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Ryan Dungey ready to see if he can pick up where he left off

Ryan Dungey starts his campaign for a fourth Monster Energy Supercross Series title this weekend in Anaheim, California. Elsa/Getty Images

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Ryan Dungey has nothing to prove. He could never put on his helmet again and his six combined titles on the supercross and motocross levels would keep him on a high pedestal of impact riders in his sport.

Dungey got a taste of life without racing when he took two months off last summer to heal a broken neck. He went fishing. He spent more time with his family than he could ever remember.

So why not, with 77 wins overall in his American Motorcyclist Association career, just hang it up? He has lived a motorcycle racer's life that many would dream about. He even posed naked for the ESPN the Magazine Body Issue last year.

The answer is simple: A back-to-back ESPY winner as the best action sports athlete doesn't retire because of a broken neck, if he can get back on the bike and win more trophies.

The 27-year-old Dungey will put on the helmet again on Saturday, as he attempts to earn his fourth Monster Energy Supercross Series title and third consecutive crown when the season opens at Angel Stadium. He has competed in two non-points events since he broke his neck, but his goal since the crash in June has focused on him being at full strength for the start of the 2017 season.

"It was a little bit of a wake-up call," Dungey said Thursday at the ballpark, where the course remained covered because of rain. "I can't live my life in fear. I can't hold back because of a little bit of a setback. I have to realize I need to make the most in life.

"A life lived in fear isn't a life lived at all. I don't want that to be the end of the story. I want the story of my career to have a stronger finish than that."

Dungey tries to look back on his 2016 experience as a positive one, and not where he saw his chance to sweep titles for the second consecutive year in both supercross and motocross come to a crushing halt when he flipped his KTM 450 in the third motocross event.

"After an all-time high with the supercross title, it's easy to feel like an all-time low with this," Dungey said about his thought process. "But I realized I need to use this time to refresh, rejuvenate my body and let it heal in ways that I don't know that I needed.

"I can be fresh, I can be ready, and when the gate drops at Anaheim, my heart is going to be in it."

Focused and looking ahead, Dungey laughed at the notion that he probably shouldn't talk Thursday to an ESPN reporter. After all, in his Body Issue interview last year, he mentioned how fortunate he was never to have suffered a severe injury.

By the time the magazine came out, Dungey was sitting at home with a broken neck. Talk about jinxes.

"It was just a mistake," Dungey said about the crash. "All good [to talk]. ... I can sit there and dawn on what happened and 'Aww this, aww that.' But you know what? Hey, we all make mistakes.

"Instead of looking at it like a stumbling stone, I need to look at it like this could be a stepping stone -- a bigger comeback, if anything. I'm not out to prove to everybody else what I can do. I'm there to get the job done and accomplish my goals."

In reality, Dungey should feel lucky. He averted disaster when he got back on his motorcycle after the crash and finished the race. In fourth. Follow-up X-rays showed a broken C6 vertebra.

"First and foremost with that crash and what happened, I'm just thankful that it wasn't worse," he said. "I felt something was weird, but with all the adrenaline and it didn't hurt as much, it was more of a resistant feel -- I'm glad we didn't make it worse."

The injury didn't require surgery. Only time. A few weeks after the accident, the Body Issue came out with Dungey's body on the mend at home and being talked about from fans both inside and outside the sport.

"That was probably a good thing I wasn't at the track," he said with a laugh. "For a lot of people, there was a lot of skepticism -- 'I can't believe you did that' or 'That was so cool.'

"There was mixed feelings from everybody. For me, my motive wasn't to show my body naked. My motive was like, 'Look, I've been gifted with a body that with years of discipline and training, to do what I'm doing, that's the art of that.'"

His body took a big hit. And he's ready to show he has it ready for the rigors ahead in 2017 and possibly beyond. His contract ends after this year, and he said contract talks likely won't heat up until the middle of the season.

Dungey swears he hasn't thought much about the neck injury, instead focusing on this season. He will have stiff competition as he attempts a series title three-peat, starting at Anahiem, with Ken Roczen now on a Honda as possibly the biggest challenger, in addition to Eli Tomac, Jason Anderson, Chad Reed, among others. His main goal: continue winning and don't get lost in the crowd. He would like to think the broken neck will help him get there.

"At the rate I was going, things were getting tough," Dungey said. "Mentally, I was wore out. I was tired, as all athletes get. ... For me, to come back and be healthy, to have some clarity and to come into the series this year to accomplish our goals and to prove to myself that I can still do that [is important].

"I don't care what everybody else thinks. I want to be able to go out there and do the best that I can and represent the sport good. A lot of people would say, 'This is probably it for him.' For me, it's just more motivation to keep going, to keep moving forward."