How Marquez awoke from the nightmare his dream career had become
“I had a dream career until 2020,” Marc Marquez told Sportzshala, recalling his well-deserved time in MotoGP, the two-wheeled equivalent of Formula One. “And then overnight and for the next two years, it was a nightmare.”
Before we fall into a nightmare: a dream. Marquez is undoubtedly one of the top three or four most talented riders to ever grace the sport. He is, one might argue, the greatest of all time.
By the age of 19, he had won two junior world championships. In his debut season in MotoGP, he became the youngest world champion at 20 years and 63 days. Since this debut in 2013, Marquez has won six of his next seven titles.
When the COVID-delayed 2020 season kicked off in Jerez, southern Spain, in July, there was little reason to doubt he would win seven championships in eight seasons. That’s when the nightmare began.
With four laps to go and a fight with fellow Spaniard Maverick Viñales for second, Márquez accelerated past the third long left turn when his rear tire lost traction, suddenly regained it and sent the Repsol Honda rider high over the handlebars. and crashed onto the pavement at about 100 miles per hour. He rolled, tumbled, and finally stopped, where he remained hunched on his knees in visible discomfort, preferring his right hand. He had a broken humerus, the bone between his shoulder and elbow.
He underwent surgery, had a titanium plate attached to the bone, and was excluded from the Andalusian Grand Prix the following weekend at the same circuit. However, in free practice that Friday, Marquez was back on the bike.
😱 @marcmarquez93 will undergo surgery after this terrible accident in Jerez!
We wish the world champion recovery! 💪#Spain GP 🇪🇸 pic.twitter.com/BOSmDo7dfG
— MotoGP™🏁 (@MotoGP) July 19, 2020
Any optimism about a faster-than-expected recovery quickly evaporated. He would have retired by qualifying on Saturday and will not race again for nine months.
“The first question after surgery is, ‘When will I be able to compete again? “One of the biggest mistakes in my career was coming back too early because of a hand injury, but the doctor cleared me to do it.”
Less than a week after withdrawing from the Andalusian Grand Prix, Márquez underwent a second operation to repair damage to the titanium plate supporting his humerus. Complications followed.
In the following months, it turned out that the bone had not only not healed, but had become infected. Dr. Joaquin Sanchez-Sotelo of the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, who was part of Marquez’s treatment team, told Sportzshala that the infection was “a pretty serious complication for this type of injury.”
More than four months after the injury, Marquez underwent a third operation in December 2020, a “very, very, very complex” procedure, according to Sanchez-Sotelo. Infections can interfere with bone healing, so the goal was to eliminate the infection and speed up the recovery of the humerus.
From this point of view, the operation was a success. The infection has passed, the bone has healed.
In April 2021, Márquez returned with a seventh-place finish at the Portuguese Grand Prix. He took part in 14 races in 2021 and six more before the start of 2022.
However, it soon became clear that the problem was elsewhere. The bone healed, but this was due to malrotation – the shaft of the humerus rotated about 30 degrees from its normal position.
“[As I recovered], [the doctors] kept saying, “Go on, go on.” The hand will be better in the future,” said the 29-year-old. went the other way around. I trained more than ever, spent a lot of time in the gym, and on the day of the race I felt worse and worse.”
Pain was not necessarily the limiting factor, although Marquez endured more than his fair share during this ordeal. It was mobility.
Stretch your arms out in front of you, raise your fists so that your elbow is bent at 90 degrees, and turn your arms away from your body as if you were doing a standing flare. Most of us will be able to place our fists roughly in line with our shoulders. Marquez had half that range of motion.
“It’s pretty limited,” Sanchez-Sotelo said of humeral shaft malrotation. “Without being able to lend a hand [away from the body] makes it difficult to do some simple things, like washing your hair.”
With his right arm unable to extend outward, Marquez found it difficult to control the bike in corners and under heavy braking. He couldn’t ride a bike the way it brought him unprecedented success in the sport.
Prior to the injury, Marquez had finished on the podium in 72% of the 134 races he had competed in during his illustrious MotoGP career. In 2021 and the first races of 2022, this number has fallen to 20%.
“The quality of my life, my character, everything has changed in the last two years,” Marquez said. “When you feel pain in your body, you are different. It’s like when you get up and you have a headache for some reason, you’re not the same, you’re more serious, maybe you don’t want to joke, you don’t want to laugh.
No one has seen this change in more detail than Marquez’s brother, Alex Marquez. Three years younger than Mark, Alex also holds the Moto3 and Moto2 support class titles and has been on the podium twice in his three-year MotoGP career.
The Marquez brothers were Repsol Honda teammates in 2020 when Mark first got injured. Alex moved to the LCR Honda team in 2021 and 2022, but riding nearly the same bikes just in different colors, the pair remained incredibly close in the paddock. They trained together, traveled together, did almost everything together.
“Sometimes it was difficult not only for him, but for all the people who surrounded him,” Alex Marquez told Sportzshala. “But then you put yourself in his shoes: he wasn’t where he wanted to be, he worked in pain all day every day.”
The start of the 2022 season has been especially discouraging for Marc Marquez. By the eighth round of the season, his average finishing position was worse than sixth. It was then that he put a pause in his career.
“When I went to the doctors, I said: Let me know if we have a solution. If not, I will retire,” because it got worse and worse,” Marquez said. “And then I said: “Well, maybe my hand is like this now and will be like this all my life.” I stopped in the middle of the season because I was not destined to continue to compete like this, because I know myself and I know that I will hurt another part of my body because I will push and crash a few more times.
There were times when Alex Marquez considered his brother would resign.
“I tried not to think about [the prospect of Marc Marquez retiring]but of course, sometimes it creeps into your head,” Marquez’s chief mechanic, Santi Hernandez, told Sportzshala. “When you see that he needs another operation and which one, such doubts are normal.”
Marquez was in despair. His only hope of continuing to play sports was a fourth operation, which treated a malrotation of the humeral neck.
“At the beginning, I told him that I will try to compete like you are the first, because your next operation is very risky,” Sanchez-Sotelo said. “So before the operation, I was worried that I knew that the likelihood that something would go wrong was very high.”
There were five elements of the fourth operation concerning Sanchez-Sotelo.
First, the humerus must be cut to bring it back into its correct position. He may or may not heal from that cut.
Second, cutting the bone will increase the chances of reinfection. If there is an infection in the bone, if a cut or fracture is made in the same area that was once infected, it can reactivate.
Third, the titanium plates already attached to Marquez’s humerus would have made it more difficult to cut and reposition it. Fourth, multiple nerves wrap around the humerus, which complicates the procedure and increases the risk of nerve injury.
And fifth, it’s incredibly difficult to know exactly how many degrees of rotation are needed for a bone to sit properly. However, Sanchez-Sotelo and the Mayo Clinic had a solution to this problem.
They took CT scans of both of Marquez’s arms and created 3D printed models of each. Human bones are symmetrical, so they also 3D printed a mirror model of his healthy left hand. This allowed them to determine exactly how much his damaged right humeral shaft would need to rotate, and Sanchez-Sotelo could then practice exactly that in virtual reality as part of the Mayo Simulation Center.
The operation was completed last June, just two years after Marquez first suffered the injury. He almost immediately realized that this was a success. His pain subsided and his mobility returned.
“One of the things I did [right after the fourth surgery] I apologized to all my friends, people around me, because they suffered more than me,” Marquez said. – I suffered, but sometimes I was quite aggressive with them. I try to always be kind to my people, but sometimes my reaction was not very good.
“My brother is, I would say, the most important person in my life. I am very lucky because he is my brother, he is my best friend and he is the biggest help I need to keep going and have this ambition because we are living this life together.
“When I became more or less normal, I trained with him. When you are injured, sometimes you are more lazy, you feel pain. But if someone is training, you will follow him, and…