Thursday, April 21, 2016

SCARS TELL A STORY


I posted in a Facebook group a couple weeks ago about my bike crash from last year and I had a few people message me and ask that I write a blog about it. Apparently, it gives some people inspiration on coming back from injuries, so I appreciate them saying that. I never thought what I went through could help another, but if my story helps, then I am glad to write it. Since my first race back post crash was St. Anthony's which is this upcoming weekend, I thought now would be as good a time as ever. So here goes...

December 28, 2014. Yorkshire England. I decided that morning that I would go cycling in the cold damp dreary weather that is winter in northern England. Rich pleaded with me not to go telling me that it was icy out and he didn't have a good feeling. Well, if you know me, I am pretty headstrong and fearless, so I decided to just do it anyway. Hind sight is always 20/20, right? I kitted up and headed out the door. I hopped on the bike and felt great. We had just done a really tough trail run race a couple of days before, The Chevin Chase, and my legs were a little tired. Anyone that knows Yorkshire, knows the hills there are no joke. Anyway, I just wanted a nice spin out to breathe and get the blood flowing.

I set off. I was on a mountain bike and was headed to the trails, via the road. Not long into my ride, I was going down hill and through a bend when I saw it- ICE. It was stretched across the road in front of me. I was going around 18mph at the time. I have been cycling for several years and in my mind, I knew what to do. I thought I knew what to do. My body reacted differently though. As the front tire touched the ice, the bike wobbled underneath me. I grabbed the front brake. Too quick, too hard. The front tire was over the ice and locked up on the pavement.  It all happened so fast. My body, attached to the bike, was hurled into the air. The back end of the bike coming over the front end. My face hitting the pavement and taking the blunt of it all. I heard ringing. I saw nothing. I felt everything. According to my Garmin data, my heart stopped for 7 seconds. Weird huh? I can't really describe the feeling, the pain. If you have ever crashed with your head or face taking the blunt of a hard fall, then you know. I felt my teeth and my facial bones crush upon impact. After I came to, I realized I was on the sidewalk. A runner passing by had helped me out of the road and over to the side. I was down on all fours on the cold Yorkshire ground in a pile of blood and brokenness. Spitting out chunks of my teeth. I was crying, oh yes...crying. I remember saying to the guy that my teeth were gone and that my jaw was broken. I don't think he understood because I couldn't even open my mouth property to speak. I knew though. I knew the damage. I felt it. I won't post the photos. There are some back through my blog from a year ago though if you care to look. Anyway----

Pretty soon there were cars everywhere. Some people thought I'd been hit by a vehicle. I saw a little boy in his fathers car crying looking on in horror. I turned my head because I figured he was scared at what he saw. Perhaps the blood. My head was spinning. Everything was spinning and the pain was intense. Then Rich was there. All I could say to him was that my teeth were gone. Things were going numb after that, I couldn't feel my chin, jaw or face anymore. He took me back to the house. Luckily, my father-in-law and my sister-in-law are both doctors and one look told them I needed to go to hospital.

Off to Leeds hospital we went. I won't bore you with all the details about that, but the crash left me with 3 facial fractures including a severely broken jaw. More specifically...a condylar that was broken completely into two pieces. Two chin fractures and 8 broken teeth. Luckily, the front teeth were still in tact only separated and only time would tell if I would be able to keep my front teeth. I had thought after the crash when I was on the road that they were all gone. Thank god there were there and fingers crossed for six months of waiting to make sure the nerves didn't die. The back teeth took the impact though. From my incisors back.  Cracked, broken teeth. 8 of them. Top and bottom.  I also could not feel the left side of my face. The break of my jaw had damaged a facial nerve as well. I had a bone deep laceration underneath my chin that had to be sutured. Oh boy. What a predicament. The rest of my body was ok apart from bruises and scrapes.

So, that is what happened. This post though is really about what happened after--

We flew back to the states on January 2. I had to see a doctor immediately upon our arrival. Actually three of them. What an incredible team of people. So thankful for the good care.

Post crash- Let's just say this was probably harder than the actual accident itself. I ended up with my jaw being wired shut for almost 4 months. Yes, that's right. Imagine that. I ate through a tube
How I ate...
attached to a syringe. As an athlete, I train, eat, and take care of my body. Here I was now, a crumpled mess that couldn't do anything. I was dropping pounds by the day. I was thin to start with, but this was taking things to a whole different level. 20 lbs disappeared within the first two weeks. 20 pounds! Imagine the feeling of your body just wasting away. The muscles and strength that took years to build, disappearing before my very eyes. No matter how many calories I pumped into my body, the weight came off. I was struggling. Mentally. This broke me on the outside and now it was breaking me on the inside. I was getting down, sad, sometimes angry. Miserable. The days seem to pass so slowly. Imagine being hungry, but not being able to pop in a snack or a drink. I had to buy a special blender and plan ahead just to even have a small snack. This was the beginning though and just like anything you learn to adapt. I started to make peace with the injuries and knew I needed to adapt.

After about three weeks of this,  I made a decision that I would not let it defeat me. I put my bike on the trainer. I cannot tell you the feeling of fear I had when I first looked at the bike, let alone getting on it. Clipping sent shivers down my spine. But I did it. I made myself. I knew that I had to. This was me, 3 weeks after my crash, jaws wired shut. First time back on the bike.


I took it easy, I stayed indoors on the trainer. Trying to breathe through jaws that are wired shut is no easy task. But dammit, I did it. I was told by my doctors that I couldn't swim or run for a while and finally begged them for permission at 5 weeks post crash. They said that didn't see how anyone could swim with their jaws wired shut, but I was determined and dammit, I did it! I got back in the pool and like sucking wind through a straw, I swam three times a week.

The run. This was the toughest. My bones were healing, so I had to be careful. The docs didn't want me to do it, but I had to. Five weeks post crash, jaws wired shut. I ran. It was slow and easy, but I ran. 5 miles! Again, with teeth clenched tight, breathing is tough just sitting. Imagine running like that. It was no easy feat but I was determined.

First run. 5 weeks post crash. Jaws wired shut. 
The hardest part for me was getting back on the bike...on the road. But I did it. Around the 5 week mark. I had to do it. I had to get rid of the fear that was haunting me. I'll be honest, it was NOT easy. When I clipped into my pedals for my first ride, I thought I would pass out from anxiety. I had never felt anything like this before. It was real fear. But dammit, I did it anyway. I took off. Afraid. I felt woozy, but rode for an hour. Jaws wired shut. Crying pretty much the first 15 minutes. Pulling back on every hill. Just nice and easy. Baby steps. After my first ride back on the road, I felt a little better. I knew that I was on the right track to healing on the inside.

I had to learn to adapt. I had to learn how to eat. I was not going to let my strength and everything I had built up in years of Ironman training just go away. Once I started 'training' again, I was determined NOT to lose another pound. I ate, and ate, and ate. Well, really it was more like drinking, but whatever. Calories. I consumed more calories a day than probably five athletes put together. In liquid form. I had to keep the weight on and I was successful. I dropped around 25 lbs total from this accident, that being the first few weeks. Once I started training, I didn't lose another pound.  I was on the road back.

I was healing on the outside and the inside. The nightmares (or instant replays) of the accident every night in my sleep were becoming less and less. The more I did the things I love, the better I felt.
I started to become a stronger person. I pushed. I worked. I trained. I wanted to be back racing even thought I was told to take it easy for months. I am just not wired that way. I am a fighter.

Proud to say that I trained for 3 1/2 months for that triathlon with my jaws completely wired shut. I swam, biked and ran, everyday. A broken face, broken teeth, pain.  It did not stop me!

I did my first bike TT three weeks after I got my wires out and I had my fastest TT to date with a 24.6 mph average over a 10 mile course. Then there was St. Anthony's triathlon which was a year ago this weekend. I raced it one month after my jaws were finally set free from all the wires and I had one of my best bikes ever. Sub 1:15 oly bike on a hot and very windy course. I did NOT let my accident stop me. I did NOT let that crash weaken me. What I did do was learn from the crash. I learned about who I really am and what I am really made of.  It made me stronger. More of a fighter. Stronger...inside and out.

St. Anthony's Tri- 4 months after the accident
I finally got the last of my teeth taken care of just one month ago. Luckily, all of my teeth 'lived'. My dentist was worried about the nerves dying, but they didn't, thankfully. I just need some repairs on them. One year of doctors/dentists visits and it's finally come to a close. One year. I still have facial paralysis on the left side, but it's not severe. I can't feel my nose and part of me cheek and chin. This is permanent, but it doesn't really affect me. My smile is different, my jaw and chin are a little crooked now and that's ok. My jaw popped out of place just the other day and it took about a minute before I could even open my mouth. It is what it is though, right? These are my scars!! Like the above quote. It's a reminder of when life tried to break me, but failed. This is where my character was truly defined.

I hope this helps anyone who's ever had a sporting accident. I am honored that people reached out to me after my post. I believe that when life knocks you down, you really have only have two choices. You either stand back up with fists clenched or you let it consume you. I stood back up and it has made all the difference!


Cheers~

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