You might say Cayla Croft comes from an accident-prone family. “My uncle broke every bone in his body, some several times over,” she says. “His name was Evel Knievel.”
Knievel was the most famous stunt motorcycle rider in the world. “What distinguished him was that he kept coming back,” says Croft. “He had a kind of mad courage that scared everybody.”
She is no shrinking violet herself. She has broken over 20 bones of her own body, mostly crashing dirt bikes. “I’m 30 now. I broke eleven bones before I turned 15,” she says.
The adrenaline junkie blood runs deep. “My uncle was famously impatient waiting for his bones to mend. He’d be back out riding even though the fractured skull or ribs would be giving him hell.”
But her big test came six years ago in Sedona, Arizona. “We weren’t even doing anything crazy. My family has a small ranch there, and my friend and I decided to just take a couple of dirt bikes down the mountain to the store and pick up some supplies. The county had been working on the dirt road. It had loose gravel. I was going a little fast around a bend. I turned too hard. The tires couldn’t grip. The bike flew out from under me. I tumbled down the mountainside. Was saved by a couple of bushes from going sheer over the cliff. But I still shattered my left leg from my hip down to my ankle. The bike landed on me and flew off the cliff. I remember coming to, covered in blood. My mom drove 17 hours from the Midwest to be with me.”
But her doctor wasn’t encouraging. “He had no bedside manners. He said ‘You’ll probably never walk again.’” Her then-boyfriend came, and started stealing her pain medications. “And I had to think of how I was going to survive with no income. I don’t come from money. I am a casting director in LA. I couldn’t carry that on for like five months.”
But here’s where the Evel Knievel connection clicked in. “I lived in Venice. That’s home to half the stunt community. I had been a little blasé about my uncle, but I underestimated how much the name Evel Knievel means. The whole town of Venice stood up to take care of me. They started a Go Fund Me. Every Venice bartender gave half their Friday night tips to me. One anonymous person gave a $1000 check. Others would just leave casseroles at my door. They collected at farmers’ markets. They wouldn’t let me fail. Because I was Evel Knievel’s niece, and even though he had died two years before, that was still something fantastic. And now I am whole again, have my own casting company, and am coming to UCSD to study for my Ph.D. in psychology and psychiatry.”
Is that to figure out why she and her famous forebear insist on tempting the fates on a dirt bike? I don’t dare ask.