BARTON - Smashing and crashing his Cadillac Eldorado to his second consecutive championship in the demolition derby at this year’s Orleans County Fair, one thing his fellow derby drivers have learned about Tim Hunt of Derby Line throughout the years is never to count him out, even when his car is smashed almost beyond recognition.
In addition to these consecutive first place wins, he has numerous other trophies for his many years as a demo derby warrior.
“I have a total of about 40 trophies, including my first place wins,” Hunt said.
He has been taking part in what he calls his favorite redneck sport for 14 or 15 years, earning eight first place titles between the Orleans County and Caledonia County Fairs. Drivers battle against one another in their stripped down cars, trying to smash their competitors’ cars into submission. The last car left moving at the end of the event is crowned the grand champion.
This pastime appears to run in the Hunt family. While Tim won the grand championship title in Barton in 2011 and 2012, his older brother Chris won the same title in 2009 and 2010.
Tim is a man on the move. In addition to working as a certified Occupational Therapist Assistant at North Country Hospital in Newport, he also owns a lawn mowing business, North Country Lawn Care. He talks proudly of his prowess on the demolition derby battle grounds and of his ability to come back when others thought he was a goner. On the other hand, people who truly know him know his fierce determination and his unyielding refusal to fail, and are never surprised when he comes out victorious because that is how he lives his entire life.
Flash back to 1991 to when Tim was only 14 years old.
Laying in a coma, his head and body battered and broken, there was little hope the teenager would live and, if he did, his quality of life was in serious doubt. His condition was so fragile doctors feared trying to transport him from North Country Hospital to the technology that could save his life at Fletcher Allen Medical Center in Burlington. This was in the days before critically injured or ill patients could be airlifted.
What had started out as a birthday celebration for his father at the family’s camp on Lake Salem in Derby on July 21, 1991, ended up as a struggle for his young life. Tim’s massive injuries occurred while he was riding on a flotation tube pulled behind a boat. The driver of the boat accidentally slammed him into a boat dock.
Tim, the son of Perry and Patricia Hunt of Derby Line, was in the eighth-grade at North Country Junior Union High School in Derby at the time of the accident.
“Besides my arm, I had a fractured skull, a broken collar bone, two broken ribs, my pelvis was broken in two places, and my left leg was broken,” Tim said. “I have no memories of the accident. The last thing I remember is going out to eat the night before.”
He has little doubt he’d likely never have survived long enough to reach North Country if it weren’t for the quick action of the guests gathered at the camp. Many of them were EMTs and firefighters, including his big brother, Chris. Watching the horrific events unfold, they immediately transitioned into emergency mode. They retrieved Tim’s broken body from the water, while at the same time trying not to cause more injuries. They had to perform CPR on him to breathe life back into him.
He was transported to North Country Hospital in Newport. Immediately after coming out of a coma several days later, orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Maas, who is now retired, performed surgery on Tim and put a metal plate in his left shoulder and a pin in his left leg. Following the surgery, he was transported to Fletcher Allen Heath Care in Burlington because of the advanced technology and specialists there.
Major reconstructive surgeries started about one year after his accident. A total of about 10 surgeries have been performed to repair his injuries, with the last surgery, a spinal surgery, performed on him two years ago. All surgeries were performed at the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in West Lebanon, NH, and the Alice Peck Day Hospital in Lebanon, NH. Specialists at Yale and at the Massachusetts General Hospital also provided consultation.
Tim admits he was far from the ideal patient.
“Initially I was miserable to my parents and to the world and everybody in it,” the 1995 graduate of North Country Union High School said. That all changed, though, when he had a life changing revelation.
“While I was in the pediatric unit at Dartmouth, I’d hear young children who were undergoing chemotherapy because they had cancer crying all night because they were so sick,” he said. “That was like a light bulb coming on for me. I realized I really didn’t have much to complain about compared to them. It’s all about attitude.”
When doctors told him the best thing to do was to remove his arm, he fought tooth and nail to save it. Although he couldn’t move or use his left arm, he carried it around in a sling for eight years hoping it would eventually come back to life. Then finally, after eight years of hoping, he decided to allow the doctors to do what they wanted to do for almost a decade, remove it.
“It was actually a relief,” Tim said. “It was time to have it gone.” He told how the day after the amputation he was out mowing lawns, something which amazed many people. However, he said he was ready to move on with a new chapter of his life.
Sometimes his stubbornness proved problematic for his recovery, but more often than not it proved motivational for him and others around him. Not only was he determined to move on with his life, but with the passage of time he decided he wanted to use his challenges, and his positive outlook, to help others with similar physical challenges.
Throughout the years, he had extensive contact with occupational therapists. They helped him live with first the lack of the use of his limb, then to live without his arm and hand. He had to relearn things many of us take for granted, including dressing himself, tying his shoes, and even cutting his meat. There were no occupational therapists employed at North Country at the time of his accident.
“We must have driven a million miles having to travel to therapy three days a week,” Tim said, adding it is great that North Country now has an outstanding team of occupational therapists, which allows most patients to have their occupational therapy locally.
It is because of his contact with occupational therapists that he decided to pursue a career in that field. Graduating from Champlain College with a degree as an Occupational Assistant, Tim began work at North Country Hospital in 2000. He works in the schools and in the clinic, which is located on the hospital campus, with five occupational therapists.
“I think I can relate to a lot of the outpatients that are coming into the clinic with hand and arm injuries,” Tim said. “As far as the schools, I just enjoy working with children.” He believes he is a great motivator for people undergoing medical issues.
In addition to his work at the hospital and operating his lawn mowing business, Tim is also the father to two-year-old twins.
Now 35 years old, and more than two decades since the accident which almost claimed his life, he in no way thinks he is disabled just because he is missing a limb.
“I’m always busy,” Tim said. “I’m always working, always on the go. When somebody tells me I can’t do something, I do it twice just to prove them wrong. I can ride a snowmobile or an ATV with the best of them.”
He has also been a member of the Derby Line Fire Department since 1995. Before he could become a member of the department, he said he had to prove he could do the job as well as a person not missing a limb. Once he had proven his point, Fire Chief Craig Ellam special ordered him a fireman’s jacket with one arm. This specially designed jacket is safer while fighting a fire than wearing an ordinary jacket with one sleeve flopping around.
Golf is a popular leisure sport, and Tim hasn’t allowed a missing arm and hand curtail his love of the sport. He is known for his ability to play an outstanding round of golf.
Competing in a demolition derby is a challenge for anybody, but for Tim, he faces additional challenges since it is such a brutal, physical activity.
“I’m busy inside the car,” he said.
Much of a driver’s time is spent driving backwards, which is a challenge in itself. Most drivers wrap their right arm around the seat and drive with their left hand looking over their right shoulder, but since he doesn’t have a left arm, he has no choice but to steer with his right arm and look over his left shoulder. To do this he must position himself almost in the middle of the front seat.
“It is so hard on your body,” Tim said. “You have black and blues all over your body the next day. It’s ironic; I work with people to help them with their aches and pains and I’m out there causing them to my body.”
On the other hand, he also wants to show people who have suffered injuries, even permanent ones such as his, that they can live their lives to the fullest.
Tim, you truly are inspirational!