Be Brave - the birth of Pure BrAvery

A year of training.  A year of getting up at the crack of dawn and running.  Or biking.  Or swimming.  Or any combination of the three.  A year of constant traveling to training events or races, and the expense that goes with the lifestyle.  A year preparing both mentally and physically for the Ironman Arizona (IMAZ) during a time in my life when I was going through many changes.  This was going to be MY race.

 Me posing on the run course leading up to IMAZ 2014

Me posing on the run course leading up to IMAZ 2014

Sunday, November 16, 2014.  It’s go time…

The day started off with an EARLY alarm.  Ugh.  I slept well which was unlike me the night before a race.  I had my normal pre-race routine.  Eating while getting dressed, setting up my water bottles to put on my bike, checking the tires, etc.  Once I was all set, I met my coach, and we headed to the VIP area to see my family.  They were amazing and made it down there by 6:00 am to see me in the water at 7:00 am.

When the cannon to start the race went off, Tempe Town Lake turned into a frenzied washing machine as thousands of swimmers tried to find their own niche in the water.  My focus and goal was to keep my form and NOT look at my watch to see how I was doing.  After fighting through the swim, I was excited to exit the water with a new personal best of 1:21!  The day had started out great!  Now onto the bike!

In the transition area, I was helped by a volunteer to get my things out, and get into my riding clothes and gear.  Helmet, bike shoes, triathlon jersey, glasses: check!  I can’t say enough about how vital these volunteers are to our sport and they make all the difference for a smooth and quick transition.  Once I was dressed I made my way to the exit, and out on the bike course I went.  I felt good, but the course is tight and close in downtown Tempe, and even though I had ridden this course a month earlier, things were rough from the beginning.

After a few turns out of town, the wind picked up tremendously.  Heading out on Beeline Highway, the main road of the bike course, I could feel that wind was not only slowing me down, but that a crosswind was making the ride feel very awkward.  As if I would just be “tossed” to the side while down in the aero position.  In hindsight should I have given this wind and the awkwardness I was feeling more attention and caution?  It’s difficult to second guess at this point, but being an athlete, we sometimes think we can control more than we actually can? 

Regardless, at approximately mile 25, it happened.

I can’t tell you personally what happened.  I have no memory of the accident.  However, I do have letters and eye witness statements of the incident.  They say I was blown off the bike by those winds while going over 20 MPH downhill.  They tell me that I came down on my head/right shoulder area.  My cracked helmet and right clavicle scar are proof of that.  They say that many fellow Ironman athletes stopped their own races to help me.  To attend to me.  Although I can’t remember this, I believe it. I have seen so many selfless acts of kindness from this community throughout my healing process.  I don’t remember being airlifted by helicopter to the local Scottsdale trauma hospital.  I don’t remember being in the ICU for those first few days, but I’m told that I had a 50/50 chance of living through the first night.

 My beautiful aero helmet after the crash.  See the crack in the side?  This beauty saved my life!

My beautiful aero helmet after the crash.  See the crack in the side?  This beauty saved my life!

The accident happened on a Sunday morning.  I woke up Monday night.  It was a terrifying time for my family, who never left my side.  Upon waking, I remember being confused and uncertain.  What had happened?  I was in pain; it hurt to just lay still. My parents started to fill me in.  I had fallen off of the right side of my bike.  I had fractured seven ribs and had a compound fracture of my right clavicle.  My head had hit the ground with such force that it cracked my beautiful aero helmet and caused my brain to bounce off of the left side of my head, which had resulted in internal bleeding.  Initially the doctors told my parents that if the swelling didn’t go down in 24 hours, they would have to do brain surgery before they could attempt to fix anything else.  Thankfully my body responded and the swelling went down the day of the accident and brain surgery was not required.  It’s alarming to think how close I came to that surgery and how close my family came to losing me.  Once the swelling went down, the orthopedic surgeon was able to set my broken clavicle and the rest of the healing process could begin, I had no idea that it would be a multi-year healing process.  It was a month before I could go home to Ohio.  An entire year before I could even go back to work full time.

 First picture in the hospital as soon as I got my phone back to let everyone know I was alive!  Thank you, nurse!

First picture in the hospital as soon as I got my phone back to let everyone know I was alive!  Thank you, nurse!

So, my yearlong dream of finishing IMAZ 2014 was dead, but I was lucky to be alive.

In addition to my family, I had many friends step up for me.  Some spent time with me in the hospital helping me piece my life back together.  Many sent letters or cards of encouragement.  The triathlon community came together and had a fundraising benefit for me back home in Ohio.  A GoFundMe account was started and that quite literally saved me from financial ruin because of the steep hospital bills that were to come for months into 2015.  There were so many people, both friends and family, as well as some I had never met that stepped up to help.  My gratitude can never be fully expressed.  I have said this many times since the accident, but I never knew how much I could be loved until this chapter of my life unfolded.

While I was in ICU, my brother, Chris, painted a picture of me riding my bike through the Arizona desert.  I’ve always loved the desert and its beauty, and I wasn’t going to let this episode change that. This picture has been an inspiration for me as well as motivation to once again rise up.

 My brother Chris painted this for me while I was in the ICU.  Looks just like me, right?  This meant so much to me.  And still does.

My brother Chris painted this for me while I was in the ICU.  Looks just like me, right?  This meant so much to me.  And still does.

Fast forward to November of 2016.  It took two years, but I became an Ironman Arizona finisher.  Crossing that finish line, I couldn’t help but dance in celebration (cheesy, I know).  It was fitting that in Phoenix, Arizona, I was able to rise from the ashes just like the mythical phoenix, and overcome my fears, self-doubt, and anxieties, and complete that race that I started two years prior. 

 Me showing off my dance moves as I cross the finish line!  Not only did I complete the Ironman Arizona, I did it in a personal best sub 13 hours!

Me showing off my dance moves as I cross the finish line!  Not only did I complete the Ironman Arizona, I did it in a personal best sub 13 hours!

Pure BrAvery Multisport was also born out of the ashes of that accident.  Like so many challenges in life, I learned that just showing up is the most important part, and often the scariest, of any endeavor.  I realized that I wanted to coach athletes with that focus in mind.  Let’s face it, very few of us are going to be all world athletes, but most of us have our own personal goals, whether that be to get a personal best in a triathlon, or to simply walk a half marathon.  But for many, nagging self-doubt and fear hold us back.  It doesn’t have to be that way. 

My scars, both physically and mentally, remind me every day of that accident.  But they also remind me that I AM a phoenix, and will always rise from the ashes.  I’ve learned that we can all do this if we learn to overcome our fears and repeatedly challenge our crippling inner critic.  You can be your own phoenix to overcome whatever is in your way. 

Be brave, and train the fear.