Last year, during the MotoAmerica race weekend at Road America, when you add up all the laps he did in practice, qualifying, Sunday morning warmup, and both Supersport races, Blackall Racing’s Tony Blackall rode his Yamaha YZF-R6 nearly 231 miles around America’s National Park of Speed. This year, Blackall is walking a little more than half that distance just to get to the racetrack.
This past Sunday at about 6:15 a.m., the U.S. Navy veteran started out on foot from his home in Sand Lake, Michigan. He went on a “ruck” as they call it in the military, and the purpose was to raise awareness of armed services veterans who are battling mental health issues that were a result of their military service or who are struggling to adapt to civilian life. It’s a cause that’s near and dear to Blackall’s heart because his heart is also troubled by those same issues.
In a recent article written by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sports writer Dave Kallmann, Blackall said, “I want anybody out there that’s having a bad day to think before it gets any worse or reach out to someone that may be able to comprehend the conversation that they’re not getting elsewhere. Just talking out loud makes a world of difference. Even if you’ve got to say it multiple times.
“Getting it off your shoulders is the biggest thing, and hopefully moving on, because once the story is out there, you and whoever you’re talking with can grow together and keep moving forward.”
Blackall joined the U.S. Navy in 2015 and had big dreams about serving his country. Unfortunately, while training with the Naval Special Warfare Command, he suffered a serious leg injury, which led to his honorable discharge two years later due to medical reasons. The leg healed, but the wound still affects him, and in very profound ways.
“It was hard to grasp,” Blackall told Kallmann. “I put everything into it, didn’t want to come home, felt like a failure. I wanted to do this, set out to do this, and it was going good…and then it wasn’t. It just automatically stopped, and I wasn’t ready to stop.”
Blackall felt like he let his “brothers” down. He was no longer there to support them and help keep them safe. And, he was having a tough time adjusting to being a civilian again.
His wife Janet, who is a Marine Corps veteran, witnessed first-hand the pain that her husband was dealing with. The feelings of disappointment. And the unspeakable darkness. Together, along with an old friend from his former road racing days, the Blackalls got involved in racing again, and then, ultimately, in the MotoAmerica Championship. The camaraderie and brotherhood that both the Blackalls experienced in the military are very much a part of life in the MotoAmerica paddock, as is the action and excitement of competition and reaching goals.
“I can honestly say now, motorcycles saved my life. I don’t think I would be here today if I wouldn’t have started riding them again,” Tony Blackall said to Kallmann in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article.
Blackall Racing, with Tony as the rider and Janet as both the team manager and crew chief, competed in the past two full seasons of the MotoAmerica Supersport Championship. But, so far, 2022 has been a struggle for them as they haven’t been able to secure the necessary sponsorship to compete at every round. They raced at Road Atlanta in April, and they will be at Road America, the destination at the end of Tony’s ruck, this weekend. And they are also hoping to be at Pittsburgh International Race Complex in August.
The Blackalls are up to the challenge because they have faced far more difficult challenges, both while in the military and especially after their military careers concluded.
As the old Chinese proverb says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Tony Blackall’s 120-mile ruck to Road America also started with a single step. But, so did the journey that he is on in life. He walked out of the darkness of his post-military transition to civilian life and into the light of the MotoAmerica paddock.
We hope that light continues to guide him.