This article was originally printed in our November 2018 issue of TransWorld Motocross.
This Is Ken Roczen's 2018
By Mike Emery
Emerging from the shadows of another career-threatening injury, German transplant Ken Roczen has utterly impressed everyone watching this summer with his ability to once again beat the odds and return to form with a smile. Sure, there are countless hours of rehab and frustration involved that most will never see—and Kenny even admits that he thought his career was over this year at San Diego Supercross—but at the end of the day, his unfinished business and drive to keep it fun easily outweighs the burdens of the past. Welcome to the current state of Ken Roczen's balance between hard work and good times, and trust us when we tell you he's always having a good time.
Coming into 2018 it was hard to find anyone who wasn't happy to see Kenny back on the track at Anaheim I. A stark contrast from the year prior, he was no longer the heavy favorite coming in. "In 2017 it was almost like everyone expected me to win. My program had me feeling amazing, I was built a like a freaking ox. I felt amazing on the bike, and I just felt so strong, like nothing or nobody could derail me. Then we all know what happened," Roczen said. "It was like nothing but the win mattered back then. I wanted to win and I had to win. But now and for the future I'm going to have confidence in what I do, but at the same time I know how quick everything can derail. I want to be cool, calm, and collected. That's just maturity."
It's clear the costly mistakes have stuck with him, and when the San Diego SX incident with Cooper Webb came up, we asked about whether he holds any regret in regards to the aggressive move. "Absolutely. That was the most depressing side of it, and everybody pulls bonehead moves—you just have to learn," Roczen said. "We could have gone down and I'd be super mad at myself without the injury, but the fact that I fell over that way and my hand got sucked in there was… [Ken pauses] If you want to hear my honest thoughts, I was sitting right there on the track with my hurt arm and I said to myself, 'My career is over.' The world collapsed on me, and I'm just like, 'This arm is done. This might be my last race.' That wasn't in my mind at all during last year's Anaheim crash, because I hadn't gotten injured in a while. But with this one I was like, 'All this shit again?' I knew it was going to be bad again, and I was like, 'Is this going to be it?' I was over it at that point."
Of course after another visit to Dr. Viola, the same doctor who rebuilt his left arm, he knew he was in for another long road and knew it was once again going to be hard. "When the doctor told me that I just completely effed this thing up, I was like, 'Man.' My whole entire hand was demolished," Roczen said. "I dislocated every metacarpal off the wrist and shattered the second metacarpal to pieces." Just six rounds into the 17 round series, his 2018 Supercross season came to an end. It was once again time to rebuild, and into surgery/injury/recover process he went again.
The In Between
Saturdays are when these elite athletes "clock in," but any of the top racers will tell you that a good home life will complement any amount of hard work and suffering they need to put in. Unfortunately for Roczen, the past couple years have seen more recovery and suffering than most, but he remains positive through it all. Ken's comfortable settings at his home in Clermont, Florida, play a perfect host to the East Coast-based side of his profession. With a personal gym, past championship-winning bikes sitting as motivational trophies in his garage, and a massage table that sits smack-dab in the middle of his living room, it's not hard to tell that a great portion of his time is spent focused on success.
That aforementioned massage table is also nowhere near as relaxing as it sounds. After the required surgery on his newly injured wrist, it's been full speed ahead into rehab with his personal physical therapist who visits daily, putting him through the wringer on that table. "I've had a personal therapist for over a year and a half. It's a lot of money and time that goes into that, and I'm not afraid to do it because I want to be back to being top notch," Roczen said. "I've done it with this and my other arm, and I was doing an hour and a half in the morning and an hour and a half at night, while I was still training. I had a full day every single day."
Combine therapy, workouts on the road bike and in his personal gym featuring all of the classic suffer-inducing machines, and countless motos at the track, it would be easy to let the workload bog anyone down. Not Kenny. After the work is done and most would want to lie on the couch, he's ready for a wakeboarding session on the boat or looking to go goof around on BMX bikes. When he's on the West Coast it's straight to the beach to surf any chance he gets. All of this is important for his mindset, and the bottom line is that for him, mixing it up creates happiness. "I feel like it all just makes it so much more enjoyable, and it doesn't tax your body as much, especially your mental game. Honestly, you can see how quickly everything can derail. And it's not just about my injuries and myself—there are people that have worse injuries," Roczen said. "There are other things in life besides motocross and dirt bikes. I love what I do, and my life is dirt bikes, but you need to balance it. That's with anything in life—if you don't have a balance, you're just going to tip over [laughs]."
Perhaps the best balance anyone can get is a solid partner in crime and a constant ray of light through what have been some of his darkest moments is his fiancée, Courtney Savage. It is clear that there is natural love and support between the two, which has further completed life for Roczen beyond the track. Later this year, though, the two will take the leap into marriage, something Roczen has changed his perspective on recently. "Getting married was never in my plan, ever. I feel like in Germany, especially when I was there, nobody really got married. My parents never got married, and I told myself that I don't need to," Roczen said. "Then I met Courtney, and I wasn't looking for a chick either. It just naturally happened and we were getting along, and now we've been dating for over four years. It's still at this point just super natural, and we never really piss each other off [laughs]. We're around each other a lot and that never gets old; everything just comes natural. So when I proposed to her it was just what I wanted to do. I never thought I would get that feeling, but I just knew and I was like, 'This is the one. This is the one I want to spend my life with.'"
Being Roczen's partner, Courtney has been with him through the injuries, recoveries, and returns that have taken place over the last year and a half. "I think one of the great things about Ken is that he knows how to turn off and on the athlete in him," Courtney said. "So you have this guy who's funny, charismatic, genuinely thinks of everybody, but when he's in race mode he's a completely different person. In race mode he can shut off an illness, life problems, life's ailments, and just go. He knows how to win and he doesn't settle for anything less than what he's capable of doing or what he thinks is 100 percent. He's definitely unlike most.
"Everybody wants to win and everybody wants to do well, because you know what? Winning is fun, but at that point when you get second you're still hard on yourself," Courtney continued. "What's the joy in getting second? You should be celebrating that. So many riders work their entire careers to try and get on the podium and they never even accomplish that. So yeah, it's kind of a reality check that when he's able to get a third we're cheering because we've been at the bottom of the barrel. In only a matter of a year in a half he's back getting moto wins and podiums, and hopefully that is something that's inspiring others not to give up."
As it turns out, beyond BMX bikes, surfing, and wakeboarding, Roczen has even more tricks up his sleeve. "He's actually a pretty good dancer—we're finding this out. He keeps good rhythm, and he's got good swagger," Courtney said. "He's also a fantastic cook. He loves to cook, so when he does it he's like Ratatouille in the kitchen. And he does not do house chores. He actually refuses to do house chores. He has to win or do well at the races so I can pay for people to help us do the house chores!"
Possibly the biggest surprise and feel-good story of the summer was Kenny's announcement to line up at Hangtown to contest in the 2018 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Series. It would mark the first time since his dominant 2016 Championship season. Chatting at round one, he was quick to admit coming in underprepared, "We have definitely cut it close, because I've done maybe a handful of motos in the last couple of days." His 6-16 moto scores were far from his past championship form, but the main goal of seat time and gate drops remained in focus. Looking back now, it went about how he envisioned it would. "At Hangtown, I was so foreign to the bike and my thumb was hurting bad," Roczen said. "Being out there with other guys was weird, and racing was weird. I got good starts for whatever reason, and I went well in the beginning, but that didn't last for very long. I don't even know how to explain it. I was so far behind on everything from not riding, and I hadn't ridden a rough track like that in a long time, so the first race was absolutely miserable. What surprised me though was coming back at Glen Helen and crushing it."
Glen Helen's first moto saw him run up front for a handful of laps, eventually getting passed by Eli Tomac and Marvin Musquin to finish third. A rock jammed into his front sprocket guard in moto two creating a small noise and the need for a pit stop, but also a moment of clarity shortly thereafter that he still has the ability to hang it all out after he re-entered the moto. "I gave it my all that entire moto. I came in and the team was just so stoked that I didn't give up and I wanted to go—that was my mentality," Roczen said." I was like, 'I gotta go, and I'm just going to put everything out there.' That was the first time that I was able to put some intensity in my riding, and my thumb hurt, but I didn't care because up until then I didn't even do motos during the week—I couldn't. So I showed up for that weekend and I was like, 'Here we go.'"
The aforementioned nagging thumb of his most recently injured hand was probably his biggest ailment this summer, but his podium finish in moto one of Glen Helen set the tone for his mindset toward the rest of the season. Throughout 24 motos, he was on the podium 15 times, with two moto wins sprinkled in, with Budds Creek being his first wire-to-wire victory. Crossing the checkers at the final round in Indiana, he wrapped up third place in points with a huge smile. One would expect that, with those results, the thumb is back to nearly 100 percent, but that isn't entirely the case. "We saw a specialist and up to this point we still don't even know what's causing the discomfort. It could be a trapped nerve or something, and it is getting better, but sometimes I'm like, 'How long will this take?'" Roczen said. "I'm putting so much stress on it, that it just has no time to just go away." Looking toward the offseason, the time off may be just what the doctor ordered.
Another point of interest that is potentially overlooked is the fact that Team Honda HRC and Ken Roczen have only raced this one outdoor season, and he's been continuously testing throughout the entire summer. "The team has been nothing but supportive. My team manager Eric Kehoe and mechanic Oscar Wirdeman and everybody is constantly working," Roczen said. "Nobody ever says, "We're doing good, it's fine." They trust in the feeling I have, because I still can have problems even when I'm feeling good. I may want to change this, this, or that, and it's always forward. It's not, 'Just settle down, you did good. Let's stay with what you have.' We're using this year to move forward and work on things because next year we want to be dialed."
It's obvious the relationship with Honda and everyone in his tight circle has been a positive, and when asked about appreciating more than just wins he smiled and quickly responded, "You know what makes me the most happy? When I come in and see everybody stoked for me. Courtney will tell me she's proud, Oscar comes in and he's stoked. That's another thing, Oscar has been here by my side and his job was to wrench for me and 2016 was like a dream—we had good results and everything was on a high. So now for me coming back, I feel like I owe it to him and Honda and coming in it's always like a big monkey off my back. I'm like, 'Yeah!' And I'm asking for a lot on things with the bike, but backing it up with a good result is big for me."
Positive Mental Attitude
All things considered, Ken Roczen's outlook has remained incredibly positive, and that may be the only way to overcome the adversity he has faced and come out on the other side smiling. His answer to whether or not the year was a failure or success is a perfect example of that. "I should probably just look at it as a success. I've had some good races and that's what I've needed and that's what I've done," Roczen said. "Actually, absolutely it's a success because we're finally healthy going into the off-season. Going into the off-season already healthy and riding, I can go into Supercross and just focus on my program. And luckily not messing around that much—when I started I had huge problems with that arm still. My left arm never felt normal until I had the right arm injury, and that gave that left arm time to rest and that's when I started to feel more normal on the bike. Now I can just go into the off-season and start out without having any problems, getting testing done early and just ride and do my training rather than testing into the season and continuing testing during the season."
The question now is whether or not he's ready to set his sights on a Monster Energy Supercross title in 2019. "That's the only thing that I don't have yet. That's the biggest goal, but at this point I haven't even finished a Supercross series in two years," Roczen said. "It's like the championship is always in my mind, but I just want to make it through the first half and put myself in a good position without pulling a bonehead move like I did this year. I want to leave absolutely nothing on the table and come into next year with a familiar feeling of being up front. My racing has been really good, but I still haven't had a Supercross main event win, and I still haven't had an overall National win since my injuries. Those are all things I need to check off the list, but also to be consistent. A main event win is my short-term goal, and at the same time I want to be healthy and be there in the end of that Supercross season."
Keeping the good vibes going, Roczen will enjoy an abbreviated off-season with an entry into the Motocross of Nations and a focus on fun and wellness. Throw in a big wedding party, plenty of waves, and all the work a top-level athlete can handle and he will be right where he wants to be come January at Anaheim One. With everything in life going so good, many often wonder what it is that drives him to return time and time again. "I keep coming back because I have done this 90 percent of my life and I can never stop. It's so engraved into my body, and honestly, anything else I do I get over it—I just don't want to do anything else. I'm too young to just say, 'Eff it, I'm done.' I'm too hungry."
Follow Kenny on Instagram: @kenroczen94