65-year-old Canberra amputee who found escape, community and relief in a simulation racing game

Derek Bessey’s online racing community is like a second family.

After losing his right leg seven years ago, Canberran, 65, dove into the racing simulation game rFactor 2 as a way to stay connected to the outside world while stuck at home.

“When you’re there, you don’t think about anything,” he says.

“You think about racing and going around corners, everything else in your mind is gone.

Just being able to use the gas and brake pedals one at a time doesn’t deflate your competitive drive.

“When you put these on, you’ll start sweating,” says Bessey.

“The adrenaline goes, it’s so much fun to run with the people next to you.”

A screenshot of the simulation racing game rFactor 2.
Bessey in the world of rFactor 2, driving with friends in the Outlaws Racing Australia group.(Supplied)

Bessey says the realism of the racing simulation is heightened by motorized wheels that produce physical feedback.

An endless array of customizable options for every facet of vehicles and tracks also means racing fans are only limited by their imaginations.

Bessey says players in her community, Outlaws Racing Australia, must also abide by strict rules of conduct in races, including not running into the sides of other cars and allowing faster cars to overtake them.

After years of living with chronic pain and feelings of isolation, she says the Outlaws community is the perfect place to escape reality.

“Even if you have that day where you’re thinking about, you’re like ‘ah, I’ll get on the computer with the guys,’ and it goes away,” he says.

A long and painful road to amputation

A close-up of an old man looking sad.
Bessey says that the racing world was the only place where she found solace in difficult times.(ABC News: Donald Sheil)

Bessey was forced to retire early after sustaining serious back injuries.

The years-long journey to have his right leg amputated began with circulation problems and blood clots in his right foot.

“My foot was turning black and blue and all colors, it was dying from lack of blood,” he says.

“So they did the toe and said ‘walk for a while and see if you can get your circulation back,’ and that didn’t happen.”

In intense pain, Bessey says she made the decision to have her right leg removed.

Seven years later, he says it’s still hard to comprehend the loss.

“There are times when you sit here thinking ‘wow, what am I going to do? Is this it? Is this the end? What am I going to do for the rest of my life?'”

In moments of sadness, Bessey says online careers were the only place she could go to escape, and she urged others struggling to seek support in online communities.

“It’s more than a game, it’s a way of life”

A person playing a car racing video game.
Members of Bessey’s online racing group say the community is a way of life.(ABC News: Donald Sheil)

After Bessey joined the Outlaws, founding member and administrator Wayne Dare noted that she needed help.

“He wasn’t having a good time, he wasn’t finishing races… and I started talking to him, telling him how to set up a car to accommodate a one-legged driver,” says Dare.

As part of his duties, Dare regularly hosts tournaments and acclimates newcomers to the community and the complicated mechanics of rFactor 2.

“I just want everyone to be happy and confident and have fun.

“Most people who don’t do sim racing say ‘ah, it’s just a game,’ but it’s more than a game, it’s a way of life.”

An old man with a gaming headset and a video game steering wheel.
Bessey says that playing helped fill the void after his wife’s death.(ABC News: Donald Sheil)

Bessey says that after his wife died in 2017, his Outlaws family helped fill the void.

“It fills up a big, big part of your life, and you realize that once you can’t have it, when it’s gone it’s like your brother died,” he says.

Through bouts of depression and managing chronic pain, Bessey says an upbeat attitude was key to staying positive.

“Some days are tough, but you have to get through it,” he says.

“You just have to stay close to these people, you have to think about that too, not just yourself, yourself and your life.”