Josh Benson began riding ATVs when he was 10 years old, circling a track in his family’s back yard in Hinckley, Minn.

By his teens, Josh was buzzing down trails, dirt roads and ditches with family and friends. His parents say he was a “natural.”

“I used my ATV pretty much daily for years,” he said. “It was the main way to get places before I got my driver’s license.”

Still, Josh acknowledged, he took plenty of risks when off-roading — racing other kids, popping wheelies, doing doughnuts. He took the state’s safety training program at age 13, but said he didn’t pay much attention. “I had been riding so long, I didn’t listen,” he said.

In August, Josh, now 16, was driving more than 30 miles an hour on a local dirt road. His girlfriend, Kelly McFarland, was riding as a passenger. The ATV, a 10-year-old 500 cc machine, began pulling to the right. Then the right front tire “locked up,” Josh and Kelly both said.

The ATV ended up in a ditch, upside down, its wheels spinning. Josh was pinned beneath it, unable to move his legs. Kelly fell into the ditch nearby, unscathed. “He pushed me off because he knew something was wrong,” she said.

A helicopter ferried Josh to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale. In intensive care, he asked whether he was paralyzed. A doctor just nodded his head “yes.” He was later told his spinal cord had been severed, and it would take a “miracle” for him to walk again.

A wiry kid who played running back on his high school football team, Josh has been working hard in physical therapy. He hopes he’ll be able to take a few steps someday.

“I thought I was invincible, and the one time I was riding normal, this happened,” he said.

Kelly visits Josh regularly. She grew up on “wheelers,” as she calls ATVs, and hasn’t abandoned the machines. Still, she hasn’t been riding much since the accident, and her perceptions have changed.

“Anytime I see a four-wheeler, even on TV or in a magazine, I think of [Josh] and what happened.”

Mike Hughlett