Ecstatic fans welcome Dakar hero Joey Evans

“This was not a two-week race, this was a ten-year race!” – Joey Evans

“JOEY, JOEY, JOEY,” the crowd chanted as South African Dakar Rally hero, Joey Evans, entered the arrivals terminal at the OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg. The smile on Joey’s face said more than any words ever could. He grabbed his wife, Meredith, and pulled her into an embrace. His four daughters, Kayla, Jenna, Shawna, and Tyra waited impatiently to hug their dad and then pounced.

Joey Evans receives a hero's welcome
Joey gives a thumbs up to the crowd who welcomed him.

Joey explains how his family tirelessly supported him through his journey, sending him daily voice notes on his phone, keeping him updated with goings on at home and even telling him “the joke of the day”. “These messages made me feel connected, made me laugh, made me remember what was important and what I was coming back to,” Joey says.

Joey and family
TV interview with Joey and daughters Kayla, Tyra, Shawna, Jenna and wife Meredith

Joey has done the impossible and in the process earned himself the respect of leading riders worldwide, while also receiving adoration from people across the globe who have never before followed the Dakar Rally.

After severing the nerves in his spinal cord in 2007, he learnt to walk, almost recovered fully and then later raised money for his 2017 Dakar campaign. Even before the accident happened ten years ago, it was Joey’s dream to take on the world’s hardest endurance race.

When the 2017 Dakar commenced on the 2nd of January this year, and in the days that followed, Joey would start at the back of the motorcycle pack every day. “I knew this by the shortage of bikes behind me!” Joey says. Whether it was riding for 15-20 hours a day through blistering heat, hail, snow, fesh-fesh (notorious powdery sand), torrential rain, tearing a ligament in his knee, or having had his KTM 450 run over by a car, in Stage 11, nothing could deter him.

After the incident with the car, Joey fixed his own bike with pieces from an abandoned bike and completed the Dakar the next day. “Quitting was never an option,” he says.

When asked if he had found #101 – the competitor whose bike he had stripped in order to finish Stage 11 – Joey said that he had found out who it is but he didn’t manage to contact him. By then Juan Esteban Sarmiento #101 was already back in his native country, Colombia, getting the arm fixed that he had broken in the race. Joey has vowed to courier all the parts that he used back to Juan.

“I haven’t gotten to meet him yet, but I’m sure our paths will cross”, Joey remarks. Juan probably doesn’t realise the enormity of the contribution he unintentionally made to Joey’s dream.

Joey also has high praise from his mechanics and team mates. David Thomas #76 broke his leg in a high-speed crash. Joey had to help him onto an emergency helicopter, with a promise that he would carry a special tribute to the finish line, on David’s behalf.

Walter Terblanche #136 had to withdraw from the Dakar early on due to mechanical difficulties. Instead of catching a flight back to South Africa, Walter stayed on to help Joey see the race through. “I couldn’t have done this without Walter’s help,” Joey says.

During his two weeks in the Dakar, Joey never checked his statistics once. He only found out two days after it happened that Toby Price, the “rookie” that won last year’s Dakar Rally, and one of Joey’s inspirations, had crashed out of the race. “I was focused on riding and trying to stay alive,” he says. Had Joey not had his wits about him, and instinctively dropped his bike and rolled out of the way in Stage 11, his story may have been quite different.

Joey Evans hugs family
Worth more than a medal: the Evans family reunited

Joey kept his promise to his team mate David Thomas, and carried the tribute to David’s late brother, Justin, across the finish line.

Report by Tracey Simpson