Making history was the furthest thing from Toby Price’s mind three years ago.
The Australian dirt-bike champion’s focus was just on getting out of hospital intact, after a horror crash in California’s Mojave Desert.
Racing in the Hare and Hound National Championship, Price went down hard.
Price then picked up his bike and helped another racer who had also fallen.
But something wasn’t right, and Price – who has no memory of the incident – complained to another rider of neck pain.
He was flown to hospital and, after looking at scans of his neck, doctors raced to Price’s room and implored him not to move.
He’d broken his C6, C7 and T1 vertebrae, leaving him a whisker away from life in a wheelchair.
If that wasn’t bad enough, uninsured and unable to come up with the half a million dollars neeeded for an operation, he was ordered to leave the hospital and had to spend two days in a hotel in a halo brace.
Price, who was 26 at the time, was forced to run the gauntlet of a 14-hour commercial airline flight home in the halo, risking life in a wheelchair should he be jolted the wrong way, so he could undergo the operation covered by his heath insurance.
“I just took the gamble to come back on the plane and, if things went wrong, I’d be buggered two ways,” he told The Herald in 2014.
“It was a massive risk to take, but I’d rather try to get fixed and have a go at getting back over here. Fortunately it’s worked out really well.”
But if the physical toll wasn’t bad enough, the financial hardship endured almost sent him broke.
He was left around $80,000 in debt after the accident, and the dirt-bike community organised several fundraisers to help with expenses.
After seven months of rehab, the plucky racer from Hillston in New South Wales didn’t just get back on his feet, he got back on the bike – and in some considerable style.
In 2014, the year after his accident, Price won the Finke and Hattah desert races, the Australian Off-Road Championship and the International Six Days Enduro.
And after finishing third in his first attempt at the Dakar Rally in 2015, the 28-year-old was burning to win the title, one of the most prestigious in enduro racing.
And that’s precisely what he did, finishing fourth on the 13th and final stage to Rosario, Argentina, on Saturday night (AEDT) to win the bike section by almost 40 minutes.
Afterwards Price was ecstatic with his achievement, in light of his long road back to health.
“I would’ve never imagined this two years ago,” he said.
“Finishing the rally is already a triumph. Winning it is amazing.
“I don’t know what to say, I don’t know what to think. I’m in shock.
“This is incredible for my family, my friends and my fans back in Australia.
“Winning in my second participation is awesome, but being the first Australian to win the Dakar is just insane.”
Price’s father John paid tribute to his son’s courage and persistence.
“To come back with the sheer guts and determination that he has, he got himself back riding but not racing only six months after the surgery on his neck,” John Price said.
“He just worked and worked that hard just to get himself back so he could continue his dream.
“We were just keeping track of it knowing that Toby had a reasonable lead leading into the last stage but being the Dakar as it is, anything can happen.
“You just hope and pray it all goes well and he has a good run, which he did.
“We cracked a bottle of champers when we heard the result at about 1:30am.
“We were pretty rapt with the way it all went down, we couldn’t go to sleep after that.”