The Long Road Back

My, my, my… It is a long road back…

In June of 2017, I had a terrible accident in a sprint race close to Asheville, NC. Broken right clavicle, 3 broken ribs, and a slightly punctured lung with a Neuro Thorax and a Hemo Thorax. I spent two days in the hospital on oxygen. I have spent the last 5 months trying to retrieve and it is a long way back.

So let us rewind a bit…

I entered the 2017 racing season a bit out of sorts. I was motivated but I couldn’t quite get that sharp edge to my workouts. I was easily accomplishing the long workouts based upon the 2016 season which I finished with IronMan North Carolina. I had put on some weight over the break and came back to my workouts with less than my best. I rolled into the WhiteLake Half Ironman race in April of 2017 10 pounds overweight at the minimum. I was also sick. I had caught a cold the week before the race and was not feeling my best. In fact, my wife suggested I just stay home. I told her that I had invested my money in the race and could not withdraw now and so I forged ahead.

I entered the water at White Lake and knew closest that it was not going to be a good day and might end up with a DNF. I just had no push and I had no energy. I exited the water a good 12 minutes slower than the year before and headed to my bike. I was so winded that I couldn’t already run to my bike. I got to my bike and began to feel slightly better already though I knew there was a gear that I would not get close to. I pushed on with the 56 miles of the bike and finished in decent time about the same as the past year.

On the run, it was straight up brutal. I started at a good speed and was allowing the run to “come to me.” This mantra of having the run “come to me” is my way of staying calm in the first 2-3 miles after leaving change. In the past I left change so hyped that I would blow up by mile 4. In this day, by mile 2 it was already terrible. It was hot, hot, hot. I knew it was going to be a terrible time after the swim, but I never imagined my second worst time and just below 6 hours. I was spent.

I came back to training after this with the goal of making a 10-12 pound weight loss and being ready for Lake Logan Half in August. I was going on a dream hiking trip with my son with out scout troop to Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico in July. I was focused and ready to redeem my season. I was going to finish the season with returning to White Lake for the Fall Half and redeeming myself.

The week before the sprint race where the “incident” happened, I was in Arizona for the Southern Baptist Convention. I am a pastor and this is an annual convention I attend. The convention was in Phoenix but we decided to go early and stay a little later and use time with family in Tucson. It was really a great trip. We were leaving from Tucson on Friday with the race on Saturday. In hindsight, this was foolish and I will never attempt this again. We flew from Tucson to Atlanta and then made the 3 and half hour excursion home. We pulled in the driveway around 2 am. I determined that I could get a substantial 4 hours of sleep and then get to the race site. I would not try to PR but would cruise the race as a good workout. I arrived to the race site feeling tired but ready for a good day. I warmed up with a substantial run and felt like I was ready for the day.

The gun sounded for us to start the race while we were in the lake. The swim was nice. I felt like I could push a little but really just cruised by the swim. I exited the swim in about 20th place. I felt substantial as I got on my bike. I started to pedal and it was as if I had nothing to give. My legs were noodles. There is a good bit of climbing at the beginning of the race, so I labored on. I knew I was really struggling when people began to pass me like I was sitting nevertheless. I finished the climbing section and entered the rest of the race. There is a series of three consecutive downhills down a two lane road. I was flying and beginning to pass some of those who had passed me earlier. I was going to cruise on in to the finish and complete the race with no issues. I was heading down the last of these downhills and while nevertheless feeling in control was going over 35 miles an hour. I moved a little bit left to pass another competitor and I hit a divot in the road. It probably wasn’t much of a divot, but at that speed, it was enough to begin to make me wobble. I knew I was going down, but had enough frame of mind to relax and roll with the bike.

I remember everything about what 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 upcoming intersection. I was conscious the whole time. I stopped rolling and began to gather myself. I truly thought I was fine. I took account of my body and didn’t think much had happened besides some road rash on my knee and leg. I truly began to get up and was going to continue on. As I was about to stand up, a member of the race team arrived. They seemingly took one look at me and said “I think you had better sit down.” I took their advice and sat down. It was then that I felt my right shoulder and clavicle and could feel the bone sticking out. The only thing I could think of was my trip with my son. “Could I nevertheless go with 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 get in the back of the ambulance on my own strength. The member of the race team was taking my bike back to the race site. The EMT began to give me an IV and some pain meds and we went toward the hospital. A few minutes before we got to the hospital I began to complain about my ribs hurting. He gave me some more morphine and I was all good.

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

The rest of the experience in the hospital was filled with x-rays, the discovery of my slightly punctured lung, and the reunion with my family. I was hurt really badly with major road rash all down my back, my knee, and on my leg. I was broken with my ribs and collarbone. Most importantly, there was no way I could go on the trip with my son. It was a devastating summer. I couldn’t do anything for about 2 weeks. I got bored. I couldn’t aim. I couldn’t lift anything. I was completely sidelined.

About two weeks later, I began to work with a Physical Therapist. He told me that my ribs would hurt for about 6 months and the recovery from my injury would be long, but I would return to my racing days again. I have worked hard since then and am just now starting to see some fruit of my labor. I nevertheless hurt quite a bit. When I swim my ribs hurt, but my shoulder and collarbone seem to be substantial. I am starting to run again. I haven’t gotten my bike outside, but hope to do that soon. I know I will retrieve, but the road back is long.

I know injuries happen and the longer you are in the sport of triathlon, the more likely those injuries will happen. I want to race again though and will in 2018. I want to be already 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, really long.

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