I think we can all think back and recall where we were when the news came out that Estrella Cemovic had crashed at the Mini O’s and was very badly injured. The date was November 22, 2017 and it’s certainly a day that Estrella and her family will never forget. Obviously, any time you or your child throws a leg over a motorcycle there is risk involved. There’s always the chance that a crash may happen, and quite possibly an injury may occur. However, as optimistic human beings, we are hard wired to always believe that ‘it’ won’t happen to us.
On that day in Florida, the seemingly normal race day quickly turned to tragedy when Estrella suffered what her mom can best describe as a ‘simple’ crash. Standing only a few feet away from where her daughter crashed, Genevra Cemovic kept waiting for Estrella to get up, remount and continue her race. “At first I didn’t think too much of Estrella’s crash as it didn’t look that bad. I just remember standing there and thinking, “Okay, let’s get up and get going again.” What her mom didn’t know at the time was that her daughter was very unlucky and had not only landed very hard on the front part of her head, but also had the bike land on the back of her head. Within minutes it became very clear that Estrella’s injuries were very serious and every parent’s nightmare was unfolding.
From the track, Estrella was airlifted to a hospital in Gainesville, FL with a badly broken collarbone, shoulder and a traumatic brain injury. When she arrived at the trauma centre she was already in a coma as the medical staff went to work. Like any injury of this magnitude, the first thing that doctors had to do was to try to stabilize Estrella and make sure no further damage was done to her brain. Thankfully, the medical centre they were at in Gainesville specializes in brain injuries so Estrella was getting the best care possible. Her mom describes the first few days in the hospital; “Those first hours and days were obviously the hardest as we really didn’t know whether or not she would recover, and we wondered if we were going to lose our beautiful Estrella. However, the medical staff was amazing and they assured us that as serious as her injuries were, the chances of her coming out of her coma were very good. Still, to see her lying there in that state was just like something out of a nightmare.” While Estrella was in a coma and her brain was slowly healing itself, her family was busy getting a quick indoctrination on the inner workings of the human brain. “In that first week we learned so much about how our brains work. The staff there was so good at keeping us informed about not just what was happening, but why it was happening. When was she going wake up was obviously our most important question, but the doctors just kept telling us that her brain was working hard to heal itself and that she would wake up when she was ready.” Well, after a few weeks, Estrella began to show improvement and on December 6th, fifteen days from the day she was admitted, she was awake and the long recovery process began.
These days, Estrella and her mom spend their weekdays in Jacksonville, FL at a rehabilitation centre working to get stronger both physically and mentally. It’s now been three months since her accident and the doctors couldn’t be happier with Estrella’s progress. Each day she is improving, and more and more of her memory is coming back. On the weekends, they travel back to the GPF training facility so Estrella can see her dad and watch her brother ride, and of course visit with all of her moto friends. Although she is not completely out of the woods yet and still has a very long road ahead of her, Estrella is doing much better and even hopes to be back driving by late spring. Her mom wanted me to also pass along that one of the things that kept the Cemovic family spirits up through all of this awful ordeal was the incredible support they received from all of us in the motocross industry. Yes, this sport is ultra-competitive and we spend a lot of time battling each other on the race track. However, off of the track we’re one big family and we’ll do everything we can to help our fellow riders in their time of need. So, without further ado, here is my conversation with Estrella Cemovic.
MXP: Hey Estrella, how are you?
Estrella: I’m good, how are you?
MXP: I’m doing great, it’s nice to hear your voice.
ES: Thanks, it’s nice to hear yours.
MXP: I guess my first question is how are you doing?
ES: I’m doing much better now than I was, that’s for sure. I’m actually feeling good now, the only thing that I’m dealing with is my memory isn’t that great, but it is getting better everyday.
MXP: Well, that is great news. Your mom tells me that each day you’re getting stronger and that the rehabilitation work that you’re currently doing in Jacksonville is going really well.
ES: Yes, it’s definitely helping. However, it’s sooooo boring!
MXP: Yes, but it’s like practicing corners when you’re training for motocross. It’s not the most exciting thing but you have to do it.
ES: (laughs) That’s true. I guess it’s not too bad. I mean, at least now I only have to spend a few days during the week in Jacksonville, and then I get to spend the rest of the time at GPF with my friends.
MXP: It must have felt so good when you finally got out of the hospital and were able to return to GPF to see all of your friends?
ES: Oh yes, I have made great friends there, and also my brother is still training there. Each weekend I get to go there and just hang out and be with them.
MXP: Your mom also mentioned that all of your GPF moto friends even went to visit you in the hospital after your accident.
ES: Yes, they did. It was really nice of them to come to see me, and it definitely made me feel good.
MXP: I’m sure your family has told you this, but since the day of your accident you’ve had so much support from the motocross world, both in the USA as well as in Canada.
ES: Yes, my parents have been telling me how much support we have had through all of this and it has meant so much. When I got out of the hospital and was able to use my phone again, I couldn’t remember my password. Thankfully my little brother knew it and I was able to see all of the ‘get-well’ texts, and also see all of the support on Social Media. It made me feel really good that so many people cared and took the time to message me. I really just want to say thank-you!
MXP: Going back to your rehabilitation in Jacksonville. What type of things do they have you doing at the Centre?
ES: There are a few different groups that cover a bunch of things. There’s a mind and body group where we basically do gym-type workouts to get stronger. It’s just basic stuff but it has helped me regain some of my strength. Then in the other group it’s more about helping me remember everything. We work with colours and different things to help me get my memory back.
MXP: Your recovery and rehab work must be aided in the fact that prior to your accident, you were a very strong and fit athlete?
ES: Yes, it has, but in the crash I also broke my collarbone very badly, so for a while I had trouble doing things. I couldn’t even drink or hold stuff because I wasn’t able to lift my arm. But, it’s slowly been getting better also.
MXP: It sounds as though you have a great support system with both your friends and your family, as well as in Jacksonville?
ES: I really do, everyone has been great. I’m the youngest in my group at the rehabilitation centre so they’re always referring to me as a kid. I tell them that I’m not that young and that I know what’s going on, but they like to bug me so it’s pretty fun.
MXP: That’s pretty funny. I know you think it’s boring but it does sound like the therapy is working.
ES: It has really helped a lot. Since I started there, my memory has really started to come back. Also, being there each week and seeing my process, it has really helped my confidence. In the mind and body group we’ve been doing some things like sprints and workouts. Seeing as I was in such good shape before my crash, to know that I can still run and exercise makes me very happy and hopeful that I will make a full recovery.
MXP: That is great news, and I guess it’s like any recovery in that it’s all about baby steps?
ES: I know what you mean because when I first got out of the hospital I couldn’t even walk. I couldn’t really do anything, actually. Now, I’m able to run a little and my balance is slowly coming back, and that is making me feel normal again.
MXP: During the days when you’re either at rehab or GPF, do you feel fairly clear headed or are things a little foggy still?
ES: I feel good during the day. I mean, I don’t think I need glasses or anything. Sometimes my vision is still a little blurry, or sometimes I get dizzy if I stand up quickly. But, each day those things are getting better and I feel good.
MXP: That is amazing! Tell me, when you’re at GPF, do you still love the sound and the smell of dirt bikes?
ES: Of course, I love it so much. I’m always telling my mom how I want to be riding again by June (at this point Estrella whispers to me that she really means sooner than June, but her mom is sitting right beside her), but we’ll see how it goes. I really miss riding and racing, but I still have a long way to go.
MXP: I can definitely hear in your voice how much you miss riding, it’s just such an addictive activity. Are you sleeping well at night and getting lots of rest?
ES: It’s funny, before my accident I would take a long time to fall asleep, even if I was tired. Now, I can fall asleep in like two minutes, anywhere, anytime, if I’m tired I just close my eyes and I’m asleep. So yes, I’m sleeping great.
MXP: Well, I know I speak for everyone when I say that it’s great to hear that you’re doing well and getting better everyday. I remember seeing you at Moto Park back in September and you were walking around with your brother and his friends, laughing and having a good time. Again, like the entire motocross community, I’m so happy to hear that you’re doing well and I can’t wait to see you guys again this summer at Moto Park.
ES: I really love it there and I cannot wait to go back there this summer. Yes, please let everyone know that I’m doing well and I really appreciate all of the support that I’m getting from people. This has obviously been a difficult time for me and my family, but thanks to the support we’re getting through it.
MXP: Estrella, I really appreciate you taking the time to chat with me. You have been through an incredibly difficult ordeal, so it’s amazing to hear your voice again and hear that you’re doing so well. Good luck with everything and keep up your amazing recovery.
ES: Thanks Chris! I really want to thank-you for calling and letting me tell my story. Everything is going great and I can’t wait to get back to Canada and see all of my Canadian friends.