Paralyzed Racer's Family Seeks Treatment in SoCal

Friday, April 20, 2007

Gilroy - After their teen son tumbled from his BMX bike last fall, Adriana and Chris Tripp saw life both quicken and slow. At 17, Mario Bonfante Jr. was already a professional street-bike racer, flirting with endorsements from companies and giving advice to middle-aged riders. For months at a time, the family would board their motor home and cruise the country, traveling from race to race. Charismatic Mario was at the center of it, cracking jokes, with chameleon hair that changed colors nearly as rapidly as the turning wheels of his bike.
"He was an extremely talented rider," said Anthony Luna, owner of Silicon Builders in Gilroy, who often watched Mario ride on the track at his house. "More importantly, he's a really good kid - respectful. Though he could be a practical joker."

Then Mario broke his neck on a dirt bike course in Christmas Hill Park Sept. 15, 2006 and everything changed. His father remembers carrying Mario that day alongside firefighter-paramedics, certain his back or neck was broken. Mario often sported casts on broken arms or legs; broken bones came with the sport, the Tripps knew. But as the family waited at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, it dawned on them that this injury would be different.

"At one point, I realized he wasn't coming home right away," said Adriana Tripp. "That he couldn't just get a cast and come home."

The teen suffered a broken neck and an injured spinal cord, and spent nearly a month in the hospital. Mario wasn't wearing a helmet when he crashed, but doctors told the family it wouldn't have prevented the injuries he suffered. His bicycle racing days were done. For the entire family, the rush of watching Mario round the track was replaced by endless hospital visits and phone calls from doctors, supervising the teen's therapy. Life was busy, but hardly brisk.