Sunday, September 26, 2010

Yet another senseless cycling tragedy: Jure Robic dead at age 45.

Two days later, I am still in utter disbelief that cycling legend Jure Robic is dead, killed when he collided with a car on a trining ride a few miles from his home in Slovenia. While the details of the accident are still forthcoming, it seems to me that it just can't be true. This was the man with seemingly endless stamina, strength and courage who was able to win the Race Across America (RAAM) five times in the past ten years. The guy who shattered the 24-hour cycling record in 2004 with a distance of 518 miles and who won Le Tour Direct, the one stage version of the Tour de France, in 2005 with a finish time of 7 days, 19 hours and 40 minutes. Read Markoh Baloh's fine personal account of that race here.

In addition to winning races, Jure was renowned for his erratic behavior and world class hallucinations while racing. The 2006 New York Times profile of Jure made him out to be something of a mad, athletic freak. Maybe he was. He rarely slept and often berated his crew during the race and famously abandoned the 2009 edition of RAAM (after completling mile 2862!!) when he and his crew disputed a time penalty imposed by RAAM officials. I learned a lot about both Jure's pathos and his amazing riding style by watching the amazing film Bicycle Dreams which profiles several of the solo racers on their quest to win the 2005 edition of RAAM. Anyone interested in endurance cycling should be sure to see this remarkable documentary. It may well ruin any dreams you have of competing in RAAM, but it provides a peerless window into the emotional life of the ultra-endurance athlete.

Being hit by a car is the last thing I wanted to have in common with Jure Robic. It sends shivers down my spine to think that within one month of my own accident, one of the greatest endurance athletes who's ever lived was cut down in his prime in much the same way that I was injured. While I am aware, on an intellectual level, of how miraculous my condition is after such an accident, this parallel situation is a bit haunting.

So the world is a worse place now than it was several days ago when Jure was still with us. With this tragedy we have yet another example (as if we needed one) that cycling is a dangerous sport and far too many people have suffered tragedies and lost their lives when colliding with cars pursuing their passion. I know that I will never approach riding the same way after mine and Jure's accidents, but I can only hope that the roads become safer and drivers more sensitized to the needs of cyclists. I also hope that Jure's girlfriend and son are able to rebuild their lives in his absence.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The slow recovery begins

Anyone who’s ridden with me will tell you that I’m a fairly cautious cyclist. I’m especially skittish about fast and steep descents and actually see this as an area for improvement in my technique. So I was shocked and amazed to be hit by a car on the Endless Mountains 1000K on August 26. I was cycling through the quiet towns of Eastern PA in the early pre-dawn hours of the morning when I was struck from behind by a motorist on his way to work. As a responsible randonneur, I was, of course, lit up like a Christmas tree. My custom made Independent Fabrication was totaled. I have no memory of the accident.

Luckily, my bad luck ended when I was hit; I have been fortunate to receive swift and outstanding medical care right from the very beginning of this ordeal. I was rushed by ambulance to St. Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem where both my legs were operated on within a few hours of the accident to repair a broken femur (right) and femoral neck/hip (left). Two days later, I underwent another surgery to repair a badly broken left clavicle. All told, I broke 24 bones – none of which needed to be set with a cast. The cure for rib fractures seems to be refraining from belly laughs. I was incredibly fortunate not to have sustained any significant internal injuries, spinal damage or head trauma.

After two weeks of outstanding care at St. Luke’s I was transferred to the Helen Hayes Hospital in Haverstraw, NY which sits atop a hill overlooking the Hudson about one hour downriver from my home. At HHH, I am involved in what is called sub-acute rehab which involves stretching and muscle strengthening in a way that helps me recover without jeopardizing the healing of my many broken bones. I am living and working on the spinal injury floor, not because I have injured my spine, but rather because I have similar rehab needs with only one of four limbs able to bear weight. My fellow patients with serious spinal injuries are an amazing inspiration. I am able to get around with the help of a motorized wheelchair and spend a good amount of my time not in therapy outdoors reading in the lovely fall sun. Tomorrow I will enter my third week at HHH and I feel forward progress every day.

Despite everything, I also feel blessed to have received countless messages of hope and encouragement from family, friends, acquaintances and complete strangers. Tom R., the Eastern PA RBA, was especially nurturing and helpful as I got settled in St. Luke’s. It has been wonderful to feel that there are so many people behind me encouraging me at each turn along the way. Thank you. I hope to continue to heal and recover well and return home to my wife and children soon.