The morning of the Triathlon
March 24, 2013. It had been raining for hours and I was afraid the triathlon would be canceled. Later that day I found myself wishing the race had been canceled. I was not ready for what was about to happen
The race starts with the swim portion at the pool. There were many swimmers that did not understand how to line up properly, which made it more difficult for swimmers to get around them. It was frustrating but I focused on getting to the wall.
While climbing out of the pool I was excited because I knew that my swim was strong which was going to result in a big improvement from prior season efforts. I spent a great deal of time training for the swim which was my biggest weakness in prior triathlons.
When I exited the pool building to head towards transition, the wind hit my wet body and almost took my breath away. After the rain moved out a cold front moved in. The temperature had dropped about 20 degrees and the wind picked up.
Swim complete; time for the bike portion
I fought a headwind during the first half of the ride. I focused on knowing once I reached the turn around the wind would be at my back and I could then settle into the ride. That part played out and I was able to drop my energy expenditure and just ride. Cycling was my strong suit, but I did not prepare myself for the mental side of the “what ifs”. With the wind at my back, I did not have a good gauge on my speed. That was my first mistake. I knew I was in trouble when I started tapping my breaks to slow down for the turn which caused me to panic and resulted in my second mistake.
Split second decisions
I pictured 2 scenarios: hitting the curb and flying over the handlebars or jamming my breaks and going down. I made a split second decision and went down. When I came to a stop I can remember laying face down on the ground afraid to move. A volunteer for the event asked me if I were okay and asked if I wanted to sit up. When I tried to lift my shoulder to roll over I felt some bones move in my upper back area. I thought my shoulder blade had shattered. Turns out that I had a broken collar bone and 7 broken ribs.
While they were loading me up in the ambulance a 2nd person went down in the same spot and busted her head. I could hear the eyewitnesses talking about how bad she was bleeding. They asked her to wait a moment while they loaded me in the ambulance and then they would take care of her. then I heard her say I’m finishing this race and she took off. From where I sat, that was not a good decision.
Recovery from my injuries
My broken collar bone required surgery to repair. The doctor wanted to wait at least 2 weeks for the surgery to let the soft tissue begin to heal. Once the surgery was complete it was was like starting all over with even more pain to endure. It was a long, painful recovery. I was unable to lay down for 4 months forcing me to sleep in a recliner.
Over the first two months, every breath I took, no matter how shallow that breath was, would cause the broken ribs to pop. I spent every waking moment managing pain and had plenty of time to relive those moments over and over again in my mind. I realized that if I hadn’t panicked I could have overshot the turn, slowed down and turned around. The accident was my fault and could have been avoided. Admitting that to myself was a tough pill to swallow which has left me dealing with guilt and depression since the accident.
I think the rehabilitation was the worst part of the entire process. My mobility diminished in my left arm and shoulder area from being in a sling for a long period of time with little to no movement. The broken ribs complicated the rehab process. Whenever my shoulder blade moved it would get hung up on the broken ribs. The worst parts were laying down and the stretching. The broken ribs were on the back side which made laying down excruciating. The shortened muscles fought every stretch we were trying to work through. I was unable to lift my arm more than 3 to 6 inches from my side at the beginning of treatment. Every step towards improving that distance came with a painful price.
Important lessons learned
- The volunteers are great and are a necessary part of the events but, that doesn’t mean they know what is best for the injured. Instead of asking me to stay still and call for an ambulance, she asked me if I wanted to try to get up. When I told her I didn’t think I could get up, I remember her asking, “what do you want me to do, call an ambulance?” my reply, “that would be a good idea”.
- Focusing too much on the race on the race put me at a greater risk. All I could think about was improving time and finishing strong which resulted in a terrible mistake that I paid dearly for.
what I learned during my recovery
- My husband loves me with all of his heart and soul. He slept on the sofa for 3 weeks so he could be in the same room with me at night in case I woke up needing his help. He also gave up the Lazy boy for 4 months. That’s true love. LOL
- How many people in my life that I have touched in positive ways. I saved all of my cards and notes that I received from everyone. A year after my accident I pulled them out and read each one with tears rolling down my face. I hung each one on the bulletin board in my office for positive reinforcement.
- The accidental insurance I invest in with every event is worth it. After my health insurance and the accidental insurance paid my bills, I paid $21.00 out of pocket. That was a big stress reducer.
- I realized that buying short term disability insurance was a smart investment. During my recovery, I did not worry about bills. I took a week of vacation pay and the started receiving disability insurance checks 2 weeks after my accident.
- I had no idea how much pain I could learn to live with. Getting addicted to pain pills during the recovery was a major concern of mine. So, I talked to my doctor about this in length and he walked me through my concerns with the reasoning behind relieving the pain. Because I had this discussion with my doctor he reassured me and taught me how to know when I should trust the recovery process and stop taking the pain pills. As a result, I believe it kept me aware of my concerns and lessened my risk of addiction.
It has now been 6-years since my accident. I became reclusive, withdrawn, unsure, fearful along with a whole bunch of other insecurities. Some of these things I have overcome but some still linger inside of me. I no longer trust myself and I have been struggling to find my confidence and fearlessness again. I finally realized that I may never be that person again but I do need to create a better version of what I am today.
No matter what competition you are preparing for, you should be prepared mentally and physically. The most important thing you can do is finish safely!