A little more than one year and a few hours ago, I was unconscious on the track surface at the San Diego Velodrome with a nearly completely severed off right thumb, a massive hematoma of the left eye, a double fracture of the right knee, a fractured right rib, three fractured vertebrae, a cracked skull and a very difficult path to recovery... along with another week-long stay in the hospital due to five blood clots in my right leg just less than two weeks after being released from the hospital the first time. My daughter was there at the track with me that night and showed strength and grace that I did not know she possessed and would only hear about from those who were there to witness it while I was either unconscious or too out of it to know what was happening.
What lay ahead for me that night was a long and sometimes frightening path to becoming strong enough to ride again one day. Nearly eight weeks with a cervical collar on, as well as a knee brace and crutches felt like an eternity. The loving support of friends, family and many of you helped make it possible for me to fight on through all the frustrations. There were some difficult times during the recovery process and from time to time I wondered if it really was time to "hang up the cleats".
Tonight, once I got home from a long day at work, I quickly scrambled to take advantage of the last bits of sunlight left and hurriedly got out for a ride. I grabbed my iPod Shuffle and scurried down the stairs in my cycling shoes, carrying my bike, and headed off to enjoy a few miles. I took off quickly, not allowing myself much time to warm up, and began pushing the pedals pretty hard from the beginning. I had to remind myself to slow down a little or risk running out of fuel too quickly, or potentially straining a muscle. I didn't really listen to myself, but at least I was conscious of the fact I was going too hard too soon... but I didn't care at all. I felt a lot like I did when I was a kid in high school, rushing home to get a training ride in before having to concentrate (meekly) on homework and chores. I hardly felt like a 39 year old with kids and bills tonight- I had some of that same passionate excitement to ride as I did when I was 16 and dreaming of Tour de France podiums. I also didn't feel like I was recovering anymore- I felt strong and healthy and attacked the ride with determination. I powered up each climb, not allowing myself to rest before reaching the top. I pushed the pedals hard at every opportunity- and it felt really good.
I've given up on the Tour podiums now, though I still dream of other podiums more in keeping with my age and ability. I still have the passion to ride and I feel blessed that I am now able to ride again with almost no problems. The neck is still very stiff and bothers me sometimes and the right arm still doesn't quite straighten, but I am otherwise able to ride without limitation... other than the relative lack of fitness.
Tonight was a celebration of life and the gift of health. As I have been saying for months now, "I'm well enough to be able to complain about not being able to ride as much or as often as I would like, due to my work schedule."
Thank you for your encouragement and support this past year and before- I consider myself lucky to know you all.