Wednesday, April 01, 2009

A Quick Peek Back

Now that a few months have passed and I can turn my head without pain I thought I would take a quick look back at my crash. I’ve been meaning to sit down and write this for a while and thought I should record my thoughts before life moves too far down the road.

Here is what I know about what happened. On March 1 I was involved in an accident during a bike race in the Central Valley. Two of my competitors became entangled and caused a chain reaction crash that, from what I hear, took down half the group. I don’t remember any of the crash itself. I’ve learned since that I went over the handle bars at 30 mph and landed on the left side of my face. I’m told I was unconscious for 30-45 seconds. My first memory after the crash is of another competitor leaning over me asking me “Who is the president?” I couldn’t answer. I remember thinking “I know we just changed but I can’t remember who won”. I knew where I was, the name of the race and maybe even the date. I also knew I had been in a crash. At the time I knew I had gone down hard but didn’t think I was too badly injured.

If you’ve never crashed your bike while riding fast you’re lucky. My favorite description comes from local cycling guru Michael Hernandez in
this post

"well, it's like this ~ get in your car and find yourself a nice quite country road. Bring the speed up to around 30mph. Keep it steady at 30, maybe click on the 'cruise control' if you've got it, ok?

now, roll down your window, peep your head out the car and look down at the passing pavement. Look at all those jagged little crushed rocks and sand-papery surfaces. Ok, got used to the speed? Then open up your door ... don't be afraid. Open up your door and lean out a bit (keep that speed up!). Now slowly reach a hand down toward the road zipping by underneath. Think about it, just for an instant ... reach out and touch that road. Go ahead, try it. Reach out and touch it.

and just when you're about to touch the road? in that moment of concentration where your fingers are dangling between the edge of safety and dangerous contact ...

have somebody push your ass out of the car."

So there I was, lying on the pavement after ‘having my ass pushed out of the car’. While I wasn’t too concerned about my injuries, those who were treating me were. I was strapped to a back board, shuttled by ambulance to an open space, loaded into a helicopter and flown to the trauma center at Mercy Medical Center in Merced. There I was scanned, stitched, braced and sent home with my slightly traumatized but heroic pregnant wife.

At the hospital they told me I had broken a bone at the base of my skull called the occipital condyle. Over the next three days I would learn that I also broke my cheek bone (zygomatic arch) and had compressed my T8 vertebra. The following few months were an exercise in pain management.

I happy to say now that I’m mostly recovered. My back still gets tired but it’s getting stronger every day. I’m able to ride my bike again and enjoy getting out on the road.

After the pain meds wore off and I had time to reflect, I was initially curious about the crash itself. I wondered what I could have done to avoid it. I wondered why this time I hadn’t been able to ‘roll with the punches’ when I had avoided serious injury in the past.

After my curiosity about the actual event was satisfied I began to think about what might have been. I thought about other riders who hadn’t been so lucky. I thought about track fixture Joe Fineman who is still in the hospital after crashing only a week or two after my accident. I thought about our friend Pat Currant who was killed by a car one summer day after a series of crashes during spring races. While my neck and back were painful I consider myself lucky to be walking and breathing.

Ultimately I had to consider why I was willing to take such risks as part of my hobby. I ride and race my bike to stay physically fit. It seems counter productive to participate in a hobby that could easily result in critical injury. Since my crash I’ve found myself paying more attention to local race accidents. It seems almost weekly I hear a story of serious injury. It has definitely made me pause. Bike racing is fun but it isn’t worth missing a single day with a daughter or son. Cycling brought my wife and I together but racing isn’t worth missing a future with her. So my crash has lead to a great deal of soul searching about the future of bike racing in this family. I will race again. I have already raced two time trials since my crash. I love bike racing and I would hate for my last race to be the one which I can’t remember ending. But rest assured that my future in bike racing will have a different look than it has in the past.

Be safe out there.