully, I didn’t need it, because I don’t run as fast anymore! Thanks again, cheers!

  • markbvt

    Awesome story. In August 2011 I got hit by an SUV myself; result was a broken femur. Thankfully, modern orthopedic techniques literally bolted my leg back together, with a long titanium rod running down the center of the bone from my hip to just above my knee. I was walking again with the aid of a cane two months after the accident, and went for my first ride on January 1, 2012. I went on to ride about 20,000 miles each in 2012 and 2013, but I never thought about letting the woman who hit me know I’m completely back to normal. A friend of mine knows her; I’ll ask him to let her know.

    • charlesrutherford

      I’m really glad you’re thriving, Mark! I’m thankful for the brilliance and talent of ortho surgeons for a little different reason! I can’t imagine a better Christmas gift you could give someone other than the surprise gift of peace of mind. You’ll change her life. Really. Thank you and be well. Cheers!

  • Chad Berger

    Very inspiring story! If you ever find yourself down in the driftless region of Wisconsin, let me know, I’d like to buy you a beer!

    • charlesrutherford

      Thank you Chad! Not only do I know how to get to Wisconsin, I know how to drink beer! If you care to hit me up on FB, I can picture putting something together someday. Charles P. Rutherford II on FB.

  • Kingsix87

    I met a guy like Charles once. In fact, I sold my old bike to him. First time we talked I thought he was crazy. It just didn’t seem possible to me that anyone with amputation could ride ever again. But he was (is) very spirited and positive person holding great love for everything with two wheels (except scooters).He had the bike modified to up-shift with the toe. People like him and Charles aren’t made from the regular stuff we all are. They have something special in the mix. So keep riding!

    • charlesrutherford

      Thank you very much for the kind words, King. I think you’d be surprised what good things hardship reveals in some people, although I sincerely hope you and others don’t have to find out that way! Thank you again. Cheers!

  • Sam Malapas

    Charles you’re an incredible human being. Motorcycles aside, to be able to forgive someone who almost took your life and do what you did is beyond words. If only that pure goodness was baked into every human that took a breath of air…

    • charlesrutherford

      Thank you Sam. For me, it’s faith in God. Might not be that for everyone, but it’s the only way I could process the whole thing without acting on the impulse to hurt back. Be well my friend, I appreciate your thoughtful comments. Cheers!

  • zion

    Being a former resident of the Twin Cities, I know first hand of the die hard motorcycling community there. This is a great story and my heartfelt respect and admiration to Mr. Rutherford.

    • charlesrutherford

      Thank you Zion, I appreciate the sentiment. If you’re ever back, we’d love to ride. Be well, happy holidays!

  • Nick Goodwin

    If you come to Chicago in June, your Mods vs. Rockers ticket is on me, seriously.

    • charlesrutherford

      Wow, that’s incredibly generous Nick. While I may not need to take you up on it, nobody has a surplus of great people in their life. Hit me up on FB (Charles P. Rutherford II) Chicago is long overdue. Be well and have a Merry Christmas!

  • Travis Downing

    •Reply•Share ›

    Kingsix87 • an hour ago −
    I met a guy like Charles once. In fact, I sold my old bike to him. First time we talked I thought he was crazy. It just didn’t seem possible to

  • Deuce

    You should give the VFR 1200 DCT a test ride. Met a fellow rider in Montana with similar issues & he loved his.

    • charlesrutherford

      Thank you Deuce! I hit Montana on the 08 Hyper in 2012. I killed the ’13 Hyper in this accident before I could get it on the Beartooth Pass! That’s heartbreak!

  • Ken Condon

    Inviting the culprit to share a beer is truly inspiring. People make mistakes and should be held responsible, but we are all human. Good luck Charles.

    • charlesrutherford

      Indeed we are human Ken! Thankfully, I haven’t paid a price for every accidental and intentional dumb thing I’ve done. I guess I didn’t think he needed to hurt just for innocently trying to get a parking spot. Be well and have a Merry Christmas!

  • Jarrod Holmes

    Charles, you sir are a class act. I wish you all the best as we can see you deserve it. I surely wasn’t expecting that last paragraph.

    • charlesrutherford

      Thank you Jarrod. He’d experienced enough anguish, I guess I didn’t have it in me to make him start all over by taking everything over something so innocent. Thank you for the kind words. I hope you and your family have a Merry Christmas!

  • Riedl

    Last paragraph might have changed my life. Awesome outlook dude.

    • charlesrutherford

      Thank you Reidl. I don’t know the full meaning of the whole thing yet, but if part of it is changing lives for the better, my foot day a small price to pay. Best wishes to you this holiday season!

  • Randy S

    Unreal. We need about 7 billion more people like Charles in the World. I love the decision not to sue. It shows rock solid character on top of everything else.

    • charlesrutherford

      Thank you for that outstanding compliment Randy. Having 7 billion more people like me would leave the world with a lot of extra socks! Seriously though, I appreciate it. Merry Christmas!

  • Thomas Slayton

    So when I rode in England in the 70′s in suffolk, there was a great rider who hung in the local named Spike the Bike, a machinist by trade. One night a car hit him and he had his leg amputated. As soon as he could hobble, he built some gear to allow him to ride one legged. My guess is that Spike is still terrorizing the roads of Suffolk though he must be in his 50s by now

    • charlesrutherford

      Thank you very much Thomas. Brave people have gone before me to prove it was possible to ride again. Cheers!

  • downrange

    Charles rode a Hypermotard because no other bike had enough space for his gigantic testicles

    • charlesrutherford

      Hilarious Downrange!

  • Rolly

    Charles, amazing story. I am an amputee as well and lost my leg in a motorcycle accident in 1991. I got back into the saddle 2 years ago on the Aprilia Mana given it’s automatic and still by right a motorcycle and far from a scooter. :) While in the shop getting streetfighter handlebars installed I sat on a 2012 Tuono and feel in love immediately. The owner of the shop promised he could find a rig to get me onto the Tuono and within 2 months he had fitted the bike with an electronic paddle shifter out of the UK. I can shift up and down with my thumb and ended up putting 7500 miles on the bike this past summer.

    I’ll be happy to send you pictures of the paddle shifter setup so please don’t hesitate to contact me.

    All the best and keep riding.