A chance to 'feel normal'
WILDERVILLE — For Kelsey Box, tough truck racing is freedom; a chance, as she says, to "feel normal, like nothing ever happened."
What did happen — a 2013 car accident that paralyzed Box from the waist down — could have put an end to her laps and leaps around dirt tracks. But the 23-year-old chose to keep going, and two years later, is still doing it. It comes with a radical change in how she competes, however, specifically in customizing a Ford Ranger she helped her dad build with hand controls.
“It took me about a month to fully get used to it just because of how the brake and the gas is,” Box says.
She's apparently quite comfortable now. Last year, Box netted $3,500 in winnings from races across Oregon and in Northern California. She will participate in tough truck races today and Saturday at The Expo in Central Point during the Monster X Monster Trucks Tour.
Ready, set ...
Box started tough truck racing in 2008. Her sister had done it first, tearing around the turns and jumps of courses at the Josephine County Fairgrounds. She stopped after a back injury, and Box gave it a try.
She started with her sister's truck, then upgraded to another she built with her father. The races continued in that truck from 2012 into early 2013.
Then came Jan. 19, 2013. Box says she had been going through an emotional rough patch when she drove her car off New Hope Road, near Grants Pass, into a ditch.
“I was just not in the right mind. I wasn’t myself. I wasn’t there,” Box says.
Arriving firefighters and paramedics thought the crash had been fatal, at first.
"They called a fatality when they first came up. They didn’t even know I was alive,” Box says.
Emergency responders rushed Box to Asante Three Rivers Medical Center, where it was discovered she had broken her T11 and T12 vertebrae, paralyzing her near her belly button down to her feet. Box was later taken to Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center in Medford for surgery and additional recovery. She spent four days in an intensive care unit, then was able to speak to a doctor.
“He told me I had a one-in-a-million chance to walk again,” Box says. "(But) my main concern was me being able to race again. I asked him if that was possible."
He answered yes, but to give it a year or so. Box did. During that time, she got busy adapting to her new life. She mastered getting in and out of her wheelchair, dressing herself, basic hygiene.
"I basically had to learn how to live over again. I think that’s the toughest part for me," Box says. "I have to learn to do everything else in a different way. But I make it work."
While Box recovered from her injuries, a custom-made truck started to take shape.
Her father, Rob Box, took the lead on the project. He installed hand controls and modified the steering wheel to make turning easier. Kelsey helped where she could, painting, welding and doing some detail work. In about three months, it was finished. Box dubbed the silver Ford Ranger with a pink and silver wrap "Chunky Chick," and started getting used to the controls.
“When I got the hang of it, it wasn’t that bad," she says. "I still wanted to use my feet when I first did it."
Box started racing again in February last year. Rob Box says it was difficult to watch at first because of her injury, but he felt better when he saw her renewed skill behind the wheel.
"She's a natural," he says. "No fear. She's totally in focus with what she's doing. She just handles it.
"It was therapy for both of us. It gave us something to look forward to."
Kelsey Box's travels have taken her as far north as Portland and as far south as Red Bluff, Calif. She races once or twice a month.
"It's good to have competition," Box says, adding that meeting other tough truck racers, many of whom admire that she's still racing despite her injury, has been great. "It’s competition and fun getting to know and learn about new people."
Ultimately, Box hopes her racing will inspire others with disabilities.
"You can do whatever you want," she says. "Just because you're in a wheelchair doesn't mean it's the end of your life."