Lessons Learned, the Hard Way

Coming out of the water headed to bike transition

My big return to triathlon was spectacular, but definitely not in a way that I hoped or envisioned. I spent time the night before the PT Solutions Acworth Women’s Sprint Triathlon reaching back into the depths of my memory on how to set up my transition area and visualizing going through the motions of the day. Of course I did not sleep well the night before – my brain would not turn off. Getting out the door in the morning with husband and son was interesting but we managed to only be about 15 minutes later than I had planned.  I was excited and ready to race, even if I wasn’t in as good of shape as I had hoped to be. I knew I could finish though and have fun doing it.

It was fun to be back in the race atmosphere again. Arriving a little later than I wanted, I had to squeeze my bike onto the designated rack and set up my transition area. I also got in the water and swam a little to warm up as well as test out my new goggles. Thank goodness they didn’t leak! I gathered with some friends before the race, waiting for our wave start and had idle chatter to help ease the pre-race nerves.

I came out of the water in about 10 minutes, which was about what I anticipated. I had a smooth transition to the bike and didn’t waste much time. It was fairly crowded on the bike and there were a lot of women who were obviously doing their first tri. On one hand this is great, on another it means that many do not know or understand bike rules much less common cycling etiquette. I had one close call with a woman who was riding on the left rather than the right and I needed to pass. She finally understood what I was telling her and moved over. I should have paid more attention to this foreshadowing of what was soon to come.

Not much later in the race, I was coming up on a woman who was riding in the middle of the lane again. I called out “on your left” as I neared. She started moving left and blocking me. I kept yelling “on your left” and she finally realized what was happening but it was too late as she also started apologizing. I was in my aero bars, which was probably not the best decision in hindsight, as I had far less control over the bike. I was trying to steer around the cone and miss the woman but I hit the cone dead-on. Fortunately there weren’t any cars in the adjacent lane as I went flying in that direction fighting for control of my bike. I bounced several times on my head and shoulder and then skidded to a stop on my back thinking as I went down how much it was going to hurt and the ensuing road rash. I lay there dazed for a minute then sat up but knew immediately something was wrong with my shoulder. Many women called out to me asking if I was okay while they passed and I could see cops on either side of me as I was between intersections. One woman even stopped to help me and said she would stay but I told her to please go on as it was her race and I would be okay. About that time a police car rolled up and I told him to call an ambulance.

One of the scariest parts for me was not being able to get in touch with my family immediately to let them know what had happened. My parents, husband and son were all waiting for me back at the transition area. I had given them approximate times to expect me but certainly never counted on this happening. The policeman kindly let me use his cell phone but I couldn’t get anyone to answer, nor did I think to leave a message. Once in the ambulance I was told I would have to wait until we reached the hospital to use a phone. It felt like the longest ambulance ride ever! Of course they didn’t use the sirens and stopped at every intersection. A part of me felt like screaming “Come on, if I’m going to ride in an ambulance, give me a real ambulance ride.” Guess I wasn’t seriously injured enough to warrant it.

I had a million thoughts circling in my head after the accident. Paramount to me was how can I take care of my son? And then hearing my sisters’ say “told you so.” While my family has always been supportive of my athletic pursuits, they have never been keen on the biking aspect, particularly my sisters. And I must admit my attitude has changed somewhat since becoming a mom. I am much more cautious as I want to have another child and watch my children grow old and have families of their own. This is one thing that I have struggled with in my return to biking – I am very careful about where I bike and with whom. As I dwelled on this and the fact that my husband is injured right now too (tendonitis in his right wrist and pulled his back this past weekend), I would start to cry. Right now I’m holding my family together as the only healthy member and now this happens. Sure we have family close by to help, thank goodness, but my mom just had rotator cuff on her right shoulder too. My mother-in-law has truly been a blessing in helping care for our son but she was currently out of town. I was overwhelmed by the emotions and wondering how we would get through. But we have, slowly and surely figured it out.

In the end I have road rash all over – my fingers, hands, elbows, right buttock and hip, knee and of course my shoulder. I also have a mild concussion with significant bruising on the side of my forehead and scalp. My tail bone is extremely sore which makes sitting difficult. The right shoulder is luckily not broken or dislocated as I thought but my mobility is severely limited. I will start physical therapy on it this week and hopefully the damage truly is just bruised, tight muscles.

I am still trying to gain perspective on the accident, but the key points I have learned so far:

  • Make sure you always wear a bike helmet and that it fits properly. No doubt this saved me from a far worse fate.
  • Make sure you are well versed in the rules of the road and pay close attention to any and all race rules.
  • Always have emergency contact information on you at all times, even in a race situation. I will be getting a Road ID and highly recommend it for everyone.
  • Adapt your riding to the environment and be on the defensive around inexperienced riders. I will be much more cautious in my aero bars in the future and will not use them in similar circumstances.

Many have asked if the woman whom I was trying to avoid stopped to help. No, she did not. I don’t know if she was truly aware of what happened, though I don’t know how she could have missed it either. It is just as well because I really would not have been nice to her and probably would have said something I would later regret. The race director and staff of Georgia Multisports were great. They got in touch with my family about the same time that I did and went above and beyond caring for my bike and other belongings until my family could get them for me. They also told my family that the woman who caused my accident may have been the same one that flatted out later in the race and didn’t finish either. While I certainly never wish such bad luck on anyone, it did make me think that karma can certainly bite you in the butt if you aren’t careful.

As I stated in my previous True Confessions post, a large part of signing up for this triathlon was to get back in touch with my inner athlete, whom I miss but also I need a goal out in front of me for being in the best possible physical shape. My accident is certainly a set-back, but hopefully I can recover and figure out the next goal without taking too many steps backwards. How do you handle set-backs?