Lacking in the Luck Department

By September 19, 2018Health, Racing

There has been quite a bit of radio silence on my end since my accident at Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga, the details of which can be found here. Some of that silence has been intentional, as working my way through the set of ridiculously improbable circumstances that resulted in a bird flying through my front wheel has been very difficult to accept mentally. As a result, I have needed time away from everything to decompress and reevaluate. However, some of that silence has also been due to the fact that, when you’re laid up with a badly fractured clavicle and mountains of cuts and wounds…well, there just isn’t that much going on in your life to detail.

During this period of forced rest (as is likely to occur after a bad accident), I have spent a considerable amount of time reflecting on my career. There have been some wonderful moments – some big overall wins and strong podium finishes in very deep fields – that I am both very proud of and from which I have a great feeling of accomplishment and appreciation for the process. There have also been races where I have overcome a significant number of obstacles and pulled every ounce of performance out of my body on an otherwise bad day. Truthfully, despite not frequently showcasing a particularly high finish, those results have often given me the highest sense of achievement given the circumstances.

Beyond those specific races though, I also have noticed that luck has not typically worked in my favor during my time as a professional triathlete. Sure, some of the bad luck is self-inflicted. When you decide to compete in professional endurance sport while suffering from a life-threatening heart condition, quite a few medical problems may arise, as they have. For example, I have woken up on race morning only to discover that my heart went into atrial fibrillation over the course of the night. Those situations, however, I consider part of the risk of my choice to pursue this sport at the highest level.

Nevertheless, bad luck seems to trickle regularly into my career exclusive of my heart condition. Obviously, a bird flying through the front wheel during Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga comes to mind. As does the incident a few years ago in which I was hit by a car on my final bike ride prior to traveling to the World Championships. In the hopes of keeping an optimistic outlook, however, I always felt that circumstances like these meant that my luck was bound to turn around sometime soon.

Yet that “sometime” never seems to arrive, and recent events have revealed that my bad luck only continues. After nearly 4 months of recovery and rehabilitation from the accident in Chattanooga, I noticed that several specific movements in physical therapy were not improving to any extent and continued to cause severe pain. My doctors ordered a CT scan to determine what was going on in the shoulder and found that my fracture had resulted in nonunion. In other words, the two sides of the broken clavicle had not healed and united back together. It turns out that the size of the fracture was simply too large for the body to cover that gap naturally during the healing process.

When I heard the news, beyond being completely deflated, I was mad at myself. I figured that something I did (or didn’t do) over the course of my recovery caused the nonunion. Yet upon further consideration, I followed every instruction to the letter and even played things more conservatively than required because I knew how essential proper functioning of the shoulder joint is to my career.

Guess what the doctors attributed the nonunion to? Bad luck.

So here I sit, nearly a third of a year removed from the accident at Chattanooga, and I am returning to square one. Surgery is required, and I will need a bone graft, plate and screw, and complete ligament reconstruction. Furthermore, because nonunion has already presented as a risk, I will have to be immobilized 24 hours per day, 7 days per week for a minimum of 7 full weeks. Basically, I will have no use of my left arm until late November.

All because of a bird? Seriously? What are the odds?

Honestly, I almost can’t believe these words as I type them. Anger and frustration don’t even begin to describe my emotions. And I am supposed to chalk it all up to yet another case of bad luck?

The truth is, I left my career as a corporate attorney because of the inner challenge that pursuing elite level sport presents. Each day of training, each specific training session, represents an opportunity to better oneself, to become a better athlete both physically and mentally. In addition, that chase has concrete, objective levels of measurement – essentially, you can examine your data (pace/speed/power) over time and clearly determine improvement.

That specific journey of attempting to maximize one’s athletic potential is one that gave me great purpose each and every day. It provided me with a challenge, as well as a sense of accomplishment and enjoyment. I had a deep-seated feeling that running, biking and swimming at the professional level were what I had been “meant” to do. But these frequent setbacks – and the random nature of my experiences with really bad luck – truly have sapped all of my enthusiasm for the sport. The joy seems long lost.

Recently, I received an email from a very knowledgable high-performance triathlon coach who expressed his sympathy and said the following:

“It is such a crazy collection of elements that occasionally combine into greatness in any endeavor. Not the least of which is luck. I’ve honestly never come across an athlete like you that had so many pieces of the puzzle together, except for luck. Whatever happens, a few years down the road, you will understand what the silver lining to this was.”

Needless to say, this coach’s comments hit very close to home for me. I have been waiting for quite a while for my run of luck to turn around in my pursuit of professional sport, and for many years bad luck and unfortunate circumstances have simply continued.

However, perhaps I have been looking for clarity in the incorrect place. Perhaps it will be a different pursuit outside of triathlon where I will finally find understanding as to why things have played out as they have.

Only time will tell.

4 Comments

  • Jackie duso says:

    My first response is to write good luck!!!! The usual knee jerk reaction to something and I mean nothing mean by it!! Keep looking and keep an open mind! You will feel find “it”.

  • Alex Fuller says:

    Justin – all I can say is “man – what a bummer.” I’m sorry.

  • Steve says:

    I’ve heard it said; It isn’t good luck nor is it bad luck, it’s just LIFE. Life sure as hell has a mean left hook sometimes! We just put the “mouth piece” back in and stand when the bell sounds the next round. I KNOW that’s how YOU’RE built!!

  • Jen says:

    I’m so sorry you’re going through this. As I read it, I wonder why a gift of talent would be given if it weren’t meant to be taken? Why would a deep seeded desire be planted if it weren’t meant to grow? Why would the reward of hard work and training be snatched away? Why would an athlete have incredible abilities and also a life threatening heart disease?

    I don’t know. And I can’t begin to imagine what you’re going through. I pray you’ll find comfort and understanding.

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