When a car struck me while riding on the morning of September 2, 2015, despite finding myself in an emergency room and requiring my cycling kit to be cut off from my body, I still had the belief that I would be able to compete at my next event in two weeks. Perhaps that conviction was simply the steadfast resolve of a committed athlete. Or more likely, perhaps such an inane belief was precipitated by a head injury sustained during the accident.
Once the diagnosis came in with several fractures, a concussion, and mountains of road rash and severe abrasions; I knew that, while I was incredibly lucky to be alive, any chance at racing in the near future was long gone. Still, at that point in time, even I had no idea how long my recovery would actually take.
After two months of near complete inactivity to allow the injuries to heal, and over four months of physical therapy to return to near full strength and complete range of motion, I was cleared to train free of restriction in mid-February 2016. With the goal of returning to high level competition at Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga on May 22nd, I knew I needed a “warm up” event to work off the rust and iron out the kinks that often result from long periods without racing.
That test event would be the West Point Lake Olympic Triathlon on April 24th. Sure, it was a bit early given that it only allowed about 8 weeks of training after nearly half a year of relative inactivity, but I felt a strong urge to get back on the horse and racing again as soon as possible.
As expected, the day of the race arrived much sooner than I would have liked, but I found myself toeing the start line at a triathlon once again. An incredible number of thoughts rolled through my head as I awaited the starting gun. I watched my accident play out in slow motion; an act that I had done thousands of times since the incident, trying in vain to discover a way I could have avoided it. I thought about the amount of pain that I dealt with in the weeks after the accident – the sleepless nights, the hours of wound care, the immense discomfort of the first few weeks of physical therapy – and that pain almost felt real as I listened to the national anthem.
But the thought that most consumed my mind was fear – specifically, a fear of seeing whether I actually could return to a high level of racing after such a bad accident. As many people who have followed my entire career are aware, my overall health has never been that great thanks to a series of genetic conditions from which I continue to suffer. In many ways, I worried that the accident would be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
During my recovery, I debated time and again as to whether I should continue with professional sport. It would be so simple to return to a comfortable legal career and not have to start from the bottom of the training ladder once again. But as I sat on that start line, I knew my decision to compete once again was the right one.
Sure, there was fear – an omnipresent fear, to be honest. But fear can be conquered. And in my opinion, regret cannot. I reflected back on why I left law to pursue triathlon in the first place, and I knew that desire, passion and ambition remained. The setback of the accident definitely made things all the more difficult, but anything worth pursuing derives value from the inherent struggle itself.
After all, if it were easy, it simply wouldn’t be worth the pursuit.
The race itself played out as I expected. I certainly was rusty – even forgetting my usual pattern of progression in transition after the swim – and I completely lacked the high end fitness required to perform at an elite level on race day. But despite being much slower and less competent than I wanted, I still managed to grit out an overall victory in 1:57:27. It was well off the time that I should have been able to run, but it was a completed race nonetheless.
More importantly, however, I was excited. I was passionate. I considered myself lucky to be racing once again.
It is highly likely that things will still be rusty when I head to Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga for my first “real” race back. But I know why I still am pursuing this sport and attempting to reach the elite level of triathlon once again, and this test event revealed to me that the desire is still there.
And at this point in time, that’s all that matters.