Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tragedy, loss and recovery in "The Long Run"

And I thought I had it bad! There's nothing more humbling than reading a story about someone who's had a far more serious accident and grueling recovery. In The Long Run, NYC firefighter, bar owner and endurance athlete, Matt Long describes how a terrible bike accident in 2005 cut short his plans to run the Boston Marathon, but did not stop him from fighting his way back to run again. I should explain from the start that I'm a sucker for tragic-adventure memoirs. Into Thin Air, Between a Rock and a Hard Place and Off the Wall sit prominently on my book shelf and films like "Grizzly Man" and "Into the Wild" are listed among my Netflix favorites. That said, I did not love this book.

Matt's story is surely an inspirational one. Pinned beneath a 40-ton bus while commuting to work on his bike in mid-town Manhattan, Long was impaled by his seat post and lost a tremendous amount of blood while severely damaging several vital organs and destroying quite a few important bones and muscles. It is nothing short of amazing that he is now able to run again after 40 surgeries and years of rehabilitation. Co-written with a professional writer, it is still far too rambling a tale. His editor should have taken a more aggressive surgical approach. Long's story of recovery includes far too much reflection on his macho life as a firefighter and not enough detail on his incredible rehabilitation for my taste. As a result, readers are not able to fully appreciate and savor all that Matt has gone through in his remarkable journey.

My reading of this book is admittedly idiosyncratic. Like Matt, I was hit by a car while cycling and have spent a great deal of time in hospitals and physical therapy unsure that I would ever be able to become the athlete I once was. While my injuries were nowhere near as severe as Matt's, his book leaves me hungry for details about the healing and recovery process. Unfortunately, Matt neglects to devote any time at all to some of the sad realities of what takes up much of a recovering athletes time after a serious injury. Where are the countless hours spent arguing with insurance companies over bills that keep piling up? How does he find the time to exercise again with work, family and therapy demands pressing in? Where does all the money come from to subsidize his recovery? One imagines that Long received a juicy insurance settlement and perhaps a healthy disability package from the FDNY to help smooth things out financially, but we'll never know as he has chosen not to share this aspect of the recovery process with his readers.

Perhaps the most disappointing point in the book for me was Long's decision to sue the Transit Workers Union for holding an illegal strike that caused him to cycle to work on that cold winter's day in 2005. Give me a break, Matt. After all you've been though, you really hold the union responsible for what happened? I would have expected more from the son of the NYS Conservative Party chairman. Luckily, the judge threw the case out before Long could become an embodiment of the need for tort reform as well.

If you're interested in Long's story, you might do yourself a favor and read the great 2009 Runner's World article that also includes six short videos on the magazine's website.


  1. Nice writeup. I'm sitting here wondering why the hell I haven't seen you in like 50 years! Last year, while recovering from my broken leg, we watched Emmanuel's Gift - which similarly reminded me how incredibly fortunate I am. Great documentary too, if you haven't seen it. We're going to have to figure out a way to overlap the next time we head east.

  2. Thanks, Nico! Haven't seen Emmanuel's Gift. Will have to put it on the list. Have you read Run! by Dean Karnazes yet? I'm a few chapters in. Now, he's a nut. He's running across America right now. Not sure if you're following his progress.

  3. Sorry, didn't see your response. No, haven't read it yet, let me know if you think it's worth it. I work right next door to the MapMyFitness folks, where they're tracking his trip.
    Sorry to hear you had to can the ride this weekend, but good decision.