On a roll again…

By Damian Mann
Mail Tribune

Fulfilling a goal he set five months ago, State Sen. Jason Atkinson on Thursday climbed on his bike and rode for 10 miles “” his first bike ride after suffering an accidental gunshot wound in July.

After the ride, he likened preparing for the ride to the mental training he is going through as he considers a possible gubernatorial run in 2010.

“It was a lot more pain than I thought it would be,” said the 38-year-old Central Point Republican, who was also a candidate for governor in 2006. “It was raining and it was cold out there, but I loved it.”On July 29, Atkinson was working in his garage on a bicycle owned by his friend Bill Leep, a Jacksonville city councilman. Atkinson had taken off a small bag attached to the bike and dropped it on the floor, not realizing a loaded derringer was inside.

The gun discharged, sending a bullet into his leg above the knee, shattering the femur and hitting an artery. Leep later said he’d forgotten the gun was in the bag.

In the days after the injury, Atkinson thought he might lose his leg or possibly would never walk again.

He still feels the effects. When the legislative session starts on Jan. 12, Atkinson said he will use a cane to make his way around the capitol “” an improvement over the wheelchair or crutches he thought he might be using.

During his convalescence, Atkinson said, he’s thought a lot about running for governor. He has yet to officially throw his hat in the race, but he’s preparing for it.

“I’m training for a big race in 2010,” he said.

He said the grassroots organization for his 2006 primary campaign is still intact and will help if he decides to run again.

“I’ve kept our work alive,” he said.

Atkinson was defeated in the May 2006 Republican primary, but finished a respectable third in a large field with more than 67,000 votes. Ron Saxton won the nomination with about 125,000 votes and Kevin Mannix came in second with about 85,500 votes. Saxton was defeated by incumbent Gov. Ted Kulongoski in the November 2006 general election.

Before he makes a decision to run, Atkinson will focus on healing his leg, which could take more than a year. Despite his optimism, Atkinson said the reality is that his leg may never fully recover.

In the meantime, he sets small goals every week to keep him going while he’s helped by a team of physical therapists and other supporters, some of whom are in worse shape.

“I know people who don’t have legs, who were counting on me and are counting on me to get going,” he said. “I have a huge obligation to work 10 times harder.”

Although he put in 10 miles on his first ride, Atkinson said he won’t be pedaling around town anytime soon. He said he realizes he’s got a lot more work ahead of him to get his leg fit.

He had a hard time pedaling, relying mostly on his left leg for power and wasn’t able to stand up off the seat.

Atkinson said he will continue to use his stationary bike until March when he plans to make another ride. “I want to get my leg strength back,” he said.

His next goal comes this summer, a year after the accidental shooting, when he hopes to be able to maintain a moderate tempo for a lengthy ride.

He’s already been fishing for steelhead, but said the stainless steel used to mend his leg together makes him a lot more sensitive to the cold.

Rep. Dennis Richardson said Atkinson has made an amazing recovery and has been working hard to get his range of motion back.

The Central Point Republican said Atkinson is well-positioned if he decides to run again for governor, provided he’s able to raise enough money to win.

“I think that Jason has ever-increasing name recognition,” he said. “He has tremendous determination and tenacity. He has the burning in the belly that it takes to go through a statewide campaign.”

Atkinson’s chances of being successful if he decides to run also depend in part on who his opponents might be. Republican names that have been rumored include outgoing U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith and incumbent U.S. Rep. Greg Walden.

Atkinson will move to Salem Monday as he prepares to focus his energies on the upcoming session of the Legislature.

While convalescing, Atkinson said, he’s developed a deeper appreciation for his government work.

“I have a new excitement for service I haven’t had for a while,” he said.

During the upcoming months he will weigh his options as he considers the governor’s race.

“There’s a lot to think about,” he said. “It will be a big stress on my family. I just really feel strongly we can do better.”