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ADV NewsCS Santosh’s Hard Road To Recovery After Devastating Crash at Dakar

CS Santosh’s Hard Road To Recovery After Devastating Crash at Dakar

A complex brain injury has left the Dakar veteran fighting to find himself.

Published on 02.02.2022

The Dakar Rally is infamous for nasty, high speed crashes, with many resulting in a diagnosis of broken bones, dislocations and other immediately understandable physical injuries. But when Hero MotorSports Team Rally rider CS Santosh crashed hard in Stage 4 of Dakar 2021, the damage was frustratingly intangible. A complex brain injury with no roadmap to recovery. 

A recently published video from DW REV – Cars & Mobility takes us inside his difficult recovery. 

“I’d killed him,” Santosh says of himself at the start of the video. And it’s true he had been dead when Husqvarna rider Paul Spierings came upon two downed bikes 135 kilometers into the 2021’s stage 4. He could immediately see Santosh was in serious trouble. The other fallen rider, Paul’s teammate Maurizio Gerini, had crashed on the same camouflaged rock moments earlier, but he was up and walking. Santosh was unconscious without a pulse. 

CS Santosh hard road to recovery after Dakar crash

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Thanks to his competitors’ immediate action using CPR to restart his heart, Santosh survived. Fifteen minutes after the call for help a rescue helicopter crew landed and took over. Eventually the Indian rider was flown to Saudi German Hospital where he was diagnosed with a Diffuse Axonal Injury to the brain and placed into a medically induced coma. 

His parents, Shivshankar and Chandrakala, knew something was terribly wrong as they waited for his number to start moving again on Dakar’s live map. Several weeks later they were at Santosh’s bedside when he woke for the first time, squeezing his mother’s hand and giving them a weak thumbs up. 

Only this wasn’t the end of the ordeal at all. Santosh’s struggle was only gathering steam.  

CS Santosh hard road to recovery after Dakar crash

There’s no doubt many people will relate to the challenges explored in this nearly 20-minute video as it takes a brave look at mental health issues, including our reflex to see depression as emotional weakness rather than a medical condition. 

Santosh speaks frankly about his physical recovery. How he had to relearn to sit up and stand and balance. How frustrating it was to deal with double vision and a suddenly absent libido. He also suffered a loss of short and much of his long-term memory, including any memory of his crash, the race or even the year before. 

He says it all left him feeling as if he’d died twice, once on the course of Dakar and again when he didn’t recognize himself in the person he now was. He was hard on himself for not being able to do basic things, for not being able to push through. “It was very difficult to come to terms with the Santosh that I was, and the Santosh I was after the crash,” he says. 

CS Santosh hard road to recovery after Dakar crash

What this video doesn’t describe, however, is Santosh’s history as a champion. He’s best known for his seven starts and three finishes in Dakar, including his opening 36th place finish as an unsponsored rider on a KTM450 Rally, the first Indian national to complete the famous rally. But before that he was a multi-time national Supercross and Motocross champion in India. 

He is also no stranger to pain and recovery, having suffered a near-fatal crash at the World Cross Country Rally Championship in 2013, which included recovering from the third-degree burns after his bike caught fire.  “I’ve broken many bones,” he says, “and breaking bones causes a lot of pain, and I was always strong about it. But the fact I hit my head in a way that changed who I was as a person is something that even today I’m trying to deal with.”

CS Santosh hard road to recovery after Dakar crash
Santosh suffered a near-fatal crash in 2013 which included recovering from third-degree burns after his bike caught fire. However, the brain injury he suffered during a crash at Dakar 2021 has been something incredibly harder to cope with.

Santosh says it took eight months to find a doctor who recognized that on top of the physical damage, he was also suffering from clinical depression. The antidepressants he prescribed were a life saver. For a long time, Santosh says, he thought the emptiness he felt inside was because the man he was had died, that he had been killed in the crash in Saudi Arabia. The medication brought joy because he “rediscovered Santos.” That he’d been there all the time. 

This video isn’t a PSA about mental health, but it does remind us that pain and recovery are not always physical, and that anyone – even a professional athlete – can suffer from and be successfully treated for something as invisible as depression.

Being back on a motorcycle also seems to be a magic elixir for Santosh. After mastering a bicycle in city traffic he took his first ride, starting on the Hero X-Pulse 200 we see in the video. He says it felt so natural it was as if he’d ridden yesterday. It also cemented how important motorcycles are to him and how he cannot imagine a life without them. 

CS Santosh hard road to recovery after Dakar crash

His dream is to return to racing, specifically to Dakar, though he’s not ready yet. Late in 2021 Red Bull sent Santosh to a specialized hospital in Switzerland to have the effects of his concussion evaluated. The results were discouraging, yet happily, Hero MotorSports and Red Bull re-signed Santosh for 2022. 

He says that right now trying to regain his potential on the motorcycle — and in life — feels like chasing rainbows. You see it there, yet it’s always somehow out of reach. He’ll keep chasing, he says, hoping to grab that pot of gold at the end. 

“I’m a lucky man, even to be alive, and I’m here for a reason. We’ll see what that reason is.” 

Author: Jamie Elvidge

Jamie has been a motorcycle journalist for more than 30 years, testing the entire range of bikes for the major print magazines and specializing in adventure-travel related stories. To date she’s written and supplied photography for articles describing what it’s like to ride in all 50 states and 43 foreign countries, receiving two Lowell Thomas Society of American Travel Writer’s Awards along the way. Her most-challenging adventure yet has been riding in the 2018 GS Trophy in Mongolia as Team AusAmerica’s embedded journalist.

Author: Jamie Elvidge
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