• May 31, 2023

the long way back

My, my, my… It’s a long way back…

In June 2017 I was in a terrible drag race accident near Asheville, NC. Broken right clavicle, 3 broken ribs, and a partially punctured lung with a neurothorax and a hemothorax. 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 bit off. I was motivated, but I couldn’t get my workouts to have that biting edge. I was easily pulling off the long workouts based on the 2016 season I finished with IronMan North Carolina. I had gained some weight during the break and went back to my workouts with less than my best. I came into the WhiteLake Half Ironman race in April 2017 at least 10 pounds overweight. I was also sick. I had caught a cold the week before the race and was not feeling my best. In fact, my wife suggests that I stay home. I told her that she had invested my money in the race and now she couldn’t withdraw me, so I went ahead.

I got in the water at White Lake and knew right away that it was not going to be a good day and I could end up with a DNF. I just had no drive and no energy. I got out of the water 12 minutes slower than the year before and headed back to my bike. I was so out of breath that I couldn’t even run to my bike. I got on my bike and started to feel somewhat better even though I knew there was a gear I wouldn’t go near. I pushed through with the bike’s 56 miles and finished in a decent time about the same as the year before.

In the race, it was downright brutal. I started at a good pace and was letting the race “come to me”. This “come to me” race mantra is my way of staying calm for the first 2-3 miles after coming out of transition. In the past I came out of transition so excited I was blown up at mile 4. On this day, at mile 2 I 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 under 6 hours. I was spent

I went back to training after this with the goal of losing 10-12 pounds of weight and getting ready for the Lake Logan Half in August. I was going on a dream hiking trip with my son without a 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 end the season by returning to White Lake for the fall halfway through and redeeming myself.

The week before the sprint where the “incident” occurred, I was in Arizona for the Southern Baptist Convention. I am a pastor and this is an annual convention that I attend. The convention was in Phoenix but we decided to go early and stay a bit later and spend time with family in Tucson. It was really a great trip. We were leaving Tucson on Friday with the race on Saturday. In hindsight this was silly and I will never try it again. We flew from Tucson to Atlanta and then made the 3 1/2 hour drive home. We pulled into the driveway around 2 am. I determined that I could get a solid 4 hours of sleep and then make it to the race location. I wouldn’t try PR, but I would navigate the race as a good exercise. 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 at the lake. The bathroom was nice. I felt like I could push a bit, but I really got through the swim. I came out of the swim in 20th place. I felt solid when I got on my bike. I started pedaling and it was like I had nothing to give. My legs were noodles. There’s a good stretch at the start of the race, so I worked. I knew I was really struggling when people started passing me like I was standing still. I finished the climbing section and entered the rest of the race. There is a series of three consecutive descents down a two-lane road. I was flying and starting to pass some of those who had passed me before. I was going to cruise all the way and complete the race without a problem. I was heading down the last of these downhills and while I still felt like I was in control, I was going over 35 miles per hour. I moved a bit to the left to pass another competitor and hit a hump in the road. It probably wasn’t much of a chop, but at that speed, it was enough to start me reeling. I knew I was going to fall, but I had the courage to relax and ride the bike.

I remember everything that happened afterwards. I hit the ground with a thud and skidded down the path. I see a memory of a fire truck with its lights on at the next intersection. I was conscious the whole time. I stopped rolling and started gathering. In fact, I thought it was fine. I took my body into account and didn’t think much had happened besides a scratch on my knee and leg. I actually started to get up and was going to continue. As I was about to stand up, a member of the race team arrived. They apparently looked at me and said, “I think you better sit down.” I followed his advice and sat down. That’s when I felt my right shoulder and clavicle and I could feel the bone sticking out. The only thing I could think about was my trip with my son. “Could I still go with a broken clavicle?”

It wasn’t long before the ambulance arrived and picked me up. The technician checked me out and I was able to get into the back of the ambulance under my own power. The race team member was taking my bike back to the race site. The EMT started putting me on an IV and some painkillers and we headed towards the hospital. A few minutes before arriving at the hospital I started complaining that my ribs hurt. He gave me some more morphine and I was fine.

In the ER, I realized that I had no ID, insurance card, or phone. I didn’t know if the race was going to call my emergency contact and if not how would my family know to come pick me up from the ER. I found out later that this race was run by two separate entities and each thought the other 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 her 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 my bike. This race is held in a neighborhood and I didn’t want the race to pack up and leave without me securing my gear. She said that 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 reunion with my family. I got really hurt with a big road rash all over my back, knee and leg. They broke my ribs and clavicle. Most importantly, there was no way I was going to 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 train. I couldn’t lift anything. I was completely sidelined.

About two weeks later, I started working with a physical therapist. He told me that my ribs would hurt for about 6 months and my injury recovery would be long, but I would be back to my racing days. I have worked hard ever since and am now starting to see some of the fruits of my labor. It still hurts a lot. My ribs hurt when I swim, but my shoulder and clavicle seem solid. I’m starting to run again. I haven’t taken my bike outside, but I hope to soon. I know I’ll recover, but the road back is long.

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

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