Part of this is the triathlon culture of “race reports”, part of this is Jerry McGuire-esque, and part of this – the writing part – I think might be cathartic, so thank you for listening, if nothing else.
Today is Sun November 15th 2015. One week ago I joined some of my triathlon club members to complete the Austin 70.3 Half Ironman. My club mates completed the 70.3 IM (2km swim, 90km bike, 21.1km run) – on their first attempt in their first season – all with strong times to boot. That’s an incredible achievement and it was amazing to witness it live and cheer them on.
My experience – although an overall great trip and I loved Austin – was different. I ended up in a bad bike crash – nasty road rash, stiches in the left knee, contusions from the impact and roll, and a concussion. But it could have been much much worse, and I guess that’s why I’m writing.
Due to a combination of drought and heavy rains, the 70.3 bike course was in bad shape: extensive use of “chip and seal” band-aid for pavement repairs, making for km and km’s of vibrations, narrow roads (in a couple of spots riders were actually instructed to go in single file), and pot holes. Yes, literally.
The accident happened around Mile 28 or 30 (over the half way mark), at what I’m understanding to be the worst part of the bike course. I was going down-hill in aero position, gaining speed, and at the bottom of the narrowing road, I saw a large pot hole. The others around me had seen it as well and we all began shifting to avoid. I was already on the outside passing lane, and got pinched further left. Out of nowhere, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a sign. I think it was a city road sign, with a concrete base, pole, and rectangular metal shape. It was inconceivable, as there should never be a situation where a rider could even hit a city road sign on a bike course, but it was real because I hit it, big time, at probably 40 kmph. No dislocated shoulder, and flush on the meaty part of my left front shoulder as it was fully flexed in aero position. If one were to hit a sign, I hit it perfectly.
I went airborne. I don’t remember being separated from the bike, and don’t remember the impact or rolling. All I remember was being on my back. Instead of just lying there, I recall vividly of having this compulsion to immediately get on my hands and knees. Once in that position I remember grabbing gravel in both hands, making a fist, and looking at it. I have no idea why I did this. Maybe I was forcing myself to do it, to prove to myself I was alive, that I was able to control my body and limbs.
Road crew guy Tim from Houston came to my rescue. He laid me down, kept me calm, and never left. The only time he left was to run up half way up the hill to warn / yell to riders to slow down. I knew the area was bad because lying there looking at the sky, I could hear how fast the riders were whizzing by me, how noisy it was with the wheels and the rough pavement, and by how much swearing there was. It was already unsafe, and no doubt Tim’s vehicle, and now the med van that had arrived, were all posing extra risk on this narrow down-hill.
I yelled to Tim to help me up because I wanted to be in that med van “right now”. I was convinced there was going to be another crash and it would be on me. Before the med van left, Tim opened the other side of the van for a final check. I’m so glad he came back. We made a fist pump and I said “You’re my angel man. Thank you Tim. I’m Andy from Toronto.” It felt right to properly introduce ourselves, and to thank him that way.
After the med tent guys stitched and patched me up, the doctor gave me a last look over. I said you guys better mend me up because I have three daughters in Toronto to go back to. At that point the doctor looked for my helmet. She picked it up, checked the front, and then checked the back. Sure enough, there was a big dent on the right rear portion, and turning it over, it was cracked through. Then the doctor turned back and said that’s the third time you’ve told me about your daughters and informed me that I had had a concussion as well. I looked at the cracked helmet, and despite the stiches, bruises, and road rashes, it finally hit me how lucky I was. The doctor looked right at me, and said “yes, you are”. If I hit the sign with my neck or face, the accident would have been horrific. If after being thrown from the bike I landed slightly more vertical, I could have had a severe neck or spine injury. And if I rolled onto the road, vs left onto the ditch, I would have had a peleton of riders speeding downhill run me over, causing much more serious injuries, and / or causing a mass bike crash injuring countless others.
I was so lucky to have good people looking out for me: Tim from Houston, that bearded rider that actually stopped while going downhill (an almost impossible urge for a cyclist), pulled over, and shuffled back to ask me how I was (“I’m good, thanks, keep going!!”), the “Austin crew” who’ve now become friends J, the hotel staff that called every two hours that night to make sure no concussion turn for the worse, and most importantly, my wife and three daughters, who were so worried yet supportive all the way back in Toronto.
Over the past week since the accident I notice so many more wheelchairs, and the different kinds. I notice the handicap entrance of every building I enter. I notice every person with crutches, or a knee or ankle brace. And very cyclist I drive by feels like they’re way too close.
I think these heightened observations are good. And while I’m still recovering and reflecting, I know my life changed on that day. Please allow me to share some initial thoughts that I will try to live by:
- Live healthy – physically and mentally. Take care of yourself in every way you can because…
- Relationships – you need to be strong and around a long time to cultivate, nurture, and support the most important relationships in your life.
- “Earn this”. There is a line near the end of Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan”. After a long, deadly journey to save Private Ryan (Matt Damon), the final living brother ordered to be pulled out after his three other brothers die in the War, the dying Captain pulls the young private over and, barely audible, implores him to “earn this”. That was the purpose for me of Sunday November 8th 2015.
I know my experience pales in comparison to other real life struggles that so many people have to deal with, every day, day in, day out. All I can offer is to share an experience wherein my life learnings might help with yours in some small way.
Hope you’ve been well, and thanks for listening.