Heading into round 15 of the 2020 Mosnter Energy Supercross, an FIM World Championship series, HRC / Honda’s Ken Roczen announced from his Instagram account that he had been diagnosed with Shingles after last Sunday’s 5th place finish in the main event. “I know everyone is sick of hearing it and so am I,” Kenny said in the post, as he is not one to mask his frustrations. The guy spent two long years in and out of operating rooms with two separate major hand injuries and since rehabbing himself to a place where he could compete again for wins, he has been plagued with Epstein Barr [Chronic Fatigue Syndrom] and other minor immune system issues.
The strangest part about when Kenny says he is struggling, the German on any given day can still show up and wax the best riders on earth as if that is how it is every day. Today was one of those days. To start the day, #94 went wire-to-wire to win his heat race that had both Cooper Webb and Eli Tomac on the line with him. Then in the main event, Kenny passed Webb on lap four for the lead, built a semi-comfy three-second gap and he did not fade or make a mistake for 29 laps. Kenny’s fourth win of 2020, moved him back up to 2nd in the points, but with a 24 point gap up to Tomac in the lead, it is likely a too little too late win.
After the big turnaround win, Kenny opened up for the press in a post-race interview MotoXAddicts participated in.
Congrats, Kenny. That five or ten minutes that you’re on the gate before the main—with everything you’re going through, and it seems like it’s just piling on—what are you thinking about before the gate drops? Is there hope? Is there optimism? What are the thoughts when you’re on the gate and you know you’re getting ready to do a 20-minute plus one lap main event?
I honestly just always lay it out there. I don’t ever want to give up. But obviously some of the races—like the last two or three—were just crazy. I go as long as I can but that obviously hasn’t been the whole race. Like the post that I did on Instagram said: “I’m just going to come here and try again.” It’s really tough after I’ve had so many negative races in a row. Three of them really. It’s tough to come here and go out and pretend like nothing’s happened even though that’s my plan. I try to come here and pretend like nothing’s ever happened. It’s tough. I knew at least from Wednesday to Sunday, I have a little bit more time to get everything back in check. It’s a bummer that it has been the way it’s been. At the same time, there’s nothing I can do to change it. I’m always going out there and trying to do my best. I’m not saying that from Sunday to Wednesday to now, all of a sudden I go from zero to one hundred and everything is 100%, but I just need to be where it’s manageable.
When you’re in the lead at the halfway point of the race—considering how these last few have gone and that’s when your energy level has seemed to have slipped off these last few weeks—what was your pace like and what did it feel like to you? ‘Cause at that point you started putting a bigger gap on guys. Did it feel like once you got over a hurdle things came easier, or did it just feel natural at that point?
It honestly felt somewhat natural. All the lap times had been super short and we’re obviously always racing twenty plus one, but having that many laps the tracks get chewed up. I honestly was just hitting my marks. It wasn’t like I was going a crazy crazy speed, but you couldn’t because those flat turns could really get you. I don’t know if I was necessarily the best there—I don’t think I was—but I was really trying not to stall the bike either. We were almost at a dead stop there. That made for some interesting racing because we had two flat turns like that. Other than that, I just tried to hit my marks, and ride as clean as possible. The whoops got really chewed up and we had a couple of rutty turns but, overall, I just tried to hit my marks and hang in there as long as I can.
You announced that you have Shingles. What does that actually feel like? Did you feel the effects at all in this race and what did you feel in some of the bad races?
It was crazy ’cause I woke up… Like in the morning, you wake up and you take things slow or whatever, then I went out to practice and came back in and got changed. My wife was actually like what did you get? I had it right on my tailbone. That’s where I had a red mark. It wasn’t that big, like the size of a half-dollar. It wasn’t huge but it was starting to blister. So we were like, “Man, what the heck?” I had Dr Bodner look at it and after the race, I went and got a blood test to see if that’s what it was, and I did test positive for it. The good thing was, that as soon as it started the Dr Bodner put me on some medication. We caught it right away. It popped up and that same afternoon after the race I could go and get that medication. I think it’s an immune system problem again, right? I just felt super lethargic. Obviously, you could see how I was riding out there. I just had no aggression, felt tired and it was like I was out of my body. It was crazy! I didn’t really get too much pain. When I was touching it or something like that, it definitely was sensitive, but I didn’t get any crazy pains how some people say Shingles are. I think that was because we caught it super early. The blisters started opening up at one point, but we got lucky that we caught it early. Now it’s starting to go away.
Great ride and judging off your last few races it was quite a surprise. Did you surprise yourself? Did you feel any better in practice? We saw your heat race was good again. Were you surprised at all or feel any better during the day, for you to know you could do this in the main event?
After those last races of course this came as a little bit of a surprise. My dad actually messaged me in the morning and wished me good luck and I told him, “I’m winning today.” I kind of just put that in my head. It’s hard to judge, because obviously even in the races I didn’t do good, the heat race was fine. But I always feel throughout the day that there’s something lingering. There’s something that makes you tired or that makes you feel weird and you just know. It’s really hard to describe and I think only the people that have experienced Epstein Barr and Shingles and the immune system problems I have [would understand]. I’ve struggled with this before and managed it just fine. I think I just got to a point right now where it’s backed off enough or been suppressed enough to where I can handle it.
I’m not sure you got the memo, but riders are supposed to be super guarded about their health and not tell anybody anything. Throughout your entire racing career, though, you’ve been fully transparent. Where does that thinking come from or why do you feel it’s important to be transparent about your struggles when you have them?
Well, it is what it is. If you’re out there doing, winning races and getting on the podium and all of a sudden you’re getting lapped twice, running 10th and fading after eight minutes, it’s obvious. I’m hoping to get that in check. I’m trying. We’re gonna get there. If I get beat because I’m not the best, so be it. I would love that. I just want that to be it. Always struggling with some kind of issue going on, it’s super annoying trust me. I’m sick of hearing it and I’m sure everyone else is. I can only control so many things and I’m trying my best. There are some people that have had Epstein Barr before and it ruined their entire career. We’re trying and doing our best to keep everything dormant, and being up here at altitude—obviously, for everybody, it’s the same and I feel like if I didn’t have this issue we wouldn’t be talking about it this&mdash:it’s definitely not ideal. At the same time, I never came here saying, “Oh I got a problem and this is not going to be good for me.” I would never do that. I always come with a clean slate and try my best. Unfortunately, things like this happened. The only good thing I guess, when there is something, there is something. Like for example with the Shingles. It’s not like there’s nothing wrong with me and I’m just wondering what’s going on. Or I’m not that bad.
Today, very similar to how the main started on Wednesday, you started right behind Cooper Webb. On Wednesday it looked like you had the speed to get by him, but you couldn’t find the line make it happen so how important was it today to get by him so you could relax and ride your own laps upfront?
It’s definitely good. Even before Wednesday, I had never even gotten in actual time before Cooper, so it was nice in the heat race when we were battling. I was behind him and learned a little bit more about him. We found ourselves in the same position, we’re all trying and there was some clean racing going on. If I could make the pass happen, make it happen and I would go for however long I can go and do my best. It’s like what we said earlier: sometimes it was really tough to make up time. In practice, we were all super super close. But tonight, I felt good. I felt good with the bike. I felt good with the track and everything. I think it just my night.
As we come down to these last races, are you more confident in your mental strength or your physical fitness level?
Tonight has been a big step with me in the right direction. I’m going to do my best to try and keep the same level up and get even better. It was good for me to see that I could get these things in check, make it the whole distance and I was gelling really well with the bike. We’ve been tweaking it here and there and I was really happy with it tonight. I want to come back on Wednesday with a clean slate. Even with this win, it’s nice after having some down races to get this win. It’s nice going into the next race knowing we had a good night. So I’m going to hold onto this positive energy, feel good about myself and come back and try again.
Photos by: FELD Entertainment Inc