June 28th was just a normal Wednesday for me. I had participated in one of my favorite Olympic Distance races the weekend before and felt fully-recovered and ready to dive back into bike training for the 70.3 World Championship race in September. A friend and I headed out to Atlanta's Stone Mountain Park, a local favorite with cyclists and runners. The enclosed park has an inner and outer loop. On the inner loop, you'll find a 5-mile dedicated pedestrian and bike lane while the outer loop has some tough climbs and fantastic views. As was typical, I did a few inner-loops to warm up before heading to the larger hills on the outer loop.
Since it was 7:30 in the morning, traffic was sparse and my friend and I were enjoying the open roads while chatting about all things triathlon. As we came down a hill, I noticed a skateboarder on the wrong side of the road but he was off on the shoulder. I kept an eye on him and was surprised when he continued to come into my lane - he was going the wrong way and cars were coming down the hill in the other lane. Looking back at my Strava file, I was coming down the hill at 30 mph and as I kept moving to the left to miss him, he kept coming into my path. At the last second, he swerved directly in front of me and I hit him, going up and over the handlebars and landing on my head, then my face before my body bounced off the ground. He was wearing headphones and claimed he never saw me.
An ambulance ride, CT scan, several x-rays, some chipped teeth, and nine stitches later, I was bruised and sore but largely okay.
The accident ended my season but taught me 4 important lessons that I hope can help other cyclists who spend time on the road:
- Your helmet is your most important piece of equipment.
As I mentioned, I went over the handlebars and landed on my head -- at 30 mph. For a long time, I had a helmet that was up-to-date on safety regulations but it didn't feel very comfortable on my head so I wore it more loosely than I should have. I upgraded to the Kask Protone a few months ago. It has a comfortable leather strap and fits very securely on my head. Because of that, it was never moved as I went flying through the air. I have no doubt it saved me from a significant head trauma.
If you aren't comfortable in your current helmet and find yourself wearing it incorrectly to try to make it more comfortable, upgrade to a new one. If you're in an accident you should get a new helmet even if you don't see any visible cracks or damage. As you can see, mine needed to be replaced!
If you like the Protone, but the price tag is a bit high, check out the new Kask Rapido (image below) It has the same safety standards and fits low and snuggly to the head like the Protone. You'll miss the leather strap and the wrap around edges but it's a great helmet for a more budget-conscious athlete.
- Have a form of identification on you at all times.
Even though I was conscious and coherent, there were a lot of different things happening around me. It was nice to just hand off my driver's license to the paramedics and police to provide them with all of the needed information. Had I been unconscious or alone, it would have been much more difficult for them to treat me and manage the scene. If you don't want to carry your ID, you can try a Road ID on your body or even a luggage tag on your bike with important information.
- Don't be afraid to take help.
As triathletes, we tend to be a little more independent than most people. We like to be able to have everything under control. I learned a lot about taking help from strangers, neighbors, and friends. After an accident, one of the best things you can do is rest and let your body heal. Without accepting help, you won't be able to do that. Be okay with swallowing your pride and reaching out to others for help.
- Healing might take a lot longer than you think.
I originally wrote this article in July but after reading about Matt Russell's accident in Kona this past weekend, I pulled it back out. Matt's accident was much more horrific than mine and at the time I'm editing this, he is in critical condition (support Matt's family here). In the first few weeks after the accident, I had planned to be back in my training routine and to compete in the 70.3 World Championship at the beginning of September. I tried to jump back into training (probably too soon) and have had some issues with internal scar tissue and the bones behind my knee. Now it's mid-October, and I'm still working through the healing process. I never imagined that a few 'stitches' would take me out for the rest of the season but my physical therapist does keep reminding me that I went over my handlebars at 30 mph. The body has an amazing ability to recover but we have to help the process by giving it the time and rehabilitation it needs.
Hopefully, these are lessons that you will never have to put into action. I had no idea that I would end up in an ambulance when I went out for a quick ride before work but I'm thankful that I had the right equipment, a great community, and have gained a new perspective on the healing process.
If you've been in an accident and have learned some valuable lessons that can help the community, we'd like to hear more. Just leave a comment on this post or reach out to us via our Facebook page.