Back in January, 2021, factory Hero MotoCorp rider CS Santosh had a serious crash during the 2021 Dakar Rally. On stage four, he hit a rock that blended in almost perfectly with the sand around it. Another rider had also crashed there not long before he did, doing exactly the same thing—a fact that Santosh wouldn’t learn until later.
Fellow Dakar participants immediately raced to Santosh’s aid after he went down, and managed to resuscitate him prior to the medical team arriving to bring Santosh to the hospital. Physically, Santosh had a dislocated shoulder and head trauma, which resulted in the medical team putting him into a medically-induced coma for close to a month.
In December, 2021, Deutsche Welle TV sat down with Santosh and his family to talk about his recovery in the run-up to the 2022 Dakar Rally, and his story is pretty remarkable. Santosh had a strong background in motocross and supercross prior to embarking down the rally raid path. Such paths are rarely without incident, and Santosh suffered his share of injuries—including serious burns sustained in the World Cross Country Rallies Championship in 2013.
Still, Santosh just saw those as another challenge to be overcome, and he fought through it all. In 2015, he entered his first-ever Dakar Rally as a privateer. Up through 2021 and the most serious crash of his career, Santosh has competed in seven Dakars and completed three. So impressive was his performance as a privateer that the Hero MotoCorp factory team officially signed him—and that’s where he found himself when that life-changing crash occurred in January, 2021.
Fast-forward to December, 2021, and the eeriest part of this check-in with Santosh is his recounting how little he remembers. He doesn’t remember the crash, and had to be told what happened by other people who were there. More than that, though, he says that he doesn’t remember the entire previous year of his life. It’s just completely gone, or at the very least, his brain has made it inaccessible to him for the moment.
When he first woke up from his coma, his innate sense of balance was practically nonexistent. Things that many of us take for granted every day, such as being able to hold a ball or walk across the room, were seemingly impossible.
Santosh spoke openly about these difficulties, and about how he would mentally berate himself because he couldn’t see any physical injury, so therefore he felt like nothing was actually wrong. He said it took a long time for him to admit to himself that something was obviously wrong, but it was more difficult because the brain injury was invisible if he looked in a mirror.
One thing he said helped immensely was reading about WRC world champion Ari Vatanen, and his immense struggles to return to himself after his own life-changing crash while competing in a sport he loved. That’s one reason he said that he wanted to be so honest about what he’s been struggling with now, in hopes that it can help others who might need it.
Despite the initial struggles with balance, Santosh has since regained a lot of his physical fitness even as he’s been working on “returning to himself,” as he described it. Also, even though he suffered some serious memory loss, he said that getting back on a bike seemed to activate deep-seated muscle memory. He hopes to one day be able to compete in motorsports again, but for now, he’s happy that just riding for himself seems to be aiding in his personal recovery.