Motocross Racer Gavin Gracyk Shares His Story
Gavin Gracyk knows about the dangers that life can bring. As a lifelong motocross rider, he undoubtedly has one of the most dangerous, thrilling pastimes anyone can get into. He’s also an open heart surgery patient and survivor, which can also be dangerous, especially if a condition is left untreated.
Gracyk was born and raised in Ohio and played other sports, including football, baseball and the others that most young kids grow up playing. Yet it was motocross that he loved most and eventually wanted to dedicate himself to. His involvement in the sport was more than just a casual interest. Receiving his first dirt bike at the age of 7, he took to racing right away, which led to sincere passion for the sport. As Gracyk put it, when he’s on the bike, “everything else just gets pushed off to the side.”
Gracyk continued to race throughout his younger years and continued to get better. So much so, in fact, that at the tender age of 13, he raced in a national qualifying event in Tennessee, against dozens of other dirt bike racers from around the country. After just two short years of riding, Gracyk would win the first of four national titles in motocross — 1999, 2000 and 2001, with 2000 yielding two titles. He transitioned into professional racing in 2002, and began to travel across the United States, as well as to Canada and wherever else the races took him.
“I went all over the place,” he said. “Wherever the races took me, that’s where I went.”
Gracyk continued to race competitively throughout his 20s, persevering through the challenges of finding sponsorships and spending long days and nights on the road. In addition to racing, he picked up a skill from his father that he also enjoyed.
“My father, Gary, never actually raced motocross, but he had a knack of being able to teach it and coach others who rode,” Gracyk shared.
That “teaching trait” inspired Gracyk to follow in his father’s footsteps and begin teaching and coaching himself, something he continues to do today.
His racing brought him to Georgia a couple of different times — first in 2007 and then again in 2011, when he met his current wife, Shena. The two were soon married and now have two daughters: Sayler, age 7, and Skylah, 2. While in Georgia, Gracyk also met Danny Copeland, owner of COGI Athletics. That’s where Gracyk became involved in coaching others, not only in motocross but other sports as well. The two hit it off, and Gracyk slowly became more involved with COGI, eventually becoming a certified fitness trainer.
But one day in 2014, when he was just 30 years old, Gracyk was coaching one of his motocross pupils when he started to feel poorly.
“I had no energy at all,” he said.
After feeling just as bad for a few days — and shrugging it off as being tired from work and raising a family — his wife suggested that he see a doctor.
A trip to the ER resulted in myriad tests, but they revealed nothing unusual, and Gracyk was simply sent home. Fast-forward through a few more days of feeling subpar, and they made another trip to the ER. More tests; still nothing.
“The doctor there said he thought it was an unknown virus of some kind,” recalled Gracyk.
He finally went to see a local family physician, Dr. Garland Register. Within five minutes, Dr. Register was able to discern that the problems were related to his heart. Still a young man, Gracyk couldn’t believe what he was hearing — but knew he needed to follow up immediately with a heart doctor. He remembered one of his clients at COGI who was a cardiologist in Thomasville, Dr. William Ellis.
After Dr. Ellis examined Gracyk, he determined that he had a condition causing blood to flow back through a valve and into his heart — a regurgitation of sorts. It meant that Gracyk would need open heart surgery and would need it pretty quickly.
“I knew that if I didn’t have this surgery, I wasn’t going to see my daughters go to school or see them grow up. That scared me,” he admitted.
Dr. Ellis arranged for Gracyk to travel to Michigan, where a heart surgeon specializing in treating patients with the same type of condition would operate.
“It was Dr. Bolin with the University of Michigan,” Gracyk explained. “He did thousands of these surgeries.”
Surgery took place on a Friday in September 2014, and Gracyk humbly reported that it “saved [his] life.” He said he is grateful for those who cared for him and helped him recover.
“Open heart surgery is no joke. I was blessed to have the surgery in Michigan — where I have family close by in Ohio — and then be able to return to Georgia, where I had my COGI family of friends and supporters,” he said.
Today, Gracyk is back at work at COGI, and there’s nowhere else he’d rather be.
“Motocross brought me to Georgia, and I’m grateful for it,” he said, smiling.
Written by: Phil Jones
Photography submitted by: Gavin Gracyk