Monday, September 23rd, 2013
I only told a handful of people, but for the last few months I’ve been debating and evaluating plans for doing one sprint triathlon this year before the season officially ends here in New England. I didn’t put a lot of pressure on it, because my back has a mind of its own and the last thing I wanted to do was push my limits, cause more damage and take a major step back in my recovery.
Eventually I found a race. It was on the 7 month anniversary of my crash. I signed up and hoped for the best. Despite signing up, I never actually “trained.” Most of my focus was still on building back strength and flexibility. Sometimes that meant biking, swimming, lifting weights or just lots of stretching. But my physical activity leading up to the race pretty much didn’t involve running at all. Physically, I knew I was at the point where I could pull off a 400m swim, 15 mile bike and 3 mile run – even if that meant coasting the whole bike and walking the run if I had to. It was the mental side that I knew would be a struggle.
Even just 6 days before the race, I woke up with an angry back. So angry that I couldn’t even bend over and touch my knees, let alone put on pants or socks. I had to call out of work and spent most of the day on the couch or in the shower letting scalding hot water rush over my back. At that point, I was okay with giving up on the race if my back didn’t get any better. I had accepted it, maybe my recovery journey didn’t involve a comeback to racing just yet.
Thankfully, I’ve gotten to know my back well enough to have an arsenal of different tricks to help it return to “normal.” There was always a chance that I’d wake up with an angry back again and have to drop out, but by the end of the week the race was back on schedule and my angry back stayed away.
Race morning was an emotional roller coaster. From excited and nervous to terrified and tears from one second to the next. Sam brought Riley and my friend and Rev3 teammate Laura came with her dog, Kaipo. Having two fur kids there helped me to keep my cool.
I lined up WAY in the back of the swim, waited at least 10-15 seconds before even taking a step forward, then joined the ruckus in the water. I didn’t feel fast, but felt smooth and made it back to shore without any issues.
The bike was the same. Beautiful cool fall morning through nice neighborhoods, farms and rolling hills. I held my own with a few guys, but would barely call it “racing.”
I rolled into T2 with cheers from Sam and Laura, and was off on the run feeling good. I shuffled along at a good clip. I focused on keeping good form and not pushing so hard that I’d have to dial it back and walk. I came up to the finish line at the end of a lap around the high school track and lost it. Thankfully Sam was right there for a big hug.
Exactly seven months earlier, my spine looked like a shattered window pane. I was on as many pain meds as they could possibly fill me with, just so I’d be able to lie flat on my hospital bed and help dull the unimaginable pain. After I was discharged from the hospital, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever even be strong enough to lift a gallon of milk to make a cup of coffee or bowl of cereal, let alone do a triathlon. As I crossed the finish line, was overcome by joy, excitement, pride and most importantly – gratitude.
And of course I took advantage of the post-race breakfast feast.
What is Next?
I have no idea.
Physically and athletically, I feel like I don’t have anything to prove to anyone. Or myself. I still love swimming, biking and running, but I don’t know how big of a priority triathlon will be from here on out.
Mentally, I don’t have it in me to train for anything and be even remotely competitive this year. My priority is still building and maintaining my back strength and flexibility. What does that look like? This fall/winter I’ll probably become more of a gym rat, and random hikes and snowshoeing with Riley this winter.
There will be lots of stories of thanks and gratitude to come, but thanks to everyone for their helping to get me to this point. I couldn’t have done it without my wife, Sam, and all my friends, family and teammates that have kept me sane and built me back up. And a special thanks for Sam, Riley, Laura and Kaipo for coming with me to celebrate this major milestone.
More Stories To Come
I realize that I’ve been quiet here lately and have only shared a tiny fraction of my journey over the last 7 months. For a lot of reasons, there are other parts of my story that still need to be told. This is especially true for the mental side of my recovery. More to come…
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