7 years after severe accident, woman drives and thrives

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No one could blame Kristen Kudlic if she settled into a comfortable 9-to-5 job in an office where about the heaviest thing she had to lift was a new toner cartridge for the office copier.

But that’s not what this 26-year-old from Feeding Hills, Massachusetts is all about.

In fact, it’s the complete opposite.

Kristen Kudlic

Instead, Kudlic spends her days driving a 2011 Kenworth T800, hauling equipment and materials for her family’s construction business in southwestern Massachusetts. And, when not on the job, she’s in the gym most days following a demanding CrossFit training routine. Then, in all of her spare time, she competes in barrel racing on the professional rodeo circuit.

Not bad for a woman who seven years ago had doctor after doctor telling her and her family she’d never walk again.

About this time of year in 2009, a 19-year-old Kudlic and her brother John were competing in a motocross race in Keene, New Hampshire. Between her freshman and sophomore years in college at the time, she was riding her Yamaha YZ250 dirt bike in the men’s class. On this particular day, the class was big, the starting gate was crowded and coming out of the first turn and heading towards the second, another racer kicked the side of Kristen’s bike, she recalls.

“I went right over the bars, and people were like, ‘You had to have been 8 to 10 feet in the air,’” Kudlic says. “I snapped in half backwards.”

She was wearing the neck brace her parents insisted she and her brother both wear when racing, and that, she says kept her from breaking her neck.

“It saved my life,” she adds.

Kristen Kudlic is in the gym most days of the week.

Still, she had internal bleeding, severe spinal cord damage and severed nerves, which required her to be helicoptered from the race track to a hospital.

“Laying on the track, I knew I broke my back,” says Kudlic. “But I kept saying, ‘I’m going to walk again.’”

The doctors who rebuilt much of her spinal cord were not nearly as optimistic. In fact, Kudlic recalls them telling her parents that she needed to adjust her expectations for her own good.

That was not something Kudlic considered for a moment.

Four days after being transferred to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, Kudlic recalls she was moving about in a wheelchair. A week later she was in leg braces and getting around on a walker. Then came a pair of arm crutches and then just one of them.

While Kudlic’s personal determination helped her fight through every step of that rehabilitation, she credits her family with providing complete support, especially her brother.

“We are a very tight-knit family,” says Kristen. “We’re one big group of best friends.”

Those “best friends” are even co-workers.

Kudlic Brothers Construction is a family affair. Kristen’s father Greg created the company with his late brother Billy. Mother Ann and sister Danielle run the office and brother John is job foreman.

“I was blessed to have been born into this construction family,” says Kudlic. “My dad used to take my brother and me in his dump truck with him. He’d put our hands on his when he shifted gears.”

Today, Kristen uses her Kenworth to deliver supplies to job sites, but admits her favorite is delivering heavy equipment on a lowbed, which she calls “so much fun.”

In her off time, fun for Kudlic takes a new form of competitive racing. She’s given up a motorcycle for a Quarter Horse, and the motocross track for the cloverleaf pattern of rodeo barrel racing.

Kristen Kudlic on Bugs.

This is a return to equestrian sports for Kudlic, who races on the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association Circuit. She grew up on horseback, showing in English hunter and jumper classes as a girl.

Today, Kudlic rides for speed in the timed barrel-racing events. Luckily, she has some help.

Kudlic’s mount for her rodeo racing is Bugs, a 10-year-old Quarter Horse … with one eye.

“I think I love going fast,” says Kudlic. “He takes care of me more than any other horse I’ve ridden. He makes sure I’m OK on his back.”

Barrel-racing keeps Kudlic as busy as her job or her dedication to her physical recovery. She races every weekend on the First Frontier Circuit, which includes states in the Northeast. This past spring she raced in Texas.

With work, time at the gym and even more time at the barn, Kudlic says she gets home at about 10:30 or 11 each night. “But it’s all worth it,” she is quick to add.

Following her motocross accident and rehabilitation, Kudlic recalls doctors telling her she had a window of seven years to regain as much of her physical form as she could. That span of time is at hand, and Kudlic remains optimistic about everything she is doing to get back to where she was before that tumble on the motocross track in 2009.