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Monday, August 25, 2003

Crash and Burn

August 17th, 2003

Coming off the high of a good performance at this year’s NYC Triathlon (aka Duathlon) I was looking forward to the Sprint Distance West Point Triathlon the next weekend and testing my metal against the Army’s fittest. I finally talked my wife into waking up very early and getting the children (ages 3 and 6) ready to go see me race. My young son was begging to go to a race with me and I was looking forward to crossing the finish line with him holding my hand.

The day started off well enough. We got to the race in plenty of time and my 3-year-old son joined me in getting body marked. He was quite proud to be walking around with the same race numbers written all over his body.

The race was a wave start with a dry start for the swim leg. I managed to get in the water briefly to prepare my body for the shock of the water and then lined up in the front of my wave. The horn then sounded and off we went. Things went sour from this point forward.
Barely twenty yards into the swim, I received a sturdy kick to the face. This ordinarily would not have been a problem except that the kick dislodged the right seal to my goggles causing water to start trickling into my right eye. I tried to swim with my right eye closed, but it was very uncomfortable. I couldn’t sight without my right eye open and it felt as though the water was getting into my nasal passages through my eye every time I turned to breathe. I was forced to stop and try to fix the goggle.

Unfortunately for me, I am almost blind without my glasses. My goggles are prescription and I wear them from the start of the swim, right up until I get back to my bike. I was out of breath, treading water, blind and getting trampled by everyone who started behind me. I somehow made it back to a shore where I could stand and gather my wits.

Several minutes went by and I still could not fix my goggles. At this point, another athlete swam over to me and offered to let me use his goggles. I guess the swim was too much for him and he decided to drop out of the race. I thanked him, shook hands, made note of his number and set off again, albeit in the wrong direction.

I discovered my mistake as the spectators on shore started to yell and I somehow made out their arms pointing out the proper direction. I could then sort of make out the orange buoys that lined the course and managed to catch the bottom third of the pack.

I got on my bike without further incident and started to make up some lost ground. As cycling is my strongest discipline, I not only started to catch up to the first two-thirds of my wave, but I also started to pass racers who started in the first wave.

Unfortunately for me, many of the people that I was passing seemed not to be aware of the rules of triathlon. Many riders were cruising along in the left lane at a leisurely pace, oblivious to other riders around them. At times, if you wanted to pass, you had no choice but to do so on their right. This proved to be a fatal mistake.

During a nice downhill section of the bike course, I was steadily accelerating and was soon speeding along in excess of 40 mph. I had a clean path in between two riders and decided to quickly try to pass them. The rider on my left however, decided to drift into my lane and this exact moment and his rear wheel touched my front wheel. I was tucked into the aero position and barely had time to yell “ON YOUR RIGHT” when he hit my wheel and sent me down.

Now I don’t know if you ever had the experience of sliding along the asphalt at 42 mph, but if you do, you will be sliding along it long enough to contemplate a few things. Apparently human flesh does not grip the ground too well and was not meant to be used as a brake pad. My first thought while sliding was “hmm, I am ok so far I am just sliding”. My second thought was “Well, at least my bike is flying down the road ahead of me, I hope it doesn’t get too messed up”. My third thought was realizing that I was angling off the road and about to hit the dirt.

I then started to roll and twist in the air as the dirt and rocks did not make such a smooth sliding surface. From past mountain biking experiences, I’ve learn to just relax and let the roll happen. Tensing up and fighting to stop is a sure way to pull a muscle or break something. After rolling around for a while, I finally came to a rest on my hands and knees.

At this point I heard someone say, “Go ahead I got him” and this person came over to help me up. I stood up while he retrieved my bike and asked if I was all right. Aside from missing lot’s of flesh over a good portion of my body and a very nasty laceration on my left hand, I was in perfect shape. My bike looked reasonably good as well.

This Samaritan then said “Well you have a choice, you can gut it out or pack it in.” I was still game for the race, but quickly realized that my front wheel was in no condition to continue. With my left hand dripping blood and lacking dexterity, I was in no condition to effect repairs.
During this time, some alerted the West Point staff of a rider down and a military truck soon came to pick me up. I looked fairly battle worn and would have looked like a wounded soldier being transported to a M.A.S.H. unit if not for wearing skin tight and colorful Triathlon racing clothes instead of fatigues.

For me the worst part about crashing wasn’t the fact that I was injured or couldn’t finish the race, but the fact that my young children would have to see me all banged up. Fortunately, an ambulance soon joined the truck and somewhat cleaned and bandaged me.

My daughter had a very nervous look when she first saw me. However, I managed to laugh it off and she relaxed as soon as she saw I was laughing about it. My son still wanted to finish the race with me, so I ducked under the tape holding back the spectators near the finish line and ran across it with my son. As my numbers were scrapped off my body, it was a good thing he was body marked or else I may not have been able to report my number.

A trip to the Military base hospital soon followed, in order to get myself stitched and cleaned up. The emergency room staff remarked that I had the worst case of road rash they have ever seen. They couldn’t help but laugh as they knew I would be in some discomfit the moment the cleansing began. I didn’t mind as I was joking all along about my injuries as well.
My hand was stitched and my multitudes of abrasions were scrubbed clean. At one point I remarked to the Meddac (army lingo for medic) that it appears there was some dirt embedded in my arm that he missed. Turns out it wasn’t dirt, but was burnt off hair follicles.

Having been cleaned up, stitched up, Tetanus shot filled and bandaged like a mummy, I was then sent home with some pain killers. I let my wife drive.

The next several days were spent trying to recover from my injuries, having my wonderful wife change my bandages twice daily and somehow dealing with work from home. I tried to take it easy and enjoy the satisfying warmth that comes from taking painkillers. The accident really didn’t hit me until the following weekend when I had to miss some events I was looking forward to participating in. However, I was healing pretty good and would have no long lasting damage.


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