The long way back

My, my, my … It’s a long way back …

In June 2017, I was in a terrible speed race accident near Asheville, North Carolina. Broken right clavicle, 3 broken ribs and a partially perforated lung with a Neuro Thorax and a Heme Thorax. I spent two days in the hospital on oxygen. I have spent the last 5 months trying to recover and it is a long way back.

So let’s back up a bit …

I went into the 2017 racing season a little bit wrong. I was motivated, but I couldn’t get that advantage in my training sessions. I was easily pulling off the long workouts based on the 2016 season that I finished with IronMan North Carolina. I had gained some weight during the break and returned to my workouts with less than my best. I entered the WhiteLake Half Ironman race in April 2017 at least 10 pounds overweight. I was sick too. I had caught a cold the week before the race and was not feeling well. In fact, my wife suggested that I stay home. I told him that I had invested my money in the race and that I could not withdraw now, so I kept going.

I went into the water at White Lake and knew immediately that it was not going to be a good day and that I might end up with a DNF. He just had no drive and he had no energy. I got out of the water a good 12 minutes slower than the year before and made my way to my bike. I was so out of breath that I couldn’t even run to my bike. I got to my bike and started to feel a little better even though I knew there was a gear that I wouldn’t get close to. I kept going with the 56 miles on the bike and finished in a decent time about the same as the year before.

In the race, it was brutal. I started at a good pace and was allowing the race to “come to me”. This “come to me” mantra is my way of staying calm for the first 2-3 miles after transitioning. In the past, I came out of the transition so excited that I would fly at mile 4. On this day, mile 2 was already terrible. It was hot, hot, hot. I knew it was going to be a terrible time after swimming, but I never imagined my second worst moment and just under 6 o’clock. I was exhausted.

I went back to training after this with the goal of losing 10-12 pounds and being ready for the Lake Logan Half in August. I was going on a dream hiking trip with my non-scout troop son to Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico in July. I was focused and ready to redeem my season. I was going to end the season by returning to White Lake for mid-fall and redeeming myself.

The week before the sprint race where the “incident” occurred, I was in Arizona for the Southern Baptist Convention. I am a pastor and I attend this annual convention. The convention was in Phoenix, but we decided to go early and stay a little later and spend time with the family in Tucson. It really was a great trip. We were leaving Tucson on Friday with the race on Saturday. In hindsight this was silly and I will never try again. We flew from Tucson to Atlanta and then made the 3 1/2 hour drive home. We pulled into the driveway around 2am. I decided I could get a solid 4 hours of sleep and then make it to the race site. I wouldn’t try to do public relations, but I would navigate the race like good training. I arrived at the race site feeling tired but ready for a good day. I warmed up with a solid run and felt like I was ready for the day.

The gun rang for us to start the race while we were on the lake. Swimming was nice. I felt like I could push a bit, but actually I just crossed the swim. I came out of swimming in about 20th place. I felt solid when I got on my bike. I started pedaling and it was as if I had nothing to give. My legs were noodles. There is a good climb at the beginning of the race so I worked. I knew I was really struggling when people started passing me like I was sitting still. I finished the climbing section and entered the rest of the race. There is a series of three consecutive descents on a two-lane highway. I was flying and starting to pass some of those that had passed me before. I was going to sail to the finish and complete the race without a hitch. I was heading towards the last of these descents and while I still felt in control, I was going over 35 miles per hour. I moved a little to the left to pass another competitor and hit a gap in the road. It probably wasn’t much of a divot, but at that speed, it was enough to start making me stagger. I knew I was falling, but I was in enough frame of mind to relax and ride the bike.

I remember everything that happened next. I hit the ground with a thud and skidded down the road. I remember seeing a fire truck with its lights on at the next intersection. I was conscious the whole time. I stopped rolling and started to compose myself. In fact, I thought it was fine. I took my body into account and didn’t think much more than a rash on my knee and leg would have happened. In fact, I started to get up and was going to continue. As I was about to stand up, a member of the race team arrived. Apparently they took one look at me and said, “I think you better sit down.” I followed his advice and sat down. It was then that I felt my right shoulder and collarbone and could feel the bone sticking out. The only thing that occurred to me was the trip with my son. “Could I still have a broken collarbone?”

It wasn’t long before the ambulance came and picked me up. The technician checked me out and I was able to climb into the back of the ambulance on my own. The racing team member was taking my bike to the race site. The EMT tech started putting me on an IV and some pain relievers and we headed to the hospital. A few minutes before arriving at the hospital I began to complain that my ribs hurt. He gave me more morphine and it was fine.

In the emergency room, I realized that I had no ID, no insurance card, and no phone. I didn’t know if the race was going to call my emergency contact and, if not, how my family would know to come and get me from the emergency room. I found out later that this race was run by two separate entities and each of them thought the other was calling, so no one called my wife. I asked the nurse for a phone number and called my wife. She didn’t reply and I left her a message. I was sleeping because we had just gotten home from the airport at 2am. I waited about 15 minutes and called again. This time she replied and had just heard my message. She was going crazy. All I could tell him was to go to the race site and grab my gear and my bike. This race takes place in a neighborhood and I didn’t want them to rush to pack up and leave without me securing my gear. She said she would go and do that.

The rest of the hospital experience was filled with X-rays, the discovery of my slightly punctured lung, and the reunion with my family. I was seriously injured with a major road rash that ran down my back, knee and leg. They broke my ribs and collarbone. Most importantly, there was no way I could go on a trip with my son. It was a devastating summer. I couldn’t do anything for about 2 weeks. I got bored. I couldn’t train. I couldn’t lift anything. He was completely outcast.

About two weeks later, I started working with a physical therapist. He told me that my ribs would hurt for about 6 months and that my recovery from my injury would be long, but that I would go back to my racing days. I have worked hard ever since and now I am starting to see some fruits of my work. It still hurts quite a bit. When I swim, my ribs hurt, but my shoulder and collarbone seem solid. I start running again. I have not taken my bike outside but hope to do so soon. I know I will recover, but the way back is long.

I know that injuries happen and the longer you are in the sport of triathlon, the more likely they are to occur. However, I want to race again and I will do it in 2018. I want to be even better than I was and get that fire back in my workouts. I want to be strong again. I know I will, but the road is long, very long.

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