Thursday, January 12, 2012

My Story Published in American Randonneur (Winter 2012)

I was honored to have my reflections on my accident and subsequent recovery included in the Winter 2012 issue of American Randonneur. While much of the article was adapted from writing that appeared first on this blog, here is the article in its entirety.

As I look up into the bright lights, I realize that I’m definitely not still riding my bicycle. The fact that I cannot remember anything about my crash is probably a significant factor in my ability to ride again. I have no creepy feelings when I ride; I don’t look over my shoulder with dread every time I hear a car roll up beside me. While I’m told I was conscious and able to communicate with the paramedics on the side of the road for at least a few minutes, I have no memory before looking up into those lights. I don’t know whether I was in the ambulance or the hospital at that point.

The first thing I said when RBA Tom Rosenbauer handed me his cell phone to speak with my wife was “oh no, she is going to be so worried.” It didn’t occur to me that she was already pretty worried after being awakened by a 6:30 am call as the words “Hospital . . .Pennsylvania” flashed across the caller ID on the bedside phone. “Yes, there’s been a serious accident,” the voice said, “no, we can’t tell you how he is. You’d better get down here to the hospital as soon as you can. We need to operate.” My wife describes an eerie calm as she woke our two children and called her parents to arrange for the three-hour ride to the hospital.

I rode my first SR series in 2007, but was unable to finagle a trip to Paris that year, so PBP has been on my mind ever since. Riding in the 2009 edition of London-Edinburgh-London further whet my appetite for international rando-adventure and I was riding the Endless Mountains 1000K, in part, to ensure priority pre-registration for PBP 2011. At 4:00 am on August 26, 2010, about 25 riders and I rolled through the dark hilly countryside of Eastern Pennsylvania. At 5:45, I was fully awake and rolling along with the rhythm of the front pack of riders as the sun was just beginning to peek its head over the horizon. As a responsible randonneur, I was lit up like a Christmas tree, but this did not deter a young, distracted driver from gliding into the shoulder and taking me out like a bowling pin. My custom-made Independent Fabrication was totaled. I have no memory of the accident.

Fortunately, my bad luck ended when I was hit. I was rushed by ambulance to St. Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem, PA where both my legs were operated on within a few hours of the accident to repair my broken right femur and left femoral neck. Two days later, I underwent another surgery to repair a badly broken left clavicle. All in all, I broke 24 bones – none of which was set with a cast. I now have a titanium rod the length of my femur permanently implanted in my right leg. I also have a bunch of screws and a plate holding my left femoral neck and clavicle in the right places. In addition to the breaks that needed surgical repair, I fractured my right scapula, ten ribs, five vertabrae, three hip bones and more things with names I can’t recall. Remarkably, I did not sustain any significant internal injuries, spinal damage or head trauma. There was not even a patch of road rash anywhere on my body. My wife Jessie never left my side and slept in a small foldout chair typically reserved for nervous spouses awaiting the birth of a new child.

With Ron Anderson and Laurent Chambard at St. Luke's Hospital (August 2010)

After two weeks at St. Luke’s, I was transferred to the Helen Hayes Hospital in Haverstraw, NY, which sits atop a hill overlooking the Hudson River about one hour downstream from my home. At Helen Hayes, I lived and worked on the spinal injury floor, not because I injured my spine, but rather because I had similar rehab needs with only one of four limbs able to bear weight. I spent several hours each day in physical and occupational therapy and was able to get around with the help of a motorized wheelchair and spent the time not in therapy outdoors reading in the warm fall sun and connecting with friends, family and acquaintances through social networking sites, which gave me a small window into the power of technology to connect and transform the lives of those with physical challenges.

Luckily, my randonneuring experience came in handy during my recovery. Patience and the ability to endure uncomfortable and fairly unpleasant sensations for an extended period of time is useful during rehab. After four weeks at Helen Hayes and six weeks from the date of my accident, I was released on Columbus Day weekend and finally had the chance to drive home with my wife. I had to swap the time normally spent training and commuting by bike with physical therapy sessions, trips to the gym and stretching. I was directed to stay home to recover more fully and returned to work on a part-time basis in early November.

In November, I met with a shoulder specialist to review the results of a full series of scans and tests to find that her initial suspicions about why my shoulder was lagging were correct. It turns out that I was suffering from the effects of a previously undetected, displaced humerus fracture which involved a piece of bone and the associated rotator cuff muscles swimming around in my shoulder unattached. So my 24 broken bones had now grown to 25. No wonder I couldn’t raise my arm. The only solution was surgical and the likelihood of repair hovered around 50%. I was clear with the doctor that the most important outcome was getting my left arm to "handlebar height;" anything else was extra. In December, I went in for my fourth surgery and after a brief period of rest, the winter and spring were subsumed with shoulder rehab and the quest to build greater stability and strength in my legs.

My return to the road came in late March, after being given permission from both my general orthopedist and my shoulder surgeon. While I thought in the weeks after the accident that I would be able to ride PBP in 2011, I soon realized that the pace of recovery would be much slower than I originally dreamed. When I realized that I could not participate in this year’s edition of PBP, I knew that it would be important to replace it with another epic event to mark my return to riding and to use as a goal in my recovery and training. The famed Deerfield Dirt Road Randonee (D2R2) was just the ticket. At 180K, it was not the distance that makes the ride epic, but rather the 180 kilometers of largely dirt carriage roads that snake their way through the mountains of Western Massachusetts and Southern Vermont.

Climbing Perkins Hill on the NYC 200K (July 2011)

In June, I was riding and reaching my handlebars comfortably enough to justify meeting with Paul Levine of Signature Cycles, the fit expert who put me on my first custom bike. The fitting revealed that I didn’t need any specialized accommodations on the new frame and we put the order through. That month, I also rode in my first events since the accident - a local 50-mile ride followed a few weeks later by an organized century. My return to randonneuring came in July as I rode the NYC 200K, which was both physically and emotionally fulfilling. In August, exactly one year and one day after my accident, I completed D2R2, which was one of the most demanding days of cycling I’ve ever experienced. August also included a local 200K permanent and another in September to lay the groundwork for the R-12, which is a goal that’s eluded me for some time.

So where am I now, almost 14 months after the accident? I still love riding and continue to hope for a full recovery as a randonneur. I’ve yet to tackle distances greater than 200K, but will do so after a bit more training. More importantly, though, I feel like I’m approaching riding with a new mindset. I find myself closer to family than ever and have an even greater appreciation of the need for balance between riding and the other parts of my life. I realize that I’m married to an absolute saint. I’m thankful to everyone who reached out, sent an encouraging email, visited me in the hospital, posted a comment to my blog, prepared dinner for my family or was generally patient with me during my long period of recovery.

After a full year of recovery, I no longer feel like a patient. I’m living without chronic pain and moving around almost like I did before the accident. My hip just received a clean bill of health; it turns out that I do not suffer from avascular necrosis unlike 30% of those with similar breaks so there is no hip replacement in my immediate future. My shoulder mobility is still a bit asymmetrical, but I have a full cycling range and feel comfortable and safe on my bike. So what’s next? Randonnuering, like the rest of life, is about making choices. In addition to the R-12, I plan to ride a full SR series and perhaps a domestic 1200K. My white whale, though, remains PBP. While it may be a long way off, this is my true goal. I just ordered a set of personalized license plates that read “PBP 2015.” Join me. It should one hell of a ride.


  1. I'm so happy that you're back at it! And proud to call you Friend!!

  2. Hell, I'm proud to even call you "occasional acquaintance by sight."

    See you out there in the upcoming season...

  3. George, I can't read this too many times. An inspiration. I look forward to our next ride together.

    Mike / Raleigh

  4. I just got my issue of American Randonneur in the mail the other day. I am awed by your determination and courage, and wish you all the best. Thanks for following me on Twitter.

  5. Thanks so much for the support! It has been so helpful to me throughout my recovery. Onward! Out with the old and in with the new. 2012 here I come!