Thursday, November 10, 2011
Image by Jim Wilson
Baltimore, MD. Memorial Day weekend, 2011. Sunny & hot. Really hot. At about 3:40pm I was laying on the ground in a mangled mess of bikes, carbon wheels, chains and from some unknown source, blood.
I've raced bikes for 12 years now. Talk to a non-cyclist about why and it's like trying to describe a color. You can find words but until you've seen that color or been through that race - the heat of the battle, the rush of adrenaline, the sheer suffering followed by the triumph of finishing and ever so rarely winning. It's either in your blood and you live for it or you are an 'also-ran' and you try it but it just doesn't stick. It's a lifestyle, sheer passion, total dedication ... in a word, love.
A few days before Memorial Day weekend I was hired by Versus to help film the Tour de France. In a month I would leave for 5 weeks in France. I would produce my own segment, daily insights behind the scenes. So for the first time in 5 years I purchased new road shoes. Obnoxiously expensive shoes. Shiny, white, carbon, fast. I knew I would be faster. Carbon makes everyone faster.
I could justify the expense of new shoes, I was in the big leagues now.
Saturday, May 28th I lined up to race the Mens 3/4 category - 2011 Kelly Cup Bike Jam in Baltimore, MD. I was fired up, excited, electric. The race was fast and with the slight exception of one loud guy behind me screaming directions, it was controlled. I jumped into a breakaway with one lap to go. We got caught and I was toast. But when I finished I still smiled because Jens would be proud ("I'd rather take the 10% chance then Zero - isn't it logic?"). My new shoes definitely made me faster, just not fast enough.
Image by Jim Wilson
35th wasn't going to help me cat up so I raced again, same day. I was determined to get out of the hazardous Cat 4's. The Mens 4 pack was smaller and thankfully a little slower. 19 laps down and with one lap to go I felt great. No breakaway to catch it would be a sprint. I can sprint. The visions were milliseconds but clear - should I put one hand in the air or both? A win would launch me out of the 4's. I knew I would win. Instead I crashed. No, it wasn't my fault, it was some out of control guy who fell into me. Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.
My GPS read 31mph right before it read 0mph. I couldn't get my left hand off the bars, the guy who fell on top of me pinned my hand to the rough chip-seal asphalt and there it ground to a stop from 31mph. I opened my eyes and took inventory. Oh no, my hand is mangled and worse, my new shoes were ruined! And my wheels. And my pedals. And my handlebars. And my skewers. Oh, joy, the derailleur was ripped clean off the bike. A few guys lay on the pavement as well. 2 ambulances, 5 EMT's.
When they took my once-white left glove off blood spurt out like a squirt gun. I felt ill. I was hurt, bad. They called a third ambulance. Geoff Hughs drove me instead. I got to know him a little better that afternoon - and what a character he is. I am still thankful for his help that day. This was before they gave me morphine. No bitterness, no anger. This was still better than Wonderland.
The ER doctor took a few photos. "I've never seen a hole in a hand like that before."
They gave me no antibiotics, just wrapped my hand in gauze. I was treated and released with the caveat, "You need to see a hand surgeon, soon" It was Saturday, Memorial Day Weekend. "Go see a hand surgeon soon." Riiiight. I knew I was f-d. A day later the swelling set in amidst constant icing. The infection grew and so did the pain. I went to an Urgent Care facility and got a big shot in the ass. "This probably won't help much"
2 days later I got in to see my primary Dr. He immediately had me admitted to the hospital. The infection was bad, the swelling was scary. It took days to go down. It was the first week of June - I was supposed to land in Paris on the 29th of June. Despite fearing the worst I tried to make light of the situation.
Late one night the highly recommended hand surgeon came to introduce himself and take a look, "You severed the tendon on your middle finger, without surgery it will never work again. They should have done surgery right away. Now it's going to be weeks for that swelling to go down. Can't operate till the swelling is gone." I took a deep breath,
"But sir, I'm going to the Tour de France to work for Versus - I need to have surgery and be out in 3 weeks. It's the biggest opportunity of my entire career."
"No way that can happen. Sorry son. You need to re-evaluate how serious this is. If something goes wrong you could lose the use of your hand! I'm not going to do this surgery and let you leave the country a few days later. No way."
I was devastated. I was scared. The most horrible feelings swirled in my head and in my gut. I thought about it for hours and hours. I thought about it for days and days. I completely wrapped my head around every aspect of it. What had I done? Why did I take that risk? I threw away my chance to work for Versus at the Tour de France for a local cat 4 race! I lost sight of the moment, lost sight of happiness. Knaves poked fun at me from afar as only vengeful cowards will. "You got what you deserved!! KARMA BABY!!!" Ahhh, such a wise contradiction in terms.
That's when my priorities started to change - getting released from the hospital became my next goal. One day at a time.
Through it all I was asked, first by the EMT, then the ER doctor, then the urgent care Dr, then my primary Dr, then the hand surgeon, then my Mom,
"You must be angry at the guy who caused the accident?"
But each time my answer was the same.
"No, not really. That's racing. And it was a beautiful day to race."
The real answer is this:
Even in that hospital, alone and scared I was the most happy I had been in a long time. I was clear of weights I cannot with words describe. I had survived the most horrible fallout from a nuclear breakup, an entire Winter of suffering, pain and wondering how truth could be so twisted. But with true work and honest introspection, realizing I could only control myself, I came out the other side better for it. With help from true friends I realized I did not have to be caught up in an angry world of bitterness and blame ... for he who angers you defeats you. I walked away thankful my time in that twisted, backwards Wonderland was over. Unexpected solidarity found me, offered support & corroboration and I was no longer the only one who had been down the rabbit hole. I put my energy into the bike and all Winter I trained. Hard. Spring turned to summer and the weight of so much negativity was gone, regardless of "Anonymous" cowards trying to kick me while I was down. All that mattered was the moment - on the bike, in the pack around the turns and to the finish line. And then getting out of the hospital. And then surgery. And maybe if I was lucky the Tour. Either way I still had the truth of love. Love for racing. And love from those around me.
As I think back to May 28th, it was a beautiful day of racing and I was alive. I had shiny new shoes and friends in the pack and the sun was out and the fans were screaming. It was a beautiful moment which I won't soon forget, right up until I hit the deck. As much as that sucked I cannot deny how great I felt seconds before, all day before. Feeling for a moment I could win. Knowing it could be mine. I was so close. There is no denying the intensity of what happened before or after. After the crash I experienced love from my friends and family. There were people who reached out to me whom I had never talked to before. People who put aside the bullshit lies they heard about me and gave me support and encouragement. Those people are now close friends, true friends & I am damn lucky to have them in my life.
I will not be bitter and I will not hold a grudge against the people who took me down. I will continue to race in the 4's until I work my way into the 3's. I will hope to avoid crashes but know I may not. Crashes are part of racing and if you race long enough you will go down. The only question is what price will you pay? That is a risk I find worth taking. I race because I love every beautiful, exciting, expensive, painful, joyful second of it. I know to my core I would rather live passionately, loving the good and bad of what I do and who I do it with - then to hold back fearing what hurt my come from either. I would rather eat shit at 31mph having almost tasted glory then to have sat home that day wondering "what if?"
I am 42 and still learning.
This past year more than ever.
I will gladly pay for both. Even when it really hurts.
PS - I got a second opinion. "Ok, we'll get that hand fixed a few days before you head to France. No problem. It's a risk but chances are it will be ok" They scheduled my surgery one week before I would land in Paris. Although the surgery took much longer than expected they reconnected my tendon and got a bunch of gravel out of my hand. Dr. Hattwick, my sincere thanks.
I even got a Tour-Yellow cast.
So I went to France and worked my ass off amidst my useless hand. My crew took good care of me and we got our work done.
Seems bullshit can follow you anywhere. Even to the Tour de France.
What happened there was even more epic. Another story entirely. Stay tuned...
A French Toast
To those who were there to pick up the pieces, you know who you are, Thank you.
Posted by Jason Berry at 10:54 AM