Matthias Walkner was high on the favorites list for the Dakar Rally. In 2018 he won the rally in the motorcycle category, then followed up in 2019 by finishing second and in 2022 he grabbed P3. In 2024, however, he will not participate in the famous rally after a freak accident in the latest test.
During a reconnaissance lap of the terrain in early December, he overlooked a five-meter-deep abyss due to flying dust. He landed horribly and sustained multiple open fractures to his tibia, fibula and foot. His ankle was also broken into 31 pieces.
And so, logically, a line went through the Dakar Rally. A long period of rehabilitation arrived. After initial operations in California, Walkner was transported to his home country of Austria.
In Graz, he underwent another 15-hour surgery shortly before Christmas, during which his left ankle was taken in hand. There was "not much left of it," according to the Austrian, and after a 15-hour reconstruction, bone was taken away from his pelvis to be used for his ankle.
The article continues below the images of Walkner after his crash
Doesn't go in the cold
Walkner does not need to be on the operating table for the time being, something he did for a total of 31 hours in December. He is currently still in the hospital and will soon begin his long rehabilitation.
"My ankle looked like I had stepped on a landmine," Walkner reveals to SpeedWeek. "If this had happened in Africa, my foot would not have been salvageable."
That's not to say that amputation in California hadn't been considered. Walkner was struggling mentally.
"I even thought about euthanasia," he admits. "I thought about people who are no longer capable of anything because of the pain. On a scale of one to 10, I was easily at an eight to nine in terms of pain."
Amputation was ultimately out of the question, something Walkner was thankful for to his medical team in Austria.
"After the 15-hour surgery, my doctor came in and said, 'Matthias, I promised we wouldn't stop until we were completely satisfied.' I am very proud of how the operation went.'"
"I am extremely grateful and happy to have the best possible medical team around me. They have a lot of expertise and they are also very warm people. I am brimming with positive energy because of them. In my phone they are all stored with the word 'angel' added in the name."
Dakar 2025, then? "I got off to a good start. I can finally ride my bike again. With luck, I will be pain-free at the start of the next Dakar Rally. Step by step we will see. I can't wait until I can shower independently again and put weight back on my left foot."
In the video below you can see some footage from shortly after the crash. Please note, the footage is not for the sensitive viewer.