Motorcyclist/stuntman puts motivational speaking into high gear
Meet Doug Senecal
By Stephanie Richards
By most people’s estimation, Palmer native Doug Senecal has taken the greatest risk of his life having a career as “Doug Danger,” the motorcycle stuntman. But he recently faced and overcame a different kind of danger–battling stage four cancer. While he is back on his bike jumping again, he is also pursuing a new path motivating others to pursue dreams, overcome obstacles, and never give up.
The Wales resident holds the Guinness Book of World Records’ title for the longest motorcycle jump – over 42 cars. He has accomplished numerous other feats, including jumping his motorcycle over the fuselage of a 35-foot high, L-1011 jumbo jet. And, he has also fallen victim to mishaps and experienced a fractured skull, brain damage, third-degree leg burns and numerous broken bones. “Motorcycles are meant to be on the ground; your mind can’t comprehend the possibility they can fly through the air. The way to success for me has always been to envision seeing each jump in my head from start to end, finishing successfully. When I was told I had cancer last year, they said I needed to do a will, a proxy for where I wanted my organs to go, etc. I told them to stop; I wasn’t ready to do those things. For me, that would have been a way of giving in,” said Doug, who went through treatment for tonsil cancer at Wing Memorial Hospital. “The doctor said only five percent of people survive it. I told him, ‘I am one of those five percenters and I’m going to beat this thing.’ Two days before I was to start chemotherapy, my doctor called and said there was an experimental chemotherapy that had shown promise but would beat me down. I said bring it on. I envisioned nothing but success during treatment and still booked jumps for the following year.”
After undergoing three months of chemotherapy, he returned to the doctor to find out results. “When my wife Maria and I went to see the doctor, he had the biggest smile on his face. He said I was cancer free. We just started breaking down and cried,” Doug said. “Everyone saw how bad I looked but also the positive attitude I had through the treatment. I’m thrilled to say that I am cancer-free today.”
His brush with the disease didn’t squelch his passion to get back on his bike. He
started jumping again just like he envisioned, but also felt a pull toward encouraging and motivating others. Before his diagnosis, he was pursuing motivational speaking and started attending Village Toastmasters (communication and leadership development), which meets weekly in Sturbridge. After his clean bill of health, he returned to the group to hone his skills.
Doug is no newcomer to public speaking. He has always shared a drug-free message at his motorcycle jumps. It is a personal message as he lost his best friend, David, to drugs right after graduating high school. “I would tell the kids it was the most important message and for them to listen closely. There would be 10,000 people in the stands and it would quiet down. The kids would listen to me saying being drug-free is cool and parents would thank me for my message,” he said.
His message is still about being drug-free but to “Live Full Throttle.” It’s a
motivational talk he tested on students last month at Palmer High School. “Dream big and never listen to anyone who laughs at your goal. Lay a good foundation to achieve your dreams, starting with being drug-free,” Doug told the students. “Recognize you can’t just race after your dreams…it’s step-by-step process. I first got blocks and a board and jumped them with my bike. Then I graduated to motorcycle ramps and so on. It takes practice, steps and learning.”
He also emphasized to the students to take a chance at failure and overcome fears. “Dreams never go without a challenge but you an never give up. I was in a coma at one point in my life and when I woke up I had no memory. I had to learn to walk and talk again. I have never let fear stop me,” he emphasized in his message. “I want your show (dream) to be the greatest show on earth.”
The 51-year old stuntman said overcoming cancer has been his biggest challenge. “Cancer has been just another chapter in my life among the many bumps in the road. However, I think this one has been my greatest journey. When I saw the love poured out from people I didn’t know…it was incredible. A benefit for me raised almost enough to cover my co-payments. It’s mind boggling to think that my treatment could cost $500,000,” Doug said. “It’s the acts of kindness that make a difference in the world…people need to commit to kindness.”
There doesn’t seem to be an arrogance that could come from a man who is known all over the world. Success has been bittersweet with the same principal who reprimanded him for riding his motorcycle down the halls of Palmer High School (he transferred and finished at Pathfinder in 1980), later asking him for his autograph at a career day. “When I talk about Evel Knievel being the greatest motorcycle stuntman of all time, people correct me and say you are. There really is a humbleness,” Doug said. “I have overcome major obstacles in my life but also reached major goals. The same rush I get riding my motorcycle doing stunts, I also get from speaking. Through my career, I always have tried to do charity events and give back. Through speaking, I feel I can give so much more…my words will inspire people to dream big and never give up.”