Thrill rider Jolene Van Vugt's need for speed almost killed her

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MARK WATSON "Nitro Girl" Jolene Van Vugt, as she looked before her recent serious accident, which will require facial reconstructive surgery. Still, she said hi to fans here Friday.

I HAD THE pleasure on Friday of going to Nitro Circus, the death-defying "action sport collective" led by Annapolis, Md.-born motor-sport stuntman Travis Pastrana. He and his team of dirt-bike riding, high-flying, base-jumping thrill-seekers wowed an audience of thousands at the Wells Fargo Center (3601 S. Broad St.) - the first stop on their North American tour.

Thanks to my buddy Steve Christini, owner of Philadelphia-based Christini All Wheel Drive motorcycles, I met backstage with Canadian-born Jolene Van Vugt, a/k/a "Nitro Girl," the first woman in history to ever backflip a dirt bike.

As a needer of speed and lover of all things fast, I found her pretty cool, though she was unable to participate in Friday's show because of some serious injuries suffered in a September accident preparing for the tour.

During recent tryouts in California of the "slingshot," a new winch mechanism that enables performers on wheels to achieve high speed in little time going into a ramp, Van Vugt shattered her forehead, nose, eye socket, right arm and jaw. This week, she'll undergo full reconstruction of her orbital socket so that she can fully see again out of her left eye.

Van Vugt has been with Nitro Circus for 10 years, starting off racing dirt bikes with her dad and brother, and she met Pastrana when they were teenagers. She's normally seen doing backflips on her freestyle motocross bike.

She attended Friday's show and came onstage - with a patch over her eye and her arm in a sling - to say hi to the audience at the beginning of the show.

"I wouldn't want to do anything else," she said. "Unfortunately, yes, part of our job does entail injury, some a little bit more extreme than others. This, for me, is one of my worst injuries.

"I'm addicted to what I do and I love what I do, so I will most definitely be back. The healing time on this is definitely a few months, so I'm just going to take all the time I can to heal up as fast as possible and get back to it."

More thrills

It was an action-packed weekend for the city of Philadelphia and the Police Department, too. More than 20,000 people came out to the 61st annual Hero Thrill Show on Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center.

Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey; John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police; Andy Thomas, president of Local 22, the firefighters' union; Philly Sheriff Jewell Williams; Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Everett Gillison and many others came out to celebrate the 2015 Thrill Show.

Bunny Sigler sang "Let the Good Times Roll" to kick off the fundraising effort, which featured spectacular motorcycle demonstrations by members of the police and fire departments. It's all designed to raise money for school scholarships for family members of fallen cops and firefighters.

OUT AND ABOUT

Whoopi Goldberg and Peter Cetera performed at the Valley Forge Casino Resort (1160 1st Ave., King of Prussia) over the weekend. Whoopi did stand-up on Saturday and Cetera sang some Chicago hits yesterday.

* Friday was the NAACP Philly branch's annual awards gala. It was at the First District AME Plaza (3801 Market St.), and comedian and human-rights activist Dick Gregory was the keynote speaker and recipient of the NAACP President's Award.

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