On August 5, 1988 I became a quadriplegic, injured in a swimming accident (I tried to flip into an above ground pool to impress a girl J). I hit the bottom of the pool, crushing my 5th cervical vertebrae (it’s one of the ones that allows you to shake your head ‘yes’). My parents were told their 17 year old son would be lucky to walk again but even luckier that my spinal cord was not cut – severing the connection between my brain and lungs. In this case, if I was a in a wheel chair I’d be lucky. No one told me. I remember a 6 inch (it at least looked this large as it loomed over my eyes) needle move into the side of my head followed by two bolts that would screw into my skull – connecting a wire and some weights to effectively pull my spinal cord as long as possible – hopefully avoiding the swelling that typically causes paralysis. I don’t remember much after that – except a lot of morphine and even more visitors.
Surgery was performed to release the pressure on my spinal cord (there were bone chips causing the numbness and paralysis) which would allow me to walk but likely not much more. Bone was removed from my hip and fused to my neck.
I left the hospital just in time for the first day of my senior year in high school – the good part was the key to the elevator. I suppose even better was that the swelling disappeared and most of the feeling returned to my limbs which meant I was going to walk.
After 3 months of wearing various devices and using a lacrosse stick and ball to work my arms – I was free. I went for a run and my arms went numb. After a panicked call to my neurosurgeon he let me know that I wasn’t really supposed to be running and that it was the scar tissue on my spinal cord causing the tingling sensation but that it would disappear in time.
Fast forward a few months to end of the school year and I was running. I began to ride as well – challenged by a friend to beat him in a duathlon which lead to more challenges from other friends to race a criterium, time trial or 5k. I soon found myself pursuing triathlon, road racing, mountain biking, and running. If there was a finish line I was up for it and I won. I continued to race and train through college where most of my friends from that time will remember I was never far from spandex or my bike.
After graduating college I moved to Seattle, WA (from Portsmouth, NH) where I joined Microsoft and ended up marrying the 2nd girl I met there.
Life and work got the better part of my time and I soon was married with 2 daughters and 220lbs (a far cry from the 150 I was racing at in 1990) – living in Seattle and working for Microsoft and it was 2006. I visited a friend in Austin over Memorial Weekend 2006 – the same weekend as the CapTex Triathlon was held – just outside our hotel. I poked my head out the window and watched the race – hearing the whirr of the disc wheels fly by and the colors of a few hundred triathletes. I suddenly remembered what I loved doing for so many years. I put on my sneakers and went out to run 5 miles in Austin’s 90+ degree heat. I did it the next day and sometimes 2x a day for the next few weeks. I called my friend Scott Fairchild (owner of the Fairchild Management Group and Chris ‘Macca’ McCormack’s agent) and he had a Kestrel Talon SL for me (he actually asked me for weeks and weeks if I wanted it).
I rode, ran and logged everything in my laptop. I ate a lot of salad, yoghurt, chicken and drank a lot of water. I called the swim director of our local health club and set up lessons. I also hired a triathlon coach. I entered a few duathlons and sent an e-mail to the race winner of a big local race (Kirkland Triathlon) asking to train with him (Chris Tremonte). For the first time in a long time I was ‘healthy’, 180 lbs and finally back in love with a sport I had forgotten about. I got my V02 Max, Lactate Threshold and cholesterol tested for the first time. I got tired of training in the cold rain of Seattle and moved my family to Marin County in March of 2007 where it’s 70 and sunny more often than not.
Most of you know the rest. If not, start here.