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Rider left paralyzed after ‘freak’ crash during Portland mountain bike race – UPDATED

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Mat Barton before the start of a race last year.
(Photo: Kris Schamp)

Offers of help, positive thoughts and prayers are pouring in from the community tonight as we learn that 31-year-old Portland resident Mat Barton is paralyzed from the chest down following a crash during a mountain bike race at Portland International Raceway on Monday night.

Barton, a skilled and experienced racer, was competing in a singlespeed race at the Portland Short Track series when he hit a series of large bumps, got thrown off balance, and fell head first at high speed. Kenji Sugahara, executive director of the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association, says Barton suffered a serious spinal cord injury. He underwent surgery at Legacy Emanuel Hospital last night to remove broken vertebra. The surgery was successful, but doctors believe his paralysis will be permanent.

According to a journal being kept by a family member, Barton remains in the Intensive Care Unit and is already working on his physical therapy and recovery.

Sugahara told us that injuries of this sort are extremely rare. The last spinal cord injury that happened during an OBRA race, he said, dates back to the 1980s. “As with any athletic event there are certain risks that we take. What Mat experienced was an atypical event.”

Mat works as a graphic designer for and Western Bikeworks (Mat designed the ad below this post) and his enthusiasm for bicycling and life has earned him many friends.

Mat competing in July 2011.
(Photo: Scott Larsen Design/Photography)

“To say that Mat is a local bicycle advocate would be an understatement,” wrote his friend Colin Winn in an email to BikePortland tonight, “Mat exudes all-things bike Portland.” Winn says Mat moved to Portland to pursue his passion for bike advocacy and riding.

Another person wrote in tonight to share that, “It seems unfathomable that this will be permanent, knowing Mat’s drive, energy, health and positivity.”

One person posting on the OBRA email list said he’s never met Mat, but he plans to sell a high-end frameset and donate the money to Mat’s recovery fund. There’s already talk of a fundraising ride, and Kris Schamp, organizer of the Short Track series says they’ll be raising money at next Monday’s race.

Sugahara emailed the OBRA email list earlier tonight to share more about Mat and to urge the community to support him and his family during this time:

“Mat is a passionate and talented young man, and loving husband, whose life and the life of his family has just been changed forever by a freak occurrence. Mat’s road to recovery will be long and difficult, and now it is our turn to help support him and his wife Jessica in their time of need.” has been set up by Mat’s family, friends, and co-workers to serve as a fundraising portal with a goal to raise $50,000 to help offset costs of his treatment and recovery.

Stay tuned for other notices on how you can support Mat. And think good thoughts for his recovery.

UPDATE: 6/15, 10:37 am: Mat’s boss, BikeTiresDirect/Western Bikeworks Marketing Director Phillip Bulebar, just sent me this statement:

“We are all incredibly sad and quite frankly in shock over what happened to Mat. I think I can speak for everyone in the company when I say that Mat is one of the nicest people we have ever had the pleasure of working with. The last few days have been very difficult for everyone here.”

Phillip says they are accepting donations at both of the company’s stores (Western Bikeworks, 1015 NW 17th Ave and BikeTiresDirect, 5741 NE 87th Ave.). The company has also set up a paid-time-off bank where employees can donate vacation time to help with expenses while he can’t work.

There are many events and fundraisers being planned. I’ll try to round them all up as dates and details are finalized.

UPDATE, 6/15 at 12:02 pm: Here’s the latest about an effort to coordinate fundraising events:

The management team at Western Bikeworks would like to make the store location available for a meeting with anyone that is interested in creating or assisting with the creation of an event to see if any of these efforts might be combined in order to maximize their potential. I’ll operate the whiteboard and we can make a list of everyone’s ideas.

Everybody has something unique to bring to the effort but perhaps there are synergies to be had that we can find at this meeting.

Where: Western Bikeworks, 1015 NW 17th Ave.
When: Sunday June 17, 5:00 PM

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