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Injured racer fighting to recover

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Sam Jolley spends a lot of time sleeping in the shock-trauma intensive care unit at LDS Hospital. But when he's awake, he's mad. He doesn't want the nurses fussing over him, and he's threatened one that he will leave if it continues.

His family is proud of that.

"It's good. He's a fighter," said his stepfather, Randy Millett.

Jolley, 25, has had surgery on his back during which doctors fused vertebrae. He faces at least one more surgery, a hip replacement, then months of physical therapy, said his mother, Chris Millett.

Jolley fractured his spine during a motocross race at the Delta Center Jan 1. Shortly after Jolley was rushed into LDS Hospital's emergency room, doctors said Jolley would be a quadriplegic.

"I hate that word. He does have a spinal injury," his mother said.

"He suffers from pretty extensive injuries. (Doctors) don't know what the outcome is. At this point, it is unknown how much he will improve," said Jess Gomez, hospital spokesman.

Jolley can move and feel pain in his right leg and foot, the family said.

It is unknown whether Jolley will walk again or be able to return to his job as a heavy-equipment operator. His family is hopeful he will be able to ride a motorcycle again. His mother is unsure whether he will race.

But the family does not blame the sport of motocross racing, in which participants ride bikes around a dirt track and up and down hills. Jolley's 15-year-old brother, Eric Millett, is thinking of racing next year with Jolley's number, 414, as a tribute to him.

Jolley was experienced and aware of the risks involved in the "daredevil" sport, his mom said. Jolley had been participating in motocross races throughout Utah for about three years. Before that, he competed on a BMX bicycle. He got his first motorcycle when he was 11.

"When you're a parent and your kids have a passion, you can support and love them and be there for them or you can reject them. We chose to be with them in their lives," Chris Millett said.

On Jan. 1, Jolley took all the precautions he could, wearing a helmet, a plastic guard over his chest and shoulders, knee braces, gloves and goggles, Randy Millett said.

Chris Millett sat in the audience and watched her son try a triple — a single jump over three hills. "He's done it many times," she said.

On his most recent attempt, Jolley went over the handle bars and landed on one of the hills on his right side.

"Then the bike came down on top of him," Chris Millett said. "I've seen him wreck before. He's always gotten up."

This time, Jolley did not get up. Chris Millett rode in the ambulance with him.

Doctors at LDS Hospital criticized the motocross event at the Delta Center because eight people visited the emergency room that day with injuries associated with the races. Jolley's was the most serious.

The family said the doctors should consider the number of people hurt in snowboarding and skiing accidents.

Jolley has two sons, 5 and 3 years old. Will he steer the boys in the direction of motocross racing?

"I wouldn't be a bit surprised. Sam loves the sport," Chris Millett said.

Jolley has no medical insurance. People interested in donating money for his medical expenses can contribute to the Sam Jolley Fund at Zions Bank.

E-mail: lhancock@desnews.com